the nas’s hundred great ideas

A couple of months ago, the right-wing National Association of Scholars pulled together and published a list of “100 Ideas for Reforming Higher Education.” The ideas are presented, one per contributor (with a few exceptions), organized alphabetically by the last name of the contributor, which makes the compilation seem even more haphazard than it is (and that’s plenty). Little information is presented as to who was asked to contribute, or how the contributions were solicited. The fact that each person gets one shot, though, implies that the problem each one targets is what that person sees as the biggest problem in higher education. There are some strange entries and some conventional ones. Many, though not all, are from conservative commentators. Below the break I’ve sorted them into categories, with some comments thrown in here and there. A few interesting points overall:

  • Given the NAS’s obsession, there is relatively little about liberal indoctrination.
  • There is virtually nothing about STEM at all: what to teach, how to teach it, whether to focus on it. This is particularly interesting given current conservatives’ focus on tying education to employment.
  • For a conservative organization, supposedly opposed to regulation, they’re really into requiring things!
  • Several of the suggestions are conservative in the oldest sense: seeking to reclaim a sense of privilege and exclusiveness that has (in the writers’ eyes) been lost. These include suggestions for student behavior and conduct as well as straightforward suggestions about keeping the rabble out.

Who Should Come to College?

  • Enroll Students who are Prepared for College (Felicia Sanzari Chernesky)
  • Custom-Tailor Career Preparation for Students (Jason Fertig)
  • Offer Alternatives to the Four-Year Degree (Robin Fox)
  • Predict Students’ Success Probabilities (Joanne Jacobs)
  • Base Admissions on Merit (Russell Nieli)
  • Erase Race from the Admissions Process (Larry Purdy)
  • Eliminate Race Boxes; Reveal Preferential Treatment (Roger Clegg)
  • Encourage Parents and Prospective Students to Explore the Campus (Sam Ratcliffe)
  • Consider Early Entrance for Those Academically Ready (John Rosenberg)
  • Offer K-12 Alternatives (Howard S. Schwartz)

How Should College be Funded and Organized?

  • Decouple loans from accreditation (Richard Bishrijian)
  • Cut Waste (Michael Poliakoff)
  • Ease the Student Loan Crisis: Ten Ideas (Donald Sullivan)
  • Target Student Loans (Jackson Toby)
  • Save the Best, Axe the Rest (Robert Weissberg) – “eliminate all second- and third-tier colleges”
  • Cut Unnecessary Expenses (John Wenger) – including “stop the proliferation of unnecessary requirements,” an ironic suggestion given the sheer size of the next category:

What Should be Required of Students?

  • Western Civilization (Jay Bergman)
  • Freshman Course on Academic Freedom (Donald Downs)
  • Latin (Thomas Drucker)
  • Learn Beautiful Words By Heart (David Clemens)
  • Bring Back Learning By Heart (Janice Fiamengo)
  • Memorize Key American Texts (Wilfred McClay)
  • Public Speaking (Will Fitzhugh)
  • Etymology (Anu Garg)
  • Epictetus and Rauch (Charles Geshekter)
  • The Abolition of Man (Carol Iannone)
  • Require Students to Pay Percentage of Tuition Through Work Study (April Kelly-Woessner)
  • American History (Charles L. King)
  • Require Students to Justify Course Selections (Adam Kissel)
  • Logic (George Leef)
  • Western Civilization Interdisciplinary Program (Herbert London)
  • Physical Labor (Charles Mitchell)
  • Course on the Founding (Don Racheter) – “no left-wing psychobabble,” mind you. “Tell the story straight up.” Oh, and by the way – that’s the founding of the United States.
  • Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Glenn Ricketts)
  • Prosody (in Poetry Classes) – Keep the Meter Running (David J. Rothman)
    The Classics (in Art History) (Gilbert Sewall)
  • Phonics (in Teacher Education) (Jane S. Shaw)
  • General Knowledge (Fred Siegel)
  • Master’s in Subject Taught in K-12 (for Doctoral Admission in Education) (Sandra Stotsky)
  • Common Reading Program (Ashley Thorne)
  • Student Attendance and Participation (David L. Tubbs)
  • Statistics Course (Howard Wainer)
  • Logic, Critical Thinking, and a K-12 Core Curriculum (Ibn Warraq)
  • Great Literature (for English majors) (R. H. Winnick)
  • Course on the Fall of Democracies (Matthew Woessner)

How are Teaching and Learning Accomplished?

  • Be a Mentor (Jill Biden)
  • Don’t Give Credits for Service Learning (Jan H. Blits)
  • Challenge Students (Douglas Campbell)
  • Teach Graduate Students How to Teach (Andrew Delbanco)
  • Institute a Faculty Dress Code and Require Use of Student Surnames (Joseph Epstein)
  • Disconnect Academia from the Real World (Bill Felkner)
  • Use Technology to Teach the Curriculum (Terrence F. Flower)
  • Offer Six Weeks in Athens, Six Weeks in DC (Frederic Fransen)
  • Assign More Homework (David French)
  • Define, Teach, and Uphold Composition Standards (Bruce Gans)
  • Create a Social Networking Site for Online Students (James Garland)
  • Preserve Liberal Arts Education (David Gordon)
  • Walk the Stacks (Christopher Long)
  • Teach the Habit of Debate (Greg Lukianoff)
  • Teach Vivid Writing (John Maguire)
  • Allow Students to Pursue Obsessions (Cary Nelson)
  • Reevaluate Writing Instructors’ Skills (Robert Paquette)
  • Ban First Person in Writing (Naomi Schaefer Riley) – This one is defended with a narrative about self-esteem that is almost entirely unrelated to first-person writing.
  • Write, Argue, Persuade, Set an Example (David Solway)
  • Banish Textbooks (Bradley C. S. Watson)
  • Offer Education Schooling at the Graduate Level Only (Terry Wimberley)
  • Cut Undergraduate Education in Half; Limit the Curriculum (Tom Wolfe)

How To Ensure Ideological Diversity?

  • University Task Forces on “Intellectual Pluralism” (Steven H. Balch)
  • Challenge Them, But Safeguard Students’ Right to Express Religious Beliefs (Peter Augustine Lawler)
  • Evaluate Bias (Alex Myrick)
  • Safeguard the Pursuit of Truth (Kevin Nestor)
  • Work From Within to Expose Politicization (Sylvia Wasson) – Wasson claims that Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift exposes “a highly politicized academy.” I didn’t see that in the book at all.
  • Encourage Conservatives to Enter Academia (Matthew Woessner)

What do Students Do When Not In Class?

  • Abolish Big-Time Sports (George Dent)
  • Eliminate Temptation (Chester Finn) – Finn suggests pharmacological interventions to prevent alcohol abuse and sex on campus. Good luck!
  • Study in the Library, Lunch in the Cafeteria (Mary Grabar)
  • Make Campus Safe for Modesty (Nathan Harden) – Is modesty really “unsafe”? Or just un-cool?
  • Take Charge of Student Orientation (Robert Maranto)
    Send Administration and Staff to Sporting and Cultural Events (Wright Martindale, Jr.) – Yeah, that sounds good – spend taxpayer money sending staff to entertainment events.
  • Recover a Disposition for Leisure (Thomas A. Shakely) – I’m pretty sure I’ve got one of those!
  • Institute a Dress Code (Tom Wolfe)

How do we Know What We Are Doing Right and Wrong?

  • Report class grades (Richard Arum) – Arum endorses a somewhat simplified form of what UNC will be implementing next year.
  • Limit A and B Grades (Charles Murray)
  • Grade the Graders (Bill Roden)
  • Move Toward Truth in Grading (Malcolm Sherman)
  • Discuss Grading Standards Over Lunch (David Fott)
  • Re-Evaluate Student Evaluations (Stanley W. Trimble)
  • Reward Rigor – Not Student Evaluations (Robert Carle)
  • Abolish Student Evaluations (Jonathan Imber)
  • Create a College Ranking Supersystem (William Casement)
  • Reexamine Faculty Productivity (Candace De Russy)
  • Publish Employment Outcomes (Andrew Gillen)
  • Accept Master’s Degree in Lieu of Teaching Certificates (Victor Davis Hanson)
  • Keep Parents Informed (Christina Jeffrey)
  • Add Asterisk to College Accreditation for Every Thousand Complaints (Malcolm Kline)
  • Hold Schools Accounable Via the Collegiate Learning Assessment (Thomas Lindsay) – conservative commentators have latched onto this particular instrument with remarkable tenacity. I don’t understand enough about it, but I’m puzzled as to why it’s become such a focus.
  • Exit Exam in Writing (Lawrence Mead)
  • Require Schools to Post College Report Cards (Marty Nemko)
  • Ask Trustees to Review the Curriculum (B. Nelson Ong) – note this involves “reading the reports from the NAS and the ACTA,” which implies the Trustees are supposed to review the curriculum insofar as it matches conservative values.
  • Keep Trustees Informed Via Their Own Employee (Richard Vedder)
  • Post Course Descriptions and Syllabi Online for Public Viewing (Jay Schalin) – in my experience this is ubiquitous already


  • Give Truth a Chance (Robert L. Jackson)
  • Promote Faculty Time at Think Tanks (Mitch Pearlstein)
  • Practice Civility in Faculty Meetings (James Roumasset)
  • Academics Should First Work in Private Sector (Harry Stein)
  • Don’t De-Carbonize… Defenestrate (Austin Williams) – apparently the biggest problem is the “green lifestyle bullies” on campus?
  • Abolish the Journalism Degree (Kevin Williamson)

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

10 thoughts on “the nas’s hundred great ideas”

    1. I want to read that one, but I fear the solution is “get rid of the windows in classrooms.”

      If it is, as implied, “throw the environmentally-aware out the window,” then I’m surprised even the National Association of “Scholars” (Tom Wolfe???) would publish it.


  1. I was trying to think of what I would come up with this, especially since I think the spirit is to come up with a concrete suggestion rather than some quantitative desideratum (e.g., “reduce the dean-to-professor ratio”). Not sure if I’ve come up with anything.

    I’ll confess that there are various things I might propose that I think would be better for higher education in general, but would make my life less comfortable/convenient if implemented.


  2. I love the two mentions of dress codes for faculty, particularly since I routinely get flashed by students dressed “immodestly” and have not, to my knowledge, done this to them.

    Also writing to report that I saw the post title and thought I’d be reading 100 great ideas by this guy: Just couldn’t figure out why Andy was calling him “THE Nas.”


    1. Faculty/student dress codes seems to me like one of those things that (a) would be totally fair for an employer to implement and (b) probably would be have more positive consequences for higher ed than negative consequences, but of course I might nevertheless howl like a fundamental civil liberty was being trampled upon if my employer tried to implement it.


      1. I’d object, also. But my informal sanctioning of the display of who-haas in the classroom isn’t working.


    2. I am not sure I understand what body parts you refer to by the terms “flashing” and “who-haas” as the way I have usually understood the terms they refer to, ahem, private parts below the navel. If we are using language in the same way, either I’m exceptionally unaware of my surroundings or I’d say our students are less aggressive in their attire than yours.


      1. Even though the de facto dress code on Morningside Heights has changed (for the better) since its days as a single-gender institution with That Other Gender relegated to West of Broadway, I suspect the “informal sanctioning” hasn’t reached critical mass (n=1) yet.


      2. I suspect that the meteorological climate might have more to do with presence of who-haas than the social climate. I guess its an empirical question.


  3. It appears as if this is not an exclusively conservative list of contributors since Jill Biden, wife of Joe Biden, and Cary Nelson, former president of the AAUP, are both contributors.


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