The Sport of Defining ‘Sport’

The cover story of the most recent edition of ESPN magazine is most peculiar for what it lacks:  a profile of an actual sport.

Gracing the cover of a publication increasingly more wedded to TMZ-style coverage instead is the smug headshot of “Ninja,” the current e-gaming, self-monikered godfather who has ushered e-gaming full-bore into the mainstream, frosted tips and all. The article presents a pictorial of Ninja’s existence, dogged with multiple computer monitors, half-empties of processed snacks and energy drinks, and his family, the latter being the oddest duck for this presumed modern-day sports icon.

But e-gaming is not a sport. Not even within the most elastic analytical framework can e-gaming be considered without making a mockery of the enduring competitions worthier of the title, and which are central to maintaining the veneer of civilization without its citizens resorting to their baser instincts. (Jonathan Gottschall’s The Professor in the Cage (Penguin P, 2015) provides an eloquent account of sanctioned violence’s place in American civilization upon its very birth as a sovereign nation.)

E-gaming is, like bodybuilding, chess, or competitive cheer, only a competition, itself not the sole criterion for what validly constitutes a sport, whose legitimacy transcends strict classifications and instead spans a more relativistic spectrum—a hierarchy situated by sports’ tumultuous histories and enduring legacies, not one of which is wholly dependent on electricity to even commence. Whereas near-perfect hand-eye coordination is just one of many numerous features in a traditional sport’s physical repertoire, it is the only defining feature in a gamer’s agility that separates mediocrity from mastery.

E-gaming rests well below the current threshold of sport. And I doubt any incarnation of e-gaming will suffice beyond its current realization, even with the free-market sanctioning powers of the American college, which has recently spawned partnerships with the electronics gaming giant, EA Games, which funds for these schools numerous scholarships, sanctioned tourneys, and delusions of accomplishment, with many such testimonials baked right into a college’s promotional materials: “Students who represent their schools say [e-gaming] teaches them lessons in strategy, teamwork and time management, and it offers camaraderie with other gamers on campus.”


At best, e-gaming’s sanctioned adoption into collegiate activities is marketing tactic to buoy decreasing enrollments nationwide. A recent profile reveals how lucrative this movement has become lately, thus providing many institutions—notably public community colleges that are experiencing the greatest enrollment declines—with a relatively untapped market to bullishly pursue.

But despite this novelty’s means to generate necessary revenue through much-needed higher enrollments, these institutions are split on whether it qualifies as a legitimate sport under the governance of athletics. About half of those institutions place it under the purview of student affairs as something akin to a student club. And this designation does matter:  Title IX federal legislation would apply to e-gaming if it were to be officially recognized as an athletic sport, complete with funding and the litany of federal policies and protocols in need of full compliance. Federal courts will inevitably decide on this matter, and soon, and any decision not to the advantage of participating colleges would leverage away significant revenue. And considering how financially strapped many colleges currently are due to downturns in enrollment and general aide, I doubt courts will issue a countervailing ruling.

I am not an e-gaming teetotaler, per se. I will always acknowledge its limited or supplemental catalytic benefits:  its influence in increasing socialization among like-minded adolescents and its causal link to improvements in physical or cognitive impairments, including progressive diseases of the latter. The U.S. military’s various UAV programs enlist persons with considerable hand-eye coordination as a result of e-gaming (although verification is debatable). And various private industries, including medicine, criminal justice, and some trades, employ virtual reality for training simulations whose skillsets are analogous to e-gaming.

But I speculate many college students obsessed with e-gaming are not pursuing programs or fields that reward the coordination and cognitive benefits of electronic gaming. If they are, numerous struggle to balance their habit with their academics; they fail to prioritize their lives, namely their education, as I have often personally witnessed in my classrooms over the past several years. Their inability to focus on matters that are neither animated nor automatically rewarded come into sharp relief in the classroom. Directions become unmanageable, deadlines pass without notice, and dignity in work that is submitted is non-existent. Some have even failed to maintain basic hygiene standards to the point that the campus nurse had to intervene. And in the lives of 18-year-old adults, allegedly. (The darker side of e-gaming’s effects on adolescents is brilliantly profiled in a 2010 PBS Frontline episode, Digital Nation.)

These effects only echo the poor self-management skills that prevent many from being able to acclimate to and socialize in the reality that matters—the one with which we are currently graced, without restarts or do-overs, and sometimes with as many opportunities as the single life it determines.

Unfortunately, this demographic believes virtually otherwise.

In Defense against Academic Freedom

In the August 27th, 1966 edition of Saturday Review, then-Vice President Richard Nixon and the revered American Historian, Henry Steele Commager, both authored distinct editorials defining the concept of academic freedom and its acceptable applications in higher education, at that time a more respectable American institution.[1] Both men write passionately, their missives void of artifice, exhorting officials to permit students to freely exercise their political viewpoints on college campuses during the Vietnam-era, when heightened scrutiny of one’s political leanings in public forums was at a fever pitch.

As to public college[2] professors, however, both men cautioned the university in granting them expressive latitude pursuant to their contractual duties on its premises. Nixon acknowledged the natural right of these educators to hold political viewpoints but advised them to exercise self-restraint so as not to unduly inflame or influence students to adopt anti-American sentiments. To him, America held its scholars to different, higher standards of conduct after having granted them full autonomy to direct their specialized knowledge and flex their prestige within a powerful American institution. Commager couched his apprehensions in the context of an enduring legacy of higher education: “…to act as the critic and the conscience of society. Society has indeed created it [higher education] to play this role.”[3] However, he defers to the unspoken social contract insisting professors be demure toward politics while in the college’s employ: “We require you, therefore, if you would not betray your historic function, to avoid all that is merely parochial, all that is interested, all that is prejudiced.”[4]

These narratives are the table stakes in discussions on the purpose of public higher education and, by extension, the standards of its faculty. A far less commonly addressed issue, however, centers on a more discreet means that some public college educators use to advance their political leanings:  curriculum development, specifically course creation, whose content and delivery are as parochial and mediocre as the teacher’s politics are prejudiced and uninformed. Some niche courses, like Cornell’s “Tree Climbing” or San Diego State’s “Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond,” are wondrously apolitical but questionably relevant in any way, further underscoring the deficiencies in undergraduate education nationwide.

Liberal arts and social sciences are the primary culprits, amending course catalogs with such apolitical novelties including “American Degenerates,” “Whiteness:  The Other Side of Racism,” “Cyberfeminism,” and “The Lucifer Effect:  How Good People Turn Evil.” Present in all tiers of higher education, this tactic is thickest among Ph.Ds. at four-year public institutions that have historically emphasized professional research accomplishments over effective instructional practices for over a century. Many of these doctorates are neither short on bluff nor bluster, and conveniently rationalize their pet political projects as “fun” or “more engaging” for students when all likelihood, little credence will be given to pedagogical matters.[5] Department heads rarely will follow up with an evaluation, trusting that the initial sales pitch that sounded sweet in person and read persuasively on paper will transfer just as successfully when applied in the classroom. Philosopher William James even criticized the university’s chronic tendency to conflate the conferment of a Ph.D. with the presence of sound pedagogy, leading the prominent social scientist to tersely quip, “Will any one [sic] pretend for a moment that the doctor’s degree is a guarantee that its possessor will be successful as a teacher? … his moral, social and personal characteristics may utterly disqualify him for success in the class-room; and of these characteristics his doctor’s examination is unable to take any account whatever.”[6]

Instructionally, niche professors largely default to lecture with a smattering of “loaded” discussion, whereby a class forum marches to preemptive questions basted heavily with partisanship. Student spontaneity can be hushed altogether, manipulated to favor a different view, or retailed as the opposition to then be ridiculed and condemned. Objectivity is summarily jailed while revisionism runs amok, purging tradition and vandalizing truth, replaced with fanciful interpretations of timeworn themes of power and control.

Nixon’s last of his “Four Academic Freedoms”—an intentional play on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s influential, “Four Freedoms,” decades before—preserves “the freedom of the student from tyranny by the faculty…”[7] (emphasis mine). Many niche courses represent a valid form of academic tyranny, not freedom. They are often cocktails of entitlement and fraud, blended by niche instructors and force-fed to students who experience nothing short of an academic “bait-and-switch.” Like activist judges who manipulate American jurisprudence in the name of democracy, these professors engineer clever ways to spin gold from straw in the name of education.

This strain of academic freedom runs amok of faculty’s obligations to instruct undergraduate students in a more pragmatic, essentialist manner in accordance with economic demand and unencumbered by novelty or postmodernism. Moreover, the politicization or aimlessness of a course further risks dispossessing minority viewpoints in favor of a mob majority, a tactic running aground to the inclusivity and democratization that many of niche professors preach but ironically fail to practice.

A caricature thus emerges from this brand of academic freedom—that of the college professor, pontificating ad nauseum to scores of impressionable or oblivious students, an academic sideshow further rendering American undergraduate education as the circus it risks becoming.





[1] This piece targets educators who routinely disguise their lackluster or poor teaching abilities with niche courses whose relevance to a program’s stated outcomes and objectives is tenuous at best, deceptive at worst. This is not condemning any instructor who has created what could be considered a niche course, nor is this ridiculing Ph.Ds who do exhibit best teaching practices.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, “college” is synonymous with all levels of public higher education in this paper. Also, “professor” is used interchangeably with non-Ph.D. representatives for convenience and to underscore my belief that a terminal degree rarely correlates positively to effective instructional methods. Often, there is a negative correlation, owing to the overemphasis on research at the expense of undergraduate education.

[3] Nixon, R. and H.S. Steele. (1966 Aug 27). “What do we mean by academic freedom?” Saturday Review, p. 37.

[4] Ibid, p. 37.

[5] Kevin Carey’s The End of College (2015) and Cathy Davidson’s The New Education (2017) aptly highlight the shoddy quality of undergraduate education in American colleges and universities.

[6] As cited in Carey (2015), p. 32.

[7] Nixon, R. and H.S. Steele. (1966 Aug 27). “What do we mean by academic freedom?” Saturday Review, p. 12.

Disfigured Speech

Earlier this week, Twitter unleashed its new user policy agreement, targeting users who post “content that dehumanizes others based on their membership in an identifiable group, even when the material does not include a direct target.” Helping codify its corporate version of protected speech, Twitter is directly soliciting its users’ feedback on its posted draft, amounting to a rather shrewd public relations move that presumably caused the uptick in the company’s stock as well.

CEO Del Harvey supports this shortsighted approach despite her bungling the alleged Alex Jones crisis, because the collective infuriation of Twits whose fill-in-the-blank sensitivities tilt easily from trigger-words matters far more. (And I do not recognize this contrivance called “hate speech”; it is simply speech someone feels especially offended by, meaning it is just hated speech. This arbitrary designation has only produced failed curtailments in all levels of court, resulting in more shame than dignity.)

If an idea’s substance ought to reign over its semantics, I wonder how an unpopular political belief phrased diplomatically would fare. And I am curious as to how long it would escape human or algorithmic scrutiny. But Twitter is a business, not a government enterprise subject to the scrutiny established by our judicial system. And it ought to remain this way, unfettered from federal jurisdiction, subject only to the private operators’—and stakeholders’—discretion.

But I will rightfully criticize the most embarrassing length a service has ever gone to satiate its customers’ demands:  severely impairing the very speech that functions to affirm its oppositions and differences. Put more simply, banishing unfavorable ideas—disgusting, insidious, perverted ideas—discounts the weight and significance of whatever selective ideas remain. More overreach will result in many contexts being diluted to a singular and severely reductive ideal. Means for comparison will go extinct. Baselines will blur away. Thresholds will disappear. And so will a people’s integrity when they complicity legislate language to an Orwellian degree, by which every communique—every tweet—will be imbued with an oppression most offensive.

And I will remain offended, but also intrigued by the inevitable overreach resulting from the haste of other platforms freely shucking protected speech in favor of shoddy populist policy-making, and with the careless oversight by a public largely ignorant of civics and Constitutional protections, to boot. I imagine these platforms will engage in a competitive one-upping of both policy content and its delivery, the winner’s purse going to whomever first successfully scorches every nuance of valid political discourse, notably those running aground to whatever sanitized musings and recycled misinformation are funneling down Twitter’s rabbit hole to oblivion.

And emotional sensitives be damned. If anything ought to feel offended by Twitter’s approach, it is one’s intellect. Mine is appalled. But pandering to the whims of one’s clientele is indeed a brutal edge to any service-based industry, especially a social media platform. Yet establishing such a precedent will only further embalm the linguistic monstrosity that is more akin to protective speech, piecemealed in roughshod Frankenstein fashion.

The cure for undesirable speech is more speech, not less. Exposing to light others’ philosophical defects ironically permits us to become more compassionate than tyrannical. And to clarify, shouting down invited speakers to a public college campus to speak does not qualify. It legally does not. Google it. But please make sure to use a credible civics or Constitution website.

The Change Colleges Need?

Goucher College’s New Curriculum and those alike have taken a revolutionary step forward in reforming what are commonly known as general education requirements. The traditional distributive method of checking boxes next to courses under distinct groupings with specific conditions to meet has fallen into disrepute at not only Goucher College, but also at The College of William and Mary (integrative, domain-based) and Arizona State University (sectors with minimal, open distributive requirements). Among all are similar numbers of available courses within each domain (or representative thereof) at around a half-dozen, significantly fewer than most traditional distributive general education requirements.

But after viewing clips on Goucher College’s website of college President Jose Antonio Bowen explaining its revolutionary approach beginning Fall 2018, I am hesitant on how applicable and successful this approach will be compared to the more alluring—and potentially damning—theory behind its presumptive success. Put differently, the gulf between theory and application appears prohibitively wider here.

I hope I stand wrong, however. The waters that Goucher and others have waded into are in desperate need a new dominance hierarchy, especially in the historically bungled pursuit of establishing a respectable undergraduate education in America.

On Goucher College’s website, specifically in the section addressing this new curriculum, President Bowen narrates a series of clips to explain this new approach to students’ first year at college. Below are a series of Bowen’s statements followed by my evaluation.

“Most of what you need to know in terms of content we cannot actually teach you because it hasn’t yet been discovered.”

This dovetails nicely with the oft-trumpeted presumption that what students are training for or being educated in now relates to jobs that do not yet exist. YouTube has a cache of mesmerizing videos that animate bewildering facts about the present and future that are more extreme than previous years’ clips, including presumed facts that further mystify this future economy. This clever marketing deepens the mystery of our immediate economic fate while simultaneously stoking the fears of students missing out on acquiring these skills that will command new roles, fields, and perhaps industries, all of which we are not yet fully aware.

Whatever mysteries that will exist, colleges are not the reasonable places to discover and demystify them. Not in their current version, anyway, even when factoring in renovated general education requirements. Business and industry are the proper places, notably those responsible for or directly impacted by the disruptions endemic to economic upheaval, good or bad. (I advocate for a more pronounced business-academia partnership in an upcoming post.)

Colleges can equip students with basic skill sets that somehow escaped so many an earlier age, but it shan’t require so many years. Nor should any current undergraduate college education in its present form, save for the rigors of STEM-related fields and industries. Not all college majors or programs are equal in economic value and reasonably so. I would never demand my literature and English credentials receive equal pay as an engineer with similar degree credentials would in the open market; collegiate programs should be treated just as accordingly.

“The most important thing in college is to learn about your own thinking, what we call being a ‘self-directed learner.’”

If students entering college do not know how they “think best” from the previous 13 years of schooling, the first two years in higher education will do little but reinforce to certain students how poor their senses of prioritization and judgment are, at least for the first year. Many students are convinced their methods of learning work, and perhaps that is true. Other students simply do not care to try something new out of a comfortable sense of complacency. (This trait complements today’s students’ collective aversion to risk-taking, including “risks” that are actually obligations, like attendance and deadlines.)

Put simply, discovery is a desire, and like confidence, it cannot be readily taught. It is far more inherent, at least in an actionable sense, which is the sense that matters most. Simply feeling inspired without capitalizing on it yields nothing productive in return. The process of discovery is not new and does not warrant the number of approaches that allegedly work this process best, especially considering young humans’ penchant for being stubbornly mercurial.

I do have to comment on Mr. Bowen’s presentation at this point in this video segment. Here, he assumes a supplicative tone when addressing the kind of traditional courses incoming students must take, such as “a little bit of” chemistry, philosophy, math, “but not everyone needs calculus.” He mitigates students responsibility to take seriously these courses and to heed essential information that without it, would render even the savviest of students useless. He grovels to students, conceding they will have to exhibit “some ability and some comfort level with” required course content. Rather than be straightforward, his tone folds into a slight shame, as how a pushover adult may act when trying to calm a group of disgruntled children. He unwittingly concludes, “so it’s really more about how you think and how you learn rather than what you learn.”

Any layperson with a lick of understanding that education in America is unforgivably substandard may find this approach so novel, so refreshing, that they would miss what experienced educators as myself find troubling:  relegating content to the peripherals of education in favor for time-consuming, trendy meta-learning theories that upend the centrality of content in any learning theory, including inquiry-based.

You should pick a major based on your desire for learning and your passion and your ability to change your mind.”

When discussing how Goucher prepares students for the future, Mr. Bowen downplays valid economic predictions as to which  industries will grow and dominate and which will wither and potentially perish. (Perhaps these are the same predictions conveniently thrown aside in favor of marketing the unknown future of careers in order to increase enrollment.)

He advises students to pursue their passions regardless of their sustainability in a rather merciless career market. “You’re going to be learning new things your entire life,” he declares. But this is immaterial. Furthermore, I do not fathom many students choosing something they anticipate hating but pursue it anyway, at least not to a degree that warrants this kind of response and subsequent curricular action. And pursuing a career that a student, now as an employee, would hate does not imply that learning new things is not a possibility. That misery deadens the ability to learn. And even if so, then that is on the student.

In all, too much emphasis on colleges employing novel strategies believing they would work regardless of the composition of the student body. There needs to be a frank conversation in literature on how significant cultural differences among student bodies, especially those enrolled in community colleges, affect curricular changes on such a large scale. Put differently, it is critical to track and analyze the success of applied educational policy on students among different geographical pockets and could provide a more accurate analysis of how to best cater to an array of student populations that cannot be reduced to a few oversimplified national statistics.

And finally, the “jobs that do not yet exist” rhetoric needs to be tempered in general and avoided altogether in education, specifically. No matter how innovate general education requirements may be, they still consume an unforgivable amount of students’ time that would be better spent immediately shadowing an industry representative before interning to further hone that student’s desirable skill sets. And from my professional experiences, many students desire to be pigeonholed in a particular career and not waste two years’ time allegedly becoming “a more well-rounded citizen,” as is the common refrain.

New roles will erupt in existing industries, true, but there will always exist enduring practices and careers requiring not only a human presence, but also human ingenuity. Problem-solving skills are critical, as are communication skills. Markets are not going to change so drastically within four – five years (or two – three for community college students) for institutions to adopt such a cavalier attitude toward traditional learning and an emphasis on content—the stuff of thought, the basis for informed decision making, the foundation of all inquiry.

I look forward to Mr. Bowen and other brave administrators and executives proving me wrong.

“It is a Motherhood Penalty”

Look no further for more cut-rate journalism promulgating the same misleading narrative of pay gap inequality between the sexes than to Vox’s episode on the issue in the Netflix series, Explained.

“Explained” is a rather generous term. Vox has no truck couching its liberal views in the parlance of objectivity as it does in this episode, which bestows viewers with the verbal hand-wringings of a selective group of females pandering to Vox’s biased position. Whatever that may be, anyhow.

And therein is the problem with an 18-minute segment on a rather critical issue that, unfortunately, is not addressed critically. We are graced with a lengthy history of sex discrimination in the 20-century American workplace whose origins, we come to find out later, begin in the home, specifically marked by the dynamic between the male and female relationship. The juxtaposition of archived footage from the early half-century’s monochrome advertisements with the latter half-century’s pay-gap protests present a crumbling dichotomy between tradition and modernity in the global economy.

But there is no identifiable thesis. No semblance of focus, unity, or coherence. An orgy of animated statistics weaves between clips and interviews but clarifies little, other than the pay gap between a single woman and single man in comparable working roles is only six cents to the man’s advantage, not the worn-over double-digit figure so often peddled.

But that figure might as well be in the mythical 80s-range. Or in the 70s-range. Or in any range simply because a disparity of any proportion is grounds for developing a short documentary that amplifies specious reasoning and poor logic.

Let me explain:

Within the first minute, Vox issues an oversimplistic deduction: Women, assuming all else equal, are paid less than men for doing the same job, meaning women are paid less for being female, and that is discrimination, which cannot occur. From this quickly emerges a portrait of females as victims of systemic economic oppression run amok by men. It is peculiar that such an emphasis is made on a woman’s value in respect to her economic utility. And Vox is no different, insisting that the value of a woman, particularly a mother, is predominantly measured within a Marxian framework of labor and economics—what she can contribute to an industry. Papa Karl would be proud, I am sure. An irony abounds, however, when reducing a person’s value, especially members from an oppressed group, to their economic utility:  it is political exploitation. And coming from the left, no less.

Notwithstanding rape, having a child is a choice. Raising a child expends, above all else, enormous amounts of time that cut into anything unrelated to raising that child, including the mother’s own personal or professional desires. This is not “a motherhood penalty,” as Hillary Clinton stupidly insists. It is a consequence of a voluntary decision. Time is a zero-sum game. If mothers were paid the same as men in comparable roles, but they put in fewer hours and accomplish less because of family obligations, that would be rewarding women for being mothers, and that is discriminatory (and far more cogent than what Vox sputters out). This runs afoul to Greta Van Susteren’s belief that women demand equal opportunity, not equal pay, “which are very different things,” she admits. But Vox fails wonderfully at distinguishing differences in points of view on this subject, giving the false impression that this collective ideology is indeed unified and sensible.

The narrator then transitions into the disparity between men and women in respect to household work, the majority predictably going to women. “This is the heart of the pay gap,” the narrator insists. Delegating responsibilities is a couple’s own prerogative, not a company’s or agency’s political fodder. (And in cases in which the male unilaterally dictates all roles, the woman’s continued participation in the unhealthy relationship is also a choice.)

Similarly, the constant overemphasis on equal pay reduces women to a value spectrum that is inextricably tied to their career commitments, whereas many women find greater value in the family they help create and raise by choice. These women believe in a traditional hierarchy that Vox’s brand of feminism deplores. This hierarchy works best for these mothers and their children’s fathers based on mutual understanding. Again, this is not the business of any business.

Furthermore, opportunistically deploying “choice” as it suits one argument while minimizing its applicability in more salient circumstances contrary to that argument, such as when a woman chooses to endure the obstacles resulting from her choices, is conspicuous and discreditable. Vox’s unprincipled reasoning is as subtle as Alex Jones is coy. In addition, Vox interchangeably uses “mother” and “woman” when the differences between the two are crucial in accurately understanding this issue.

Contrary to the lone female that Vox decided was sufficient enough to make the following point, not all industries in which women work permit those women to control their time autonomously. Countless regulations and the predictably unpredictable circumstances constrain many women—men, too—to prefixed times or durations in industries defined either by divisions of labor or by necessary protocols, including careers such as academia, law, and medicine. Honing the ability to do more with less time and more effectively is the elusive purple unicorn so often sought after by tech industries: it is quite rare.

Insisting that females are being economically penalized for being female is dishonest and adds to an already bloated saddle of nuanced oppression, much of it magnified to a molecular level simply to find a kernel of relatability or relevance. This group-think misleads so many into believing that a person is an individual insofar as it augments that person’s collective identity (or identities, as the concept of intersectionality dutifully helps clarify). Moreover,  cherry-picking which biologically immutable classifications, such as sex, are acceptable and when they are acceptable seem to shift with the mood-winds of Vox’s brand of feminism.

And insisting that Rwanda’s grand transformation to a more gender-equal society is something to emulate while obscuring the genocidal circumstances that directly led to the existence of that equality is repulsive. There warrants no further elaboration on a such a despicable ploy to persuade.

Vox further appears to attribute a woman’s choice in not pursuing equal pay to the societal perversions that economically shackle women in the first place. They seem to bemoan this choice or ignore it entirely. This further complicates whatever flavors of feminism lurk within its caricatures.

From the opening seconds to the final words rain down a salvo of information with no central objective other than to suffocate viewers with smokescreens of victimhood and demands for preferential treatment.

This is propaganda, poorly executed.

Viewers would do better watching instead the episode on marijuana. The smoke is higher quality.

Missed Accountability

Community college is a ship dead in the water.

Fortunately, California has legislated a solution to its two-year colleges’ collective failure at graduating their students satisfactorily, meaning in less time and in greater numbers:  Any college failing to improve its student outcomes and its services to what UC Berkeley Graduate Professor David Kirp considers, “poor students,”[1] will incur a 40 percent deduction in state funding as a penalty.

It is an astonishingly asinine piece of legislation, but one that faithfully accords to a lineage of similar fiats threatening economic ruin to schools failing to achieve well-intended—but predictably misapplied—academic standards. No Child Left Behind reduced learning to the selecting of a response from a litany of established choices, under prompts written with as much acquaintance to critical thinking as its  legislation’s authors and supporters were to effective pedagogy. These proponents, including those  authors, then-President George W. Bush and the late Ted Kennedy (D-MA), conflated quick assessment with effective learning. And then they enacted it into legislation, codifying it for nearly a decade, during which NCLB’s nearsightedness became clear, exposing evermore the federal government’s ineptitude addressing an institution it has no constitutional business interfering with, let alone governing, in the first place.

But now the community college is under a microscope after having enjoyed years of much-ado national attention, previously languishing since time immemorial in the ivory shadows of four-year institutions. Many junior college’s faculty and staff enjoy a loose belief that their particular academic bubble is recession-proof. The 12-month span between 2007 – 2008 surely validated it when two-year colleges suddenly were thrust into the role of savior for the U.S. economy. Thanks to then-President Obama’s tenure, education’s forgotten middle child finally could extol its open-admissions policies and its pragmatism. Two-year institutions sported their signature low costs, inviting atmosphere, and personal accessibility.

The public cheered.

Above all else, an in-demand degree took half the time to earn.

The public flocked. Enrollments flourished. It helps tremendously that community colleges are recession-proof. Allegedly, anyway.

But such virtues have failed in practice in California. Allegedly, anyhow.

Back to David Kirp. He responds to this punitive legislation nobly by outlining three undertakings each publicly-funded community college must accomplish, lest a considerable chunk of taxpayer-provided dollars vanishes to the ether, along with the education of a significant diaspora of predominantly in-state students:  creating momentum, fixing remedial education, and providing [students] a road map to graduation. Mr. Kirp is resigned to this punitive legislation, as everyone ought to be. But he is proactively responding to avoid its overreach, as everyone ought to be.

But more concerning than the prohibitive legislation is the conspicuous absence in Kirp’s commentary—and in other similar editorials—of student accountability, especially within the framework of the two primary goals pursuant to his state’s legislation:  improving student outcomes and services to the poor, both of which are the exclusive burdens of the college, ultimately settling largely on faculty who regularly serve as students’ first, and often most accessible, contact.

Make no mistake:  faculty commiserate frequently—and colorfully—about students needing to be held more consistently and proportionally accountable. Significantly so. Administration is firmly aware of this issue, but notwithstanding any consensus behind closed doors, its official policy is to further mire itself in the profitable-but-unsustainable business of remediating students’ college experience to a cut-rate extension of high school, operated by the mid-level managerial equivalent of a meddling mother. Many administrations embrace it because marketing what amounts to a welfare state spoils system translates to easy money. Add in a compromised curriculum for good measure, and—voila!—acquiring state funding is less problematic. But now a significant morale issue engulfs administration and faculty concerning the essence of the college. Conflicts metes out over the precarious balance between academic rigor and student retention that trumpets from either side of the same official mouthpiece. The latter of the two chiefly falls under administration’s purview while the former under faculty’s. What is commonly at odds goes beyond the discrepancy in the nuanced meanings of quantity and quality; it cuts to both camps’ philosophical differences, reducible to the reason for the permanent philosophical disconnect: the dearth of college-level teaching experience present among administrators and executives.[2]

It is difficult to imagine an educator-turned-administrator would green-light staff to interrupt in-session classes, pluck students currently unregistered for the following semester, and then literally walk them down to an academic advising office, where each student will sit and wait before observing representative register their classes for them. It is problematic to believe this reformed educator would contractually obligate faculty to cold-call potential students over dinner hour (of all times) to lure them to a campus that more of them will opt out of than express even tepid interest. (It does not help when caller ID devices list incoming college employee office calls as, “unlisted,” further invalidating this tone-deaf recruitment method.) And it be disingenuous of this new executive to pull on a faculty member’s heartstrings to coax her into overlooking a student’s poor academic standing, and then to permit some exception to that member’s course policy. There have occurred the same situations but involving outright direct insubordination of the teacher, ranging from obscenities to threats. But these are apparently the effects of poorly enacted student outcomes or half-baked attempts at helping poor students and stopping a half-step short of holding students’ hands throughout the majority of their first two years of adult independence is sound practice.

Indeed, what President of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Hank Dunn, testifies to the need for more student accountability rings true:  the college’s overemphasis on its own best practices to ensure student success does not empower students to change their behavior. Back to Dunn: “we came to the conclusion that indeed we were doing things ‘to’ a student and not fundamentally changing the students’ [sic] behavior.”[3] Squandered in this morass is any credibility among disingenuous faculty and pandering administrations in firmly and consistently holding students accountable for their choices in college.

Choice. Its positivity infuses policy rhetoric. Choice is student-centeredness. Choice means for students autonomy, control, and comfort—a trinity that every newly-minted 18-year-old demands. Choice is democratic. American, even. Choice is also marketable. Choice is savvy. But without equivocation, with that brand of choice should naturally come for each student absolute responsibility and accountability. A college’s function is to legislate these and adjudicate them within the same parameters as the choices it supplies students.

Accountability does exist in community colleges. All faculty, personnel, staff, and administration—the collective institution, from custodians to the president—is continuously accountable for student success. California’s legislature agrees. The general public agrees. Mr. Kirp agrees. I agree.

But that should not the point. It is a deflection—a shrewd, political sleight-of-hand that maintains the veneer of accountability while disguising its original intent. Such misdirection preserves the integrity of the college and surely cements votes for the state suits because these approaches imply that students need never fear repercussions proportionate (or at all) to the infraction, whether it is related to academics, athletics, or campus life. In my experiences, this implication converts to actuality once college is in session and students’ desire to play more than work goes unchecked.

Serious discourse on this issue lags compared to how California’s state legislature defines “accountability” that, like its equally ambiguous brethren “equality,” becomes a presumptuously misapplied, highly politicized term. Its intensity and significance ebbs and wanes with as much predictable inconsistency as the stock market. In most literature, accountability focuses predominantly on how colleges should be more culpable for student success, meaning mildly praised when it occurs or mercilessly condemned when it does not. What literature does spotlight student accountability often tins with either caricature-like sanctimony or unenlightened persuasion on students’ natural capability to self-motivate, prioritize, and assuredly conquer their futures with aplomb, when in actuality, few further truths can be had considering the vast majority, populated in large part by Kirp’s “poor students,” among others, typically fail to meet the entrance standards of four-year public institutions because they lacked proper accountability at crucial times in the not-so-distant past, and not because they are cognitively deficient, victims of discrimination, or bearers of bad luck.

“We must work with what we have.” This is a common refrain in a professional’s college tenure from all levels of administration toward a litany of perennial issues. In campus-wide welcome-back speeches, it is a preemptive reminder whose mild firmness hardens by mid-term’s separate division pep talks. Buried in the words lay that third-rail issue of student accountability, strewn thickly with ominous statistics on declining enrollments and state budget cuts, punctuated with renewed vigor on retaining students to combat increased tuition costs and declining job wages.

And what of academic rigor, of the college-level work naturally resulting from the menu of the many desirable, empowering choices marketed to attract and retain as many warm bodies as possible? It is there, I am sure, lurking in still waters, waiting for an act of Nature to steer it again toward relevance. But it might take an act of Congress to legislate it out of the headwinds of oblivion, replete with ruinous consequences for all.

[1] “California to community colleges:  graduate more students or lose your funding,” LA Times, 8/22/18,

[2] Educational administrative theory, a business acumen, or non-educational leadership experience qualify for executive or administrative positions in a type of college that markets its exclusive focus on best-practices instruction to exploit the most potential from students.

[3] “POV: Time to hold students accountable for their own success,” Community College Week, 3/18/2018,