Justice Scalia doesn’t understand higher education

Justice Scalia is no stranger to controversy. One of the Supreme Court’s staunchest conservatives, Scalia has often raised the ire of those who disagree with his positions. During the second round of arguments on the Fisher affirmative action case, the conservative icon again courted controversy in his comments on minority students attending higher education. Justice Scalia doesn’t understand higher education as his comments during the hearing showed.

(Full Disclosure: I am a signatory on the Amici Curiae brief by social scientists supporting the University of Texas in the case)

Referring to one of the briefs in the case, Scalia said, “There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.”

He continued, “They come from lesser schools where they do no feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

Simply put, Scalia is wrong.

Where do good ideas come from?

What types of organizations and spaces lead to creativity and innovation? This is a fundamental question that higher education institutions confront on a continual basis. I recently finished reading Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From:  The Natural History of Innovation. He presents several thought provoking ideas that I believe can prove useful for thinking about higher education’s role in supporting innovation, creativity, and new ideas.

Johnson seeks an answer to the basic question of what types of spaces have historically supported creativity and innovation.

Much of his work draws from an environmental perspective using key notions from biology, ecology, and other related fields to understand innovations.

Three ideas from the book strike me as particularly important for those of us in higher education.

Prestige and limited information complicate the higher education market

The pervasive role of prestige and limited consumer information form two of the central influences on the operation of the student market in higher education. The limited number of options available for colleges and universities to successfully compete and gain additional financial resources only amplifies the significance of prestige and the lack of information. Increasingly, the prestige and revenue potential of the student market takes prominence in internal decision-making at many institutions.  The result is that campus leaders feel compelled to engage in a high stakes competition for students to supplement declines in other sources of revenue— particularly state appropriations.

Time for research to study gun violence

Another day, another mass shooting. I don’t write that to be glib.  We’ve had 1,044 mass shootings in 1,066 days.  We are almost literally averaging a mass shooting per day in this country. Yet, despite this damaging statistic and an overwhelming majority in favor of strong gun control measures, we have been unable to enact any meaningful measures to try to reduce gun violence. I’m under no illusion that another mass shooting will lead to change (if killing our children in their classrooms didn’t motivate change, I’m not sure anything will). However, I do think there is one thing that we can do now to actually do something: it is time for research to study gun violence.

Memorial at Virginia Tech

By law, the federal government is essentially banned from studying gun violence.

Representative Jay Dickey led a legislative effort in 1996 to cut off funds for research that would infringe on Second Amendment rights.

(Former Rep. Dickey now says he regrets his role in stopping the research and advocates the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence).