For college-bound senior Allison Clifford and her parents, John
and Barbara, their fast-paced college search slowed dramatically
after Sept. 11 to a careful pondering of whether to attend far away
or close to home. If it's up to her father, it may be someplace
For Elisabeth Colabraro, a junior theater major at Emerson
College in Boston, marching for peace suddenly replaced all other
issues as the centerpiece of her fledgling activism.
And for Andrew Bergstein, an instructor in marketing at Penn
State's Smeal School of Business, it has been a time of putting
aside business instruction at various points in his regular classes
to discuss US relations with Afghanistan - or whatever is on
students' minds. "It's important to be sensitive to students' needs
right now," he says.
Like the rest of America, higher education was shaken to its
roots in September. Even so, the terrorist attacks slammed into a
year that was already quite full of important developments and
In many ways, 2001 now seems a sort of life-raft year for higher
education. Torn steel and tears lash together a flotsam of events
and issues - from affirmative action to skyrocketing tuition, from
an Ivy League changing of the guard to a college historian's fibbing
and the SATs slipping.
Revenge of the nerds?
The year began with yet another in a long line of breast-beating
commissions denouncing the misplaced priorities of college sports
and the scandalous failure to graduate more "student athletes."
Graduation rates are about 42 percent for Division I men's
basketball and 48 percent for football. Among a spate of books on
the subject this year and last, one pointed out that even small
elite colleges are caught in the trap: giving athletes a leg up in
admissions at the expense of maintaining academic quality.
But a few schools are adopting a New Year's resolution to do
something about it.
Earlier this month, a core group of elite liberal arts colleges
in the New England Small College Athletic Conference - Williams,
Amherst, Bowdoin, and Middlebury among them - decided that grade-
point averages really should beat touchdowns scored when weighing
students for admission. About half the conference members agreed to
cut by about 10 percent the number of "recruited" athletes admitted
"There was a strong consensus around the table that we want to be
true to our ideals," Tom Gerety, Amherst's president, told the
Chronicle of Higher Education. "In order to uphold our ideals, we
need to do good institutional research and share it with each
Will it make a dent in the $4 billion college-sports machine? Not
much, perhaps. But it is a start, he and others say.
Sports wasn't the only area where higher education's values were
on display this year. The contentious debate over affirmative-
action policies in admissions heated up as a long series of court
battles began to culminate.
The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati heard
arguments this month in two lawsuits. Plaintiffs' attorneys argued
that the University of Michigan and its law school illegally
discriminated against two white women - selecting for admission less-
well-qualified minorities instead. The university argued that the
government has a legal "compelling interest" in maintaining
diversity on campus - requiring such admissions preferences.
These cases will likely be the first tests for affirmative action
in higher education to reach the US Supreme Court - probably next
year - since the 1978 case Regents of the University of California
v. Bakke. After a decade of split decisions by federal courts, these
cases could heavily influence minorities' access to selective
Bricks vs. clicks
While lawyers knocked heads over affirmative action, deep-
pocketed schools were themselves banging into the blunt reality of
supply-and-demand economics. …