There seems to be a lot of sex, drugs, and rock and roll on campus. Oh wait, it’s just this year’s third Center for Constructive Alternatives on the sixties.
The problem with the CCA isn’t the drugs or the music or the talk about sex and big government. The lectures are interesting and informative, but they’re not academic.
Larry Elder, as great as his speech was, didn’t illuminate race relations in the sixties and couldn’t be called academic by anyone interested in the subject.
Hillsdale College should not require students to write a paper for the CCA because the conference is primarily for the enjoyment of donors rather than educating and benefiting Hillsdale students.
While attendees enjoy an open bar and catered meals served with wine, Hillsdale students have to attend all the lectures, a feat in itself.
Then they must write a paper on top of all the other responsibilities they have like sports, practices, reading the Constitution, math homework, physical wellness dynamics presentations, and everything else the newly expanded core requires.
The CCA is really an alternative to constructive pursuits.
Perhaps the clearest marker that the CCA is not an academic undertaking is that students don’t receive the prompt until after the conference has ended. How are students supposed to follow the threads of a topic or craft an argument through the various lectures unless they are looking for something to argue?
The paper seems to be more focused on forcing comprehension rather than requiring fruitful synthesis. This reduces what could be an interesting brush with new ideas into a requirement and undermines the spirit of learning by forcing students to pretend that the CCA’s busy work is a useful endeavor.
The paper actually reduces the amount of time that students would otherwise be able to spend on other assignments where they can study primary texts and practice synthesis that carries on a dialogue.
In contrast, the CCA papers are a hodgepodge semi-analysis of the most abominable sort, a sty on Hillsdale’s clear vision of academic rigor.
Worse yet is the grading process for the paper: No one is accountable for the grades that students get on their papers. One reporter for The Collegian wrote an article in February 2016 about the difficult and secretive methods used to grade the papers.
She turned in a paper on the 2015 CCA “American Journalism, Yesterday and Today” a few days before the deadline. She received the paper more than two months later, badly graded. The unknown grader tore her piece to shreds and gave her a “C+.”
The office, as she explained, doesn’t clarify the grading scale they use to evaluate student papers, and sometimes the problems aren’t even on the topics discussed. She said, “The comments are often stylistic rather than textual, which makes one question if the graders were even at the lectures.”
Why should students’ grades be determined by anonymous and unaccountable graders?
The CCA office has some options to make the CCA better for students: They can make the lectures and the paper process more academic or drop the paper requirement altogether and just require attendance.
Making the CCA more academic requires picking better speakers and being clear about the expectations and grading of the paper. The office should release a grading rubric and follow it closely.
Their challenge is to make the CCA into something that competes with the worthwhile pursuits of the classroom. The lectures need to be more than stories and cursory glances into the subjects. They can’t be bogged down by political biases. They have a lot of room for improvement.
Another option is a pass/fail attendance-based grade. Perhaps students shouldn’t have to write a paper but rather attend a reasonable number, perhaps four lectures, every year for all four years. They would attend more lectures (16 total), be more interested because they get to learn more about what they’re interested in, and skip the busy work of the paper.
The CCA is a good outreach to donors and a beginning foray into a variety of topics for students, but the paper isn’t academic enough to take the time away from other responsibilities.
I implore the administration and the Center for Constructive Alternatives office to consider making the conference more palatable for busy students or worth writing a paper on. Right now, it’s neither.
Brendan Clarey is a senior studying English