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If You’re An Egalitarian, How Come You Teach At An Elite College?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/08/2021 - 8:30pm in

The title of this post, a riff on G.A. Cohen’s If You’re An Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?is one way Jonny Thakkar (Swarthmore) described to me the question at the heart of his recent essay, “Elite Education,” in The Point.

An outdoor “classroom” at Swarthmore

In it, he writes:

In an ideal society, I have suggested, there would be no elite colleges, or at least not in their current form. There might well be highly selective institutions devoted to fostering intellectual excellence, just as there might well be highly selective institutions devoted to fostering musical or sporting excellence. But an ideal society would be a just society, and a just society would manifest equal concern for each of its young adults; and although equal concern would not require an exactly equal distribution of resources, departures from equal distribution would have to be justified. If a college like Swarthmore wanted to bring this about, it could in principle work toward self-abolition, perhaps via intermediary steps like tripling the number of students or founding a sister college in nearby Chester. But America will not be just any time soon; even its public education system devotes vastly greater resources to well-off children than to those from poorer backgrounds. There would therefore be reasonable conservative grounds for Swarthmore’s officers and trustees to refuse to kill off the exquisitely rare fish of its rigorous liberal arts education just in order to sprinkle a little water on America’s arid turf. As an individual faculty member you have no power over such matters in any case: you either play the hand you’re dealt or you quit. If you do stay, then you have to acknowledge that the sociological function of elite colleges in non-ideal America will always be to produce an unfairly privileged elite. The only question is what it means to do this well.

One characteristic of a desirable elite, it seems to me, is that its members be self-aware. Each needs to recognize that they are the recipient of a golden ticket, not so they can engage in pointless rituals of self-denunciation but so they can reckon with the question of which responsibilities follow from the privilege that has been unfairly bestowed upon them. What is needed, as conservatives such as Helen Andrews and Ross Douthat have rightly argued, is something like the old ethos of noblesse oblige, according to which a golden ticket comes with the unavoidable obligation to make what Christopher Lasch called “a direct and personal contribution to the public good.” The difficulty is knowing how to teach with this in mind, given that career decisions are generally considered private…

If one function of a college like Swarthmore should be to create a good elite, another should be to give young people a taste for the life of the mind understood as an end in itself. Oxford remains for me an open wound, yet it was through one-on-one tutorials on Wittgenstein and Heidegger with a Socratic professor who never told me exactly what he thought that I came to see who I was and what I cared about. In a better world such opportunities would be distributed more widely, so leftist faculty like myself might be tempted to see today’s elite colleges as prefiguring the emancipation that such a world would bring. The problem, though, is that intellectual activity is like music and sport, in that excellence and enjoyment are at least partly correlated and excellence is fostered by the emulation and competition that arises when talented people are thrown together in close quarters. Because today’s elite colleges attract and concentrate talent from across the globe, spending vast amounts of money to ensure low faculty-student ratios, they are almost certainly better able to provide this service than the large state colleges that would exist if resources were distributed more fairly. They make possible a form of human achievement, in other words, that could probably never be replicated on a universal scale.

The political conscience of egalitarians who teach at elite colleges will therefore always be troubled. 

If Thakkar is mostly interested in the relationship between elite institutions and justice in the broader society, Agnes Callard (Chicago), in her essay in the same issue, focuses on the goods of higher education and the point of universities and colleges:

First, they are not for perpetuating the ruling or elite class. Second, they are not for achieving social justice. Doubtless they do perpetuate the ruling class; many institutions do this. And probably they could do more to bring about social justice. But those things are not what they are for. Third, universities are not for making money—though they do call for careful financial stewardship. Fourth, they are not for producing better citizens. Fifth, they are not for producing happier human beings… A university is a place where people help each other access the highest intellectual goods…

There’s nothing in your DNA that makes you a philosopher, nor is there some regimen you can run through to transform yourself into one. The closest we have come to devising a system for attuning a person to the intellectual life is to surround her with others aiming at the same thing for as long as the relevant parties can continue to afford it, and hope for the best.

Discussion welcome.

These Old British Coal Mines Now Pump Out Geothermal Heat

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/08/2021 - 6:00pm in

What’s mine is ours

As mining towns reinvent themselves for a more sustainable future, one on the coast of England is leveraging its former coal mines to propel a green transition. 

The last mine in Seaham closed in the 1990s, leaving behind holes that burrow deep into the earth. Today, these old mine shafts frequently flood, and when they do, the town pumps out the geologically warmed water. Heat pumps warm it further, and it is then piped into homes as a source of natural heat. Lo and behold, mines that once chugged out fossil fuels now dole out clean, green geothermal energy.

seahamSeaham, England. Credit: alh1 / Flickr

Today, 1,500 homes, a primary school and a shopping district are being planned in Seaham, all of which will receive emissions-free heat and hot water from the mines. The potential for replication is enormous — 25 percent of Britons live near former coal mines. Many of these towns have suffered economically as the coal industry has declined in recent years. Repurposing these mines as geothermal heat sources would require technicians and engineers, providing new jobs as well as a plentiful source of green energy. “It is really exciting to think that these are the coal mines which effectively powered the Industrial Revolution and now they are going to power the green revolution,” said one Seaham official. “It is a cracking thing to be involved in.”

Read more at the Guardian

Culturally relevant colleges

For a range of systemic reasons — economic disempowerment, cultural marginalization, skepticism of universities built on stolen land — Native American students have the lowest college attendance rate of any racial group in the U.S. Even in California, where 330,000 residents belong to a federally recognized tribe, less than one percent of college students are Native American.

Three emerging tribal colleges in the Golden State may be changing that. Designed to give Indigenous students a higher education experience that speaks to their identity, these colleges include classes taught in tribal languages on culturally relevant subjects like Native history, arts and culture. They also offer majors not often found at other colleges and universities, like ethnoecology, the study of the relationships between people and ecosystems. 

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As a tool for encouraging enrollment, the model seems to be working — the student bodies at California’s tribal colleges have held steady or increased throughout the pandemic, a time when enrollment at other universities has slipped. And 88 percent of their students say they feel a sense of belonging on campus. “There was this place for me,” said one student, a descendant of the Piro-Manso-Tewa tribe who is finishing a doctoral program on Native American health systems. “I felt like I could at least have a chance here.” 

Read more at Cal Matters

H2O 2.0

Scottsdale, Arizona has become a national leader in recycling wastewater. In 2019 it became the first city in the state — and only the third in the U.S. — to engage in “direct potable reuse” (DPR), in which water that goes down toilets and sink drains gets aggressively treated and turned back into crystal clear, drinkable water. The city’s advanced water treatment plant is specially designed to transform 20 million gallons of wastewater daily into fresh H2O that exceeds bottled water standards. In fact, Scottsdale’s recycled water is of higher quality than its unrecycled water, making it a model for “outlying communities in northern Arizona solely dependent on groundwater,” according to one official.

scottsdaleScottsdale, Arizona. Credit: Flickr

Now, thanks in part to Scottsdale’s success, other nearby cities want in on the game. Phoenix — which already recycles nearly all of its wastewater, though not for drinking — is planning to reopen a dormant wastewater treatment plant that will blend effluent with groundwater to serve customers in the northern part of the city. San Diego, too, is laying the groundwork to become the first city in California to send treated wastewater back into residents’ homes. And places like Orange County and Los Angeles are beginning educational campaigns to mitigate the gross-out factor of so-called “toilet to tap” water among residents, laying the groundwork to implement their own DPR systems.

Ensia has a long-read feature that delves into the range of efforts unfolding across the region, where drought has left major cities at risk of running dry. “When this is done,” said an official with the Los Angeles water authority, “I’d like to say that the words ‘drought’ and ‘Los Angeles’ will never be in the same sentence again.”

Read more at Ensia

The post These Old British Coal Mines Now Pump Out Geothermal Heat appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

First-Generation College Students and Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/08/2021 - 8:00pm in

A philosophy professor has embarked on a project to understand and address issues faced by philosophy students who are first-generation college students or members of other traditionally underrepresented groups, and she could use your help.

[photo of “1000 Doors” by Choi jeong-Hwa]

Bailie Peterson, assistant professor of philosophy at University of Northern Colorado, writes:

At my university, I work with many first-generation and financially disadvantaged students, and I am concerned that we lack sufficient understanding of student’s initial perceptions of philosophy. I am leading a small team of researchers trying to collect data from the the widest number of students possible to gain insight into these questions.

This project gained momentum after attempts to find data on the experiences of first-generation students showed that we do not have much data. 

The research involves administering two brief surveys to students, and you can help by having your students complete them. Dr. Peterson explains:

The study itself has been granted IRB Exempt status, so there is very little chance of any risk or harm to students, and all answers will be reported in aggregate. Instructors will be asked to distribute the survey twice, both on the first day of the semester and near the end of the term, to measure any change in their perceptions. The survey is completed via a Qualtrics link and should not take more than 10 minutes.

We hope to collect enough responses to provide a representative sample of students across the nation. Therefore, it is crucial to reach beyond the courses taught at our institution. We are specifically looking for courses similar to “Introduction to Philosophy,” at the 100-level, to reach beginning students. 

She adds:

In general, we could benefit from a deeper understanding of student’s views and any potential barriers that come into the classroom with them. 

If you’re interested in helping or learning more, contact Dr. Peterson at

What Campus Police Really Do

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/05/2021 - 2:38am in

Photo credit: Felipe Sanchez / _____ This week marks a year since former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered...

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