College conundrum

National | A guide to the guides, part one: Students may not want to go where most major college guides will lead them

Issue: "Gunpoint evangelist," Oct. 9, 1999

At prestigious Duke University, Frederic Jameson, chairman of the Literature Program and one of its many Marxist professors, has said that preparing students for the "struggles of the future" is "the supreme mission of a Marxist pedagogy." According to one Duke professor, "The English department has invested a lot of appointments in gay and lesbian studies, and they are very politicized." English courses at Duke include "Unholy Passion? Fictional Representations of Illicit Desire" and "Adult Pleasures," a class in which, according to the course description, "queer politics will motivate this study of sexual arenas that society often dismisses as 'perverse.'" Should families know these facts before shelling out tens of thousands of dollars on a Duke education? Only one of the major guides to American colleges thinks so. The above information about Duke comes from Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth about America's 100 Top Schools, compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The other guides (The Fiske Guide to Colleges, Barron's Guide to the Most Competitive Colleges, The Princeton Review's The Best 331 Colleges, and Yale Daily News' The Insider's Guide to the Colleges) ignore it. They ignore more than just Duke's Marxist and homosexual-activist professors as well. Readers of most of the major guides would never know that there is any nationwide controversy over radical trends in collegiate curricula. They would never know about the battles involving "gay and lesbian studies," "feminist studies," and other new majors, or the loss of higher education's historic emphasis on Western civilization. The only guide that gives them any clue is ISI's Choosing the Right College. Sometimes, it's hard to believe that Choosing and the other guides are describing the same schools. For instance, Choosing says, "Classes at today's Duke University can range from extremely good to non-scholarly and worse.... Even by the standards of today's universities, Duke's offerings are notable for their sheer quantity and silliness." Compare that to Fiske's description of the same institution: "Duke University has epitomized the definition of upward mobility in recent years. It's recipe for success? Start with impressive facilities, add faculty members who take their teaching seriously and an increasingly academically minded student body, and then throw in a Southern flair for school pride and social graces." Every guide except Choosing the Right College seems to share the basic leftist worldview that dominates higher education today. The editors of these guides see no need to tell readers the extent to which a college has been influenced by radical fads, since those fads are not significant to them. But this doesn't explain why they ignore heated controversies-ones that parents certainly have an interest in reading about-on numerous campuses. Readers might expect the guides to take the leftist side of campus controversies; instead, most guides simply omit any reference to them. Take Dartmouth College. You may have read about the long-running controversy over the Dartmouth Review, but probably not in a college guide. Only Choosing the Right College points out how members of the administration and faculty have tried to undermine the conservative student paper over the years-stopping distribution, unsuccessfully suing the paper, suspending students on the staff, and even once physically attacking a student editor. Writing about Dartmouth College without mentioning the battles involving the Dartmouth Review is like writing about politics in the 1990s and leaving out the impeachment of President Clinton. But that's exactly what the other guides do. Barron's mentions the Review only in passing, calling it "the mouthpiece of a small, but vocal few." The Insider's Guide also barely notices it, but with a different take: "Dance, a cappella singing groups, the Dartmouth Review, and Dartmouth's radio station are also popular." The Best 331 Colleges dismisses the Review as "ultra-conservative," and Fiske disregards it altogether. So it goes with controversies at other schools. Choosing describes the infamous attack on the "Western Culture" requirement at Stanford University. (Twelve years ago Jesse Jackson led a crowd of students in chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Culture's got to go!") Because of the pressure, Stanford today focuses on "feminist scholarship and race-based critiques, while at the same time giving short shrift to the Western tradition," it says. All of the other guides overlook the controversy, with Barron's meekly stating that changes in the curriculum "reflect the commitment that Stanford has to responding to student and faculty input on its courses." In its review of Princeton University, Choosing the Right College notes that the University's Office of Student Life "has forced students to listen to nonacademic propaganda against their will and operates a fund used to pay for students' abortions." None of the other guides even mention Princeton's Office of Student Life, not even to defend it in the face of conservative criticism. But Choosing the Right College isn't only helpful in alerting families to the objectionable. It promises to "focus on what was once considered the essence of a sound education: the liberal arts," and it largely does so in both its criticisms and recommendations. Hillsdale College is praised for its "thoughtful, well-considered" reform of its core curriculum. Wheaton College, it says, "continues to experiment with a mixture of multiculturism and conservative Christianity, but has so far come out on the traditional side of the spectrum." It gives similarly guarded praise to Calvin College: "Thus it seems that while certain trends have at least a foot in Calvin's door, the faculty and administration has-for now, and generally speaking-kept their influence at bay. The question remains whether by opening the door, Calvin has let in something worthwhile or let something even greater escape." Choosing the Right College notes some trendy teaching at Vanderbilt University, but praises the school because it "has-so far, at least-resisted the moneymaking lure of preprofessional undergraduate programs that prepare students for a job but not necessarily for something greater." And Clemson University "remains surprisingly solid in its academic standards" because radical trends "have made only modest inroads" there. Choosing the Right College, in other words, doesn't hand out plaudits lightly, so when it does, readers can believe them. The other guides praise these schools as well, but it's harder to trust them because they have good things to say about almost every school. The other guides, then, are useful only as supplements to Choosing the Right College, as tools for learning the administrative ropes at schools, which Choosing doesn't explore. Barron's is the most helpful in this regard. It offers the best review of admissions programs, graduation requirements, and financial aid of all the guides. It does so, however, for only 52 schools, none of which is evangelical. If families are interested in any of those 52, Barron's will help them with the nuts and bolts process of going there. The Princeton Review's Best 331 Colleges is helpful mainly as a quick reference for data on many schools. Each entry includes an array of important statistics (admissions and tuition data, average class sizes, student/faculty ratios, and so forth) in an easy-to-read format that readers won't find in other guides. Though it includes a few Christian schools and is fair to them (for example, Wheaton College receives a high academic rating), it doesn't include Hillsdale College among the 331 "best" colleges, an astonishing omission. The Fiske Guide, edited by former New York Times education editor Edward B. Fiske, is one of the best known college guides, but it suffers from an unwillingness to be specific in its criticisms. For instance, Fiske gives Louisiana State University only two academic stars out of five but never explains why LSU scores so low. Which courses or departments should LSU students avoid? Should students interested in certain majors go elsewhere? Fiske doesn't say. The Insider's Guide to Colleges, compiled by Yale Daily News staffers, gets around these questions by not rating the schools at all. After a brief discussion of academic programs, The Insider's Guide quickly gets down to "what you really want to know" about each college, such as campus traditions, alcohol policies, and students' favorite extracurricular activities. Readers learn that "Officially, Adelphi [University] is a dry campus, but according to students, alcohol is plentiful," and that according to one University of Michigan student, "Nobody seems to date here-either you hook up, or you're engaged; there's nowhere in between." Perhaps because they may have less plentiful alcohol and fewer students "hooking up," evangelical schools are almost entirely absent from The Insider's Guide. Finally, The National Review College Guide will be useful to some families. It evaluates small (and often Roman Catholic) liberal arts colleges, but it excludes many other religious colleges because, it argues, they have "subsumed academic integrity in pursuit of doctrinal purity." In any event, National Review is dated, with the last edition printed in 1993. Most of today's college guides suffer from the same problems plaguing most of today's colleges-a blasé attitude toward radical fads and a lack of intellectual seriousness. If prospective students and their families want a critical look at what is taught at America's most powerful and celebrated schools, Choosing the Right College may be their only guide.

We see you’ve been enjoying the content on our exclusive member website. Ready to get unlimited access to all of WORLD’s member content?
Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.
(Don’t worry. It only takes a sec—and you don’t have to give us payment information right now.)

Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.
Timothy Lamer
Timothy Lamer

Tim is editor of WORLD Magazine.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Troubling ties

    Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money…