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The Sixties (photo: Wiki­media Commons)

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

  • Ellsworth_Toohey

    Bingo

    —“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.”

    I’ve seen the CCA’s take a turn (for the worse) over the last decade. And we had plenty of donor’s attending those, and I don’t think student atten­dance was mandatory then either… yet the topics were somewhat rel­evant to higher edu­cation and the backbone of this coun­tries foun­dation.

    I recall fondly my first CCA.… and having a 10 minute one on one con­ver­sation with Walter Williams at the mixer after­words on the Civil War in reality being the second rev­o­lu­tionary war. Now… I get to hear some old donor wax about his acid flash­backs.