The Ivy League has just passed rules to outlaw tackling in football practices. The changes still need to be officially passed, but were approved by all the coaches. Obviously, the main motivation of this would be to prevent injuries – and especially the kinds of brain injuries that are turning out to be incredibly common in football. The Ivy League has a history of passing rules to do much more than most of the NCAA to make sure that athletes are actually real students and to keep them safe, so this is another example of the league being one of the leaders in improving conditions for college athletes. Hopefully, the rest of the NCAA will follow and start passing similar rules.
The Boston Globe has an interesting article on poor students in the Ivy League. In short, poorer students at elite schools are often better off than their peers in in less selective institutions (financial aid can solve a lot of issues people have trying to attend school), but still face a number of potential problems. Poor students can have trouble with their social lives due to lack of money for things like going on vacation with friends during breaks or even eating dinner outside the subsidized dining hall. Even middle income students are a minority on elite campuses and can face these kinds of problems. There are academic problems too, as students who didn’t go to the kinds of high schools that feed into elite colleges often start at a disadvantage due to both having a somewhat less rigorous education upon entering college and also due to not having connections or knowing how to work the system to their advantage. At the same time, graduation rates and outcomes in general seem to be much better at the elite schools. The majority of poor students (possibly 90+%) do end up graduating, which is a vastly larger percentage than the rate for poor students in general. I would note that while I (middle income but not poor) didn’t end up facing any serious problems going from a decidedly average public high school to an elite college, I do think that many of the things described in the article could have easily happened to me.
Over the weekend, the Colorado men’s cross country team won the NCAA Division I championship for the second straight year. The race was a 10k course in Terre Haute, Indiana. The Colorado team ended up with 65 points although the top two runners were both from Oregon, with the best finishing with a time of 30:19. Stanford came in second with 98 points. The northeastern region sent an all-Ivy set of individual qualifiers with two from Columbia and one each from Harvard and Yale. The Colorado women’s team also did quite well, ending up at #7 out of 31 qualifying teams. For some reason, the women’s course is only 6k instead of using the same 10k as in the men’s race.
While MIT is now past the first round of the D-III tournament, to no one’s surprise, Columbia football has now lost it’s 21st game in a row and has no wins in the last two years. One more game and they’ll be halfway to tying their epic 44-game losing streak in the mid-80s. As with nearly every other game in the past few years, the team lost in a blowout, this time to Brown.
Even NPR takes a swipe at Columbia football.
Continuing some coverage of Columbia football, even the Wall Street Journal is weighing in now.
The Washington Post now has a short article on Columbia’s losing streak, which is now up to 20 games. It goes over the general context of both Ivy and Columbia football. Note that this isn’t Columbia’s worst losing streak. That happened in the mid-1980s and reached 44 games, which has only been surpassed by Prairie View A&M. Some people who were around then claim that the team actually looks worse than it did during the 80s. Right now, it looks like they’ll go 0-10 for the second year in a row unless they manage a huge upset against Brown next week. Brown isn’t even that good but any win is a huge upset at this point. The best chance of breaking this streak might be to start scheduling only the worst teams for the 3 non-conference games. At least when I was there, the team would be competitive in most games even if it rarely won in the end.
The FiveThirtyEight blog, which has now moved to ESPN from the New York Times, has a post where people actually write about Ivy football. Unfortunately, it’s not positive.
Today is the day where last place in the Ivy League will be decided, with Cornell coming to Inwood to play Columbia at Baker Field. Columbia, as usual, is having a terrible season and might just be the worst team in all of Division I (although the Ivies operate using something more like Division III rules they are actually D-I). Cornell is doing similarly badly this season and both are 0-8 right now. The game has already started, but since Columbia never sells out, there’s plenty of time to take the 1 train up to 215th Street to see some of this years’ worst college football.
Update: It was a hard-fought battle, but Columbia has seized sole control over last place.
Every few months someone writes an article blaming elite colleges – and in particular the Ivy League – for all of the problems in higher education in the US.
This time, it’s the New Republic. This author, William Deresiewicz, actually comes from within academia, so he at least has some first hand experience. However, he wastes most of the article attacking a caricature of the Ivy League which, in his mind, is the root of all evil in education.
Ultimately, the author wants more investment in public education. He would like to see the current annual college admissions frenzy calm down, and would like students to spend less time on resume building and more on following their real interests. He would like colleges to have more economic diversity and to focus more on education as an intellectual exercise than as professional training.
These all address real problems in American higher education, yet his focus on the Ivy League (and similar institutions) as being the foremost group perpetuating these problems is misguided. Nowhere does he mention the need-blind admissions process – where students are admitted without direct knowledge of their financial situation (though this can often be gleaned from the rest of the application) nor the generous financial aid policies making elite universities even more affordable than even the local flagship public university for most families. He uses unwarranted hyperbole, stating that elite college students have completely eschewed politics and academia in favor of finance and consulting. In fact, the elite colleges do a better job addressing these problems than many less selective institutions.
Deresiewicz faults the Ivy League for its lack of economic diversity and yet notes that the Yale admissions session he was involved in actually penalized a student for seemingly trying too hard to build a resume while giving a boost to applicants with hardship indicators, such as having parents who never attended college. There certainly aren’t enough students from poor or even middle class families, but one cannot say that the colleges don’t care enough to even try to do something about it.
The author complains that students’ education is focused solely on professional development yet he spent his entire academic career at Columbia and Yale, neither of which even offers professional undergraduate majors outside engineering. Professional development at these schools comes outside the classroom. In the classroom, they are some of the foremost proponents of arts an sciences education (Columbia in particular). Anyone who has spent time among undergrads at elite colleges would laugh at the assertion that students come to class looking like they are prepared for a job interview.
Deresiewicz declares that society is too focused on prestige yet somehow Williams and Pomona are examples of elite bastions of privilege while Wesleyan and Mount Holyoke are merely “second tier” and thus offer a better education. Making such distinctions is absurd when all the institutions are elite and all largely draw from the same pool of high school graduates. Even more absurdly, he believes that it is typical for upper middle class communities to scorn those to go to such a lowly institution as Penn State. To the best of my knowledge no such community exists. Perhaps everyone the author knows lives in a Park Avenue coop and obsesses over getting their toddler admitted to one of the most selective preschools on the Upper East Side. Even there, I suspect that children are more likely to end up at a place like Penn State than at Penn. It seems that the problem is more with the author than with the institutions he criticizes.
It’s convenient to blame the elite institutions for the problems in education but ultimately wrong. If the author wanted to argue for more support of public education, he should have actually written about public education. Things like declining public support, reduction in tenure track faculty, de-emphasizing traditional arts and sciences fields, and lack of affordability are important issues to write about. Of course, that will get fewer views than attacking the top private colleges.