It is a great pleasure for me to be here today with a group of educators who, I believe, play such an important role in putting Texans to work. Not only do you provide a vital service to the individual students who leave your institutions with the skills needed to start a career, but you help employers in our state meet the demand for skilled workers. Without the technical and career programs at community colleges, we simply would not be able to meet the workforce needs of those businesses.
I want to speak to you today about how important it is that here in Texas we start placing more emphasis on training in the skilled trades—not just at institutions like yours—but at the high school level as well. I believe that doing so would not undercut the technical education already provided at your colleges. To the contrary, community colleges should be playing a bigger role in providing training to high school students. And if more young Texans received vocational and technical formation at the secondary level, they would be better prepared to take advantage of more advanced training at the institutions you represent.
In the past, manufacturing provided Americans with good-paying jobs that made it possible for our workers to provide for their families and enjoy long-term economic stability. Sadly, national tax policy and worldwide macroeconomic trends, have hollowed out our country’s manufacturing base over the last decade. Leaders in Austin don’t have the power to address those issues and yet there is something that we can do at the state level to help restore manufacturing in Texas. That’s because even though the U.S. shed five-and-half-million manufacturing jobs from 2001 to 2010 (250,000 of which were in Texas), manufacturing firms across the nation are complaining of a shortage of skilled workers. And doing more to provide a workforce to meet this demand is precisely the area where Texas’ policymakers can make a real difference.
The skills shortage has received increased attention with the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post all publishing major stories in the last several months on the challenges faced by many companies looking to hire skilled workers.
The annual survey of Manpower Group for 2011 found that the hardest jobs to fill in the United States were for the skilled trades. The Wall Street Journal recently reported a survey by the consulting firm, Deloitte, which found that “83 percent of manufacturers reported a moderate or severe shortage of skilled production workers for hire.” I hear these same concerns echoed by employers in Texas with whom I visit.
These skilled jobs pay a good wage. In Texas, employees in the manufacturing sector earned, on average, $1,200 a week. In Austin, it’s nearly $1,700. And those working to produce computer and electronic products make almost $2,300 a week on average.
In light of the demand for skilled workers and the earning potential such jobs provide, you would think we would be doing more to train students at the secondary and post-secondary levels for a career in the skilled trades. Instead, we have steadily deemphasized vocational and technical training, preferring to pursue a one-size-fits-all approach which says that everyone should attend a four-year university.
Why not recognize the reality that for many students, a four-year university is not the best path? Less than a third of the students who start out at our state’s public four-year institutions actually graduate in four years. About half do so in six years. Consider this disturbing statistic from career counselor Marty Nemko:
“Among high school students who graduated at the bottom 40 percent of their classes and whose first institutions (they attended after high school) were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later.” Plus, I suspect these students—and/or their parents—have amassed a significant sum of college debt.
We all learn differently. Some students don’t enjoy or do well in a classroom environment, but would excel by working with their hands in a skilled trade. Perhaps they are eager to enter the workforce. It could be that earning income as soon as possible is a much more attractive option than taking on the crushing debt that often goes along with four-plus years of attending college.
For lawmakers committed to addressing that demand for skilled workers, one of the most important things we could do here in Texas is to reform our educational system so that we place greater emphasis on technical and vocational training at the secondary and post-secondary school levels.
A number of school administrators tell me they are supportive of doing this, but face major impediments which make that objective more difficult to accomplish. If state performance measurements are driven by how students do on the TAKS test and the new STAAR exams, then schools are pressured to place extraordinary emphasis on “teaching to the test.” With this latest approach to testing, students will spend even more days of their school year preparing for, and taking, these state-mandated tests.
So much of our public education system in Texas is driven these days by this “teaching to the test” mentality from the third grade through high school. Not to mention the money involved in this obsession with testing. One private company has a state testing contract that reportedly pays it $450 million over a five-year period. Meanwhile, vocational and technical education gets neglected as time for taking career training electives is replaced by “prep classes” for the state-mandated tests.
It is time we challenge the assumption implicit in the “no child left behind” mindset that everyone should be “college ready.” Too many of our high school students are becoming dropouts or throwaways because they are not given the opportunity for vocational and technical education at the secondary school level. We are setting young people up for failure with this insistence that everyone should go to a university.
Moreover, statistical data shows that students involved in career training in high school do better academically as well. We have the highest college dropout rate in the industrialized world, according to a recent Harvard study. The College Board, which produces the SAT exam, estimates that only about 40 percent of all college students complete their four-year degrees. What about the remaining 60 percent of people who might have thrived had they been given opportunities for vocational and technical education in high school? Or encouraged to pursue an industry-certified skills training program at a community college?
We should stop promoting the errant notion that a four-year university degree is a guaranteed ticket to the good life. To preach that message is to set well over half of our workforce up for failure. Rather, college should provide an opportunity to get ahead for those who have the desire or need the skills. College should not be a place where area high schools farm out the tasks they are unable to accomplish.
As a first step toward preparing our students for real-world expectations and the jobs that are out there, let’s replace the one-size-fits-all TAKS and STAAR tests that we use to evaluate all our students, with two different tests. One test should continue to measure college readiness for those who plan to pursue that route, such as the ACT or SAT. A separate test should measure career readiness.
In fact, in many instances, a career readiness test could take the form of an industry-recognized exam that would not only demonstrate that students have mastered essential concepts in their field, but would also provide those students with a tangible certificate that could be presented to employers as proof of their employability.
As one example, the non-profit curriculum developer, NCCER (formerly the National Center for Construction Education and Research), provides training programs in fields like welding and pipefitting in which graduates obtain portable, industry-recognized credentials along with a wallet card that an employer can use to verify the level of training a student has received.
Secondly, let’s give our high school students the facts about the job market. Young people who have successfully completed a skills training program at the secondary or post-secondary school level have a better opportunity to get a good-paying job than a college graduate with a general degree who, by the way, has on average accumulated more than $25,000 in student debt after graduation.
If we are going to move in this direction of rebuilding our pipeline of skilled workers with increased opportunities for vocational education, we have to be creative in how we go about implementing these changes given our finite resources. Equipment is expensive for certain technical training programs, and we have to be resourceful in providing these opportunities to our young people.
We need to avoid expensive duplication of services wherever possible. We should do more to empower you and your institutions to partner with school districts in your region. Your schools already have trained instructors and equipment for skills training. Some of you may have underutilized capacity that could be made available to local high school students who want to take technical courses. And we should do more to make sure these courses qualify for dual credit and make it more attractive for school districts to utilize them in that way. As always, the devil is in the details; and there needs to be an appropriate financing mechanism that is acceptable to both sets of educational institutions.
I also want to issue a challenge to you. As we learned last session, many four-year universities do not want to be held accountable. They like the current funding model, which allows them to receive state dollars based on their enrollment without regard to what their students are learning or how well they do after graduation. I believe that community colleges—especially programs providing career and technical education—can lead by example in this area and help bring about reform by advocating an alternative model in which schools are measured by how many of their graduates obtain employment. Schools that do well could take in more than they currently receive while underperforming schools would receive less.
In a bold move, the Chancellor of the TexasStateTechnicalCollege system has already proposed such an approach. Chancellor Mike Reeser has developed a model that bases the state funding received on “on the job placements and projected earnings of graduates.” As reported by The Texas Tribune, Chancellor Reeser noted, “You won’t find a better example of total accountability because we won’t get paid for a student until we put him in a job.”
The time has come to return to an educational model which recognizes the value of career education and encourages the young people of Texas to have such learning opportunities at the high school and post-secondary school levels. It really is just a matter of common sense. We have accepted for too long this misguided notion that everyone should go to a university. That flies in the face of reality and human nature. We have different talents and different abilities. Let’s design a school finance and accountability system which recognizes that and re-establishes local control over education. We have too many state and federal mandates as it is. The current system isn’t working. Let’s return the power and control over education to our local communities and schools.
Tom Pauken is Chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and author of Bringing America Home.
On April 16, 2012, Benedict XVI turns 85. And three days later he marks the sixth anniversary of his pontificate. A writer sketches a profile of him. It's a surprising one.
"The profound joy of the heart
is also the true precondition for 'humor';
and so 'humor,'
under a certain aspect,
is an indicator,
a barometer of faith."
I have not made a careful check, but I am willing to bet that if one were to analyze word frequency in the texts of Benedict XVI, the word used most often would be "joy."
Let's begin with one of his many affirmations of the importance, for the Christian, of joy, and try to apply it to this pope who just after his election presented himself as a "humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord." It is a passage taken from the book-interview "Light of the World," and, placed almost at the very beginning, sounds categorical:
"That Christianity gives joy and breadth is also a thread that runs through my whole life. Ultimately someone who is always only in opposition could probably not endure life at all."
First point: joy and reason are connected. And the connection is found in this strange religion that "expands the horizon." As Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote of his conversion, "becoming a Catholic broadens the mind," and further on, "becoming Catholic does not mean leaving off thinking, it means learning how to think."
Second point, a surprising one: we were perhaps accustomed to the idea of a revolutionary pope, of a pope "against," and yet the denial comes immediately, because one cannot live "always only in opposition."
Obviously the contrast is only apparent. Further on in the same passage, in fact, the pope clarifies: "But at the same time the fact was ever-present, albeit in varying doses, that the Gospel stands in opposition to powerful constellations. . . . Enduring hostility and offering resistance are therefore part of it - a resistance, however, that serves to bring to light what is positive."
A resistance, then, that means abandoning all resignation, complaint, or resentment, and walking in a patient and tenacious search for "what is positive," for that goodness which is hidden in the furrows of human history. This is the courage of Benedict, the courage of joy:
"Simple, genuine joy has become more rare. Joy is today in a certain way more and more freighted with moral and ideological baggage. [...] The world does not become better if it is deprived of joy, the world needs persons who discover the good, who are capable of feeling joy because of it and in this way also receive the prompting and the courage to do good. [...] We need that original trust which ultimately only faith can give. That, in the end, the world is good, that God exists and is good. From this stems also the courage of joy, which becomes in turn a responsibility, so that others may also rejoice and receive the glad tidings."
Joy and humility advance or retreat in lockstep. Chesterton captured this well in his brief but dense 1901 essay on humility:
"The new philosophy of self-esteem and self-assertion declares that humility is a vice. [...] It follows with the precision of clockwork every one of the great joys of life. No one, for example, was ever in love without indulging in a positive debauch of humility. [...] If humility has been discredited as a virtue at the present day, it is not wholly irrelevant to remark that this discredit has arisen at the same time as a great collapse of joy in current literature and philosophy. [...] When we are genuinely happy, we think we are unworthy of happiness. But when we are demanding a divine emancipation we seem to be perfectly certain that we are unworthy of anything."
Joy and humility, then. The two stand or fall together. But one piece of the puzzle is still missing, which however is very much present in the man and pope from Bavaria: humor.
For Benedict XVI, joy and humor are closely intertwined. As he writes at the conclusion of his essay on dogmatic theology "The God of Jesus Christ":
"One of the fundamental rules for the discernment of spirits could therefore be the following: where joy is lacking, where humor dies, there the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, is not present either. And vice versa: joy is a sign of grace. The one who is profoundly serene, who has suffered without losing joy, that one is not far from the God of the Gospel, from the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of eternal joy."
Jacques Maritain once said that a society that loses its sense of humor is preparing its own funeral.
Humor as a conduit for joy; the "sense of humor" as an entertaining (in the soundest sense of the term) way of living life, starting from the fundamental point: the essence of Christianity is joy. In the words of Chesterton, a master of humor, "joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian." As Benedict XVI writes in "The Salt of the Earth":
"Faith gives joy. When God is not there, the world becomes desolate, and everything becomes boring, and everything is completely unsatisfactory. . . . To that extent it can be said that the basic element of Christianity is joy. Joy not in the sense of cheap fun, which can conceal desperation in the background."
If the world turns its back on God, the pope-theologian and former prefect of the Holy Office tells us, it is not condemned to falsehood, to blasphemy, and not even to heresy, but to boredom. There comes to mind the quip of Clive S. Lewis from before he converted from atheism to Christianity: "Christians are wrong, but all the rest are bores."
In sketching the pope's profile, Monda decisively places two of his virtues at center stage, humility "and its most delectable fruit," humor:
"They are two words that find in 'humus,' earth, a common etymological root. The one who is 'earth earth,' who does not become arrogant, is at the same time humble and endowed with humor, because he realizes that there is a world greater than his own ego, and beyond this world, Someone even greater. Humility and humor are the secret of life, above all for a Catholic, and they are two traits that place in the highest ranks the man Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, no less than his work."
Andrea Monda is a graduate of the PontificalGregorianUniversity. He teaches high school religion in Rome. He writes for various newspapers and periodicals. He is the author of volumes dedicated to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Sometimes in our day-to-day rush and familiar surroundings and cultural norms, we forget how truly amazing America is. Folks, who have been away for some time, almost universally feel the need to get back. They need to “recharge,” in a sense. You know something’s special here, if you consider that millions want to come. Millions more look to America from their homes for guidance, assistance or example.
Ignorant people in the world think we’re soft, because they see the plenty and don’t understand what it has taken—and what it takes—to have what we have. They don’t understand the discipline we live each day, in terms of balancing hard work and family relations, and service to our country and to God. They don’t understand our striving to be the best we can be, and I mean in every single capacity God has granted us: mental, physical, spiritual, social and emotional. We strive to be “whole” persons, and we strive to be good. We also strive to win, because we’re good. That’s actually pretty unique in this world of ours.
Our own countrymen often overlook the value we subconsciously place on “freedom”—the freedom to do things, to go places, to have fun, to start new enterprises. We also generally place emphasis on personal responsibility, on self-reliance, on dignity and yes, even on clean living. It’s horse sense really: you reap what you sow. The Taliban and Al Qaeda certainly learned that. But they didn’t have any American horses. They didn’t know Middle America—or New York, for that matter. They sure as “H” didn’t know a Texan or they would have known we’d kick their rear end. They thought Americans were weak and cowardly materialists, but I suppose it’s easy to mistake the love of freedom for lack of virtue, or the love of peace for cowardice.
It’s a shame our attackers didn’t read our history (it’s a shame a lot of us don’t), because then they’d realize what it takes to be American. What it takes, in addition to good education and tons of elbow grease, is one or more wars practically every generation. Now did we really think that the twenty-first century was going to be any different, perhaps more peaceful because of the victory “the greatest generation” won in World War II? Believe it or not, that’s a sentiment made by the famous historian Stephen Ambrose, just two days before the attacks on the WorldTradeCenter and Pentagon! I guess the Cold War, Korea, Viet Nam, and the Gulf War were just chopped liver. Anyway, I am very grateful for the World War II generation, certainly the greatest of the twentieth century. But don’t think their accomplishment means we’ve got less to do, because it doesn’t.
The principal of SomervilleCollege, Oxford, said to his new arrivals in 1944 that all beginnings are hopeful. So the new century/new millennium probably invited optimism, and optimism is not all bad—indeed, it’s essential. But as one of the great Free World leaders during the Cold War—Margaret Thatcher—said, “My generation remembers that we had such faith after World War I that there could never be another world war, we let our defenses down.” Do you see a pattern? Again and again, we prove what it takes. The measure in blood, however, depends on our preparedness at the time.
Out of 150 countries in the world, only 72 are free. I’d say the odds are we’re in for a few more challenges. History and prudence dictate that we be prepared. Again, Thatcher has the right advice for Americans:
We must keep our defenses up and we must have equipment
Of the very latest technology. This is absolutely vital….
I believe the first duty of any government is to protect the lives
of its citizens…. And we do that by having the latest technology
in the United States. My friends, you’re citizens of a wonderful
country. You’ve built the greatest country in the world in terms of
establishing the rule of law, defending the freedoms of others, and
building a most prosperous future for your people. If those who do
have liberty would be guided by your example, what a much
better world it would be. In the meantime …[you] must continue
to keep up [your] reputation.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of the Republican freedom Coalition (RFC) and is currently running for U. S. Congress (TX-District 25 in the Republican Primary. He is also author of two books, Horse Sense for the New Millennium (2011), and The Nexus of Faith and Freedom (2012). Both books are available on-line at http://www.wesriddle,net/ and from fine bookstores everywhere. Email:
The common assumption among policymakers is that, in order to maintain its higher living standards against emerging markets competition, the United States must invest more in higher education. To achieve this, the government has instituted a massive student loan guarantee program, with over $1 trillion outstanding and an average of $25,000 in debt for every graduating student with debt. Yet millions of students continue to graduate with degrees that have no obvious real-world benefits. There’s a disconnect here, and it is beginning to appear that the current U.S. obsession with higher education is misguided.
The traditional idea of higher education was to train the literate for the Church, whether Catholic, Episcopalian or other Protestant. However a hundred years ago, for the elite on both sides of the Atlantic, a very different approach had been devised. This was best illustrated in Evelyn Waugh’s immortal “Brideshead Revisited” in which the protagonist Lord Sebastian Flyte wanders round Oxford with a teddy bear, drinking champagne, eating quail’s eggs and occasionally throwing up onto other students’ carpets. Americans will scoff at this depiction, but really the Harvard of Theodore Roosevelt was not very different, except in that it involved the occasional life-threatening game of football.
Flyte’s Oxford was not intended to train him for real life, it was intended as a highly enjoyable 3- or 4- year holiday before real life intruded. For the middle classes whose fathers were not Marquesses – a majority at Oxford even in Flyte’s time; there are only 34 Marquesses – the system applied a gloss of social polish and connections that was useful in later life, but did not impart more than a modicum of knowledge. Certainly the education provided was not expected to involve a huge amount of work, or to be useful in a subsequent career.
This changed after 1945 in the United States and from around 1960 in Britain, as a higher percentage of the population experienced a college education (in the United States often financed by the post-World War II “G.I. Bill” and in Britain essentially free, with only a modest means-tested contribution, under the 1944 Education Act). The increased access of the masses to college education produced a greater competitiveness at the top colleges, so that when I went to Cambridge in 1968-71 access was more competitive and more work was expected from students than had been the case thirty years earlier.
Even then however access to top colleges was less competitive than it is today. While I was expected to have a reasonable mastery of Latin in the entrance examination there were no probing “essays” in the application, and my interview at TrinityCollege consisted of a most enjoyable discussion about the career of the cricketer Jack Hobbs. (I aced it by remembering that he amassed 197 first-class centuries not 198, with the two scored on the unofficial India tour of 1925-26 not counting. Presumably as I was to study Mathematics such statistical precision was thought valuable!)
Currently, not only are almost all students expected to get a college degree, but those of superior abilities are expected to carry on for a Masters’ degree, a PhD, or two Masters’ degrees, with the second being in business, law or journalism, according to the student’s future activity. The excessive credentialism of the U.S. system was exemplified at a medical conference I attended recently, where the attendees were surprised how many Chinese doctors were prepared to engage in primary medicine, but then explained patronizingly that many Chinese doctors had only an undergraduate degree. It occurred to me at that point that U.S. medical costs could be sharply reduced and quality improved if primary physicians, the principal point of contact with most patients, could be qualified in four years instead of ten.
Similarly from the 1890s, the American Bar Association began to press states to require that lawyers attend not only an undergraduate program but a three-year law school in order to pass the state bar exam; currently all states but California, Vermont, Virginia and Washington require this. As with doctors, the cost of legal services could be drastically reduced by eliminating this requirement of no less than seven years of college study to enter what is in most cases a fairly intellectually undemanding profession.
The rising tide of credentialism may however have peaked for two reasons: the excessive cost of college education and its diminishing quality. First, there is considerable evidence that finance availability is pushing up college costs. As college funding has become more readily available, it has reduced the financial pressure on colleges, since few of their students are today paying their way from part-time jobs and parent cash flow. Huge endowments in the Ivy League, which allow those elite colleges to provide full scholarships for students, focus the competition between colleges ever more closely on league table “prestige” rather than costs.
Within the colleges themselves the ranks of college administrators have exploded (as is also the case in the medical profession, equally insulated from market forces). So have their earnings – according to the New York Times, in the decade between the 1999-2000 and 2009-10 college years, the average college president’s pay at the 50 wealthiest universities increased by 75%, to $876,792, while their average professorial pay increased by only 14%, to $179,970. (Average college tuition costs increased by 65% and consumer prices by 31% during that decade.) That’s precisely the opposite of what you’d want to happen if you were concerned about college productivity and cost.
For the very brightest students, or those from really good schools, the appeal of the Ivy League may remain overwhelming. The knowledge that only four years’ moderate attention to politically correct drivel will get you a piece of paper that more or less guarantees you a six-figure salary thereafter is for most rational kids a very good reason to attend an Ivy League college and major in one of the softer arts or social sciences subjects.
For those of a mathematical, scientific or technological bent, however, the Ivy League is much less attractive; you will have to work much harder, and when you graduate you will be subjected to competition from innumerable Third World students on H1B visas, making the average salary for even Ivy League science graduates far below those available in law or medicine. What’s more, most undergraduate courses in science are now so far from the technological cutting edge that the student will have to waste several more years in a Masters program before arriving at a point where he is actually useful to potential employers.
For these science-oriented students, or for others of high intelligence with an independent bent, the Internet has opened a new opportunity. Many college courses are now available online, either for free or for a small fraction of the $5,000 they would cost as part of private college major. For example, I recently came across the 24 video lectures comprising the Yale course on Game Theory, a relatively new area of economics I wish I understood properly.
For students with initiative this brings the possibility of obtaining a college education through internet courses, perhaps at a higher level than that of second-tier colleges and certainly at a far lower cost. This would enable them to avoid the rigidity of many college degree programs, which include requirements for all kinds of irrelevant basic level courses taught by teaching assistants in classes of 300. Students who don’t like to waste their time will thus welcome the opportunity to obtain an education consisting only of courses that are directly useful, plus some sidelines that are intellectually fascinating or culturally enriching.
As has been well advertized, the internet billionaire Peter Thiel has been encouraging this trend, providing $100,000 fellowships to students who drop out of college and start a small business. That doesn’t necessarily provide the students concerned with an education, and it raises the question of what they will do for a living if their start-ups don’t work, as inevitably many won’t if recession intervenes. However the website uncollege.org, run by Thiel Fellow Dale Stephens, provides resources to those wishing to educate themselves, without necessarily becoming tech entrepreneurs. Of course many such educations will be incomplete, leaving the students concerned culturally deprived, but a conventional degree in computer science or sociology isn’t what our parents would have called a proper education, either!
Students who self-educate will find it difficult to get jobs in large companies or the federal government, which will remain wedded to possession of the right pieces of paper. For many students with low self-confidence, this may be a decisive factor; even if they cannot get into Yale, the degree from a second-tier college will give them much greater job security than if they had self-educated. However students with high levels of ability and self-confidence will take their chances; there are enough small companies and entrepreneurial opportunities around that securing a steady desk job with GE or the federal government may not seem all that attractive.
The current credentialism model faces another problem: the credentials go out of date. With longer lifespans and inadequate social security systems, this is an increasingly serious defect. For liberal arts majors, the need to re-train may not be extreme. However for majors in any technical subject, including many of the social sciences and business, educations obtained 30 or even 40 years ago may have become utterly useless. Moreover even large companies have considerably shorter lifespans than in past generations and their demise generates involuntary workforce churn. Thus many will find themselves needing to retrain at the age of 45 or 50 in order to enter a different field, or simply in order to make themselves competitive again in their own field. 4-year degrees or even 2-year Masters programs will be impossibly expensive for such people, who generally will have families and mortgages to support. Again, the availability of self-education over the Internet will offer them new possibilities, far more convenient than overpriced executive education programs.
From the above, the market share of conventional four year colleges is likely to go into sharp decline in the years ahead. Provided policymakers have the sense to stop subsidizing student loans with state guarantees and special provisions to survive bankruptcy, the banks will become much less willing to encourage the young and feckless to over-extend themselves in this way. Students will once again exert pressure on colleges to reduce their fees, and will choose cheaper state schools and programs that allow them to work their way through college.
The principal losers from this change will be academic administrators. Colleges that employ a full staff of diversity officers and pay their presidents $1 million will find the free market blowing a very cold wind indeed. Meanwhile students’ educational experiences beyond high school will become far more diverse, and in some cases very much better suited to the lives they choose to lead. The for-profit education sector, currently rightly despised as low-quality, will extend itself to offer higher-quality packages at costs far below those of conventional non-profit colleges.
It can’t happen too soon. Like any other overstuffed, over-subsidized bureaucracy, America’s colleges have got it coming!
(Originally appeared in The Bear's Lair.)
Martin Hutchinson is the author of "Great Conservatives" (Academica Press, 2005)—details can be found on the Web site —and co-author with Professor Kevin Dowd of “Alchemists of Loss” (Wiley – 2010). Both now available on Amazon.com, “Great Conservatives” only in a Kindle edition, “Alchemists of Loss” in both Kindle and print editions.
At a March 30, 2007, campaign fundraiser, then-candidate Barack Obama stated “I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president, I actually respect the Constitution.”Like much of what President Obama has told the American people, that statement has turned out to be false, as illustrated by the controversy last week over the president’s April 2 comments about the U.S. Supreme Court and their forthcoming decision about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”).Vigorously (or desperately?) defending the crown jewel in his domestic agenda, President Obama said “I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint.”
Seriously, Mr. President?The Supreme Court (or, as he’s referred to them, “an unelected group of people”) doesn’t have the authority to strike down acts of Congress that violate the Constitution?For a supposed former “constitutional law professor,” these statements betray a shocking level of ignorance about the concept of judicial review and the 1803 case, Marbury v. Madison, that enshrined it in American jurisprudence.Marbury made it the hallmark of the judicial branch of government that it has the power to invalidate laws passed by the legislative branch that are unconstitutional, since the U.S. Constitution is supreme and “all laws repugnant to the Constitution are null and void.”This is precisely why federal judges are given lifetime appointments that make them—in theory—immune to political and popular pressure, and thus able to steadfastly apply the Constitution and the law.
President Obama should know this, but after his recent comments, I’m inclined to seek proof that he actually graduated from Harvard Law School, much less served as a “constitutional law professor.”You see, it’s not just that a law professor should know this; every lawyer knows it, and every law student reads the Marbury case early on.In fact, a number of landmark Supreme Court decisions are mandatory for Texas 6th–8th graders to know; Marbury is one of them.The State Bar of Texas, under an initiative from President Bob Black, has even produced a short documentary and other materials about Marbury v. Madison and its significance for educators in Texas to use as part of their social studies curriculum.In other words, to satisfy the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills) standards, Texas eighth graders have to know more than the president knows about Marbury and judicial review.
The president’s comments had a ripple effect.During oral argument last week before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in a separate challenge to Obamacare (Physician Hospitals of America v. Sebelius), senior Judge Jerry Smith asked the Department of Justice lawyer arguing the case, Dana Kaersvang, if the president’s statement reflects the official position of the U.S. government.While Kaersvang agreed that the judiciary could strike down an unconstitutional law, Judge Smith wanted it in writing.He ordered the DOJ to file a 3 page, single-spaced letter by April 5 giving the federal government’s position on the court’s authority of judicial review.And as requested, Attorney General Eric Holder filed the letter.It stated in part that “The longstanding, historical position of the United States regarding judicial review of the constitutionality of federal legislation has not changed and was accurately stated by counsel for the government at oral argument in this case a few days ago.”
The reaction by members of the liberal media, to both the furor over President Obama’s comments as well as the Fifth Circuit’s order prompted by them, was predictably slanted and even hypocritical.Harvard Law School professor, constitutional law scholar, and Obama mentor Laurence Tribe penned a scathing editorial for CNN.com entitled “The 5th Circuit Court’s Insult to Obama,” in which he claimed that the president “has nothing but respect for judicial authority” and called Judge Jerry Smith’s order “a shocking departure from the norms of judicial behavior.”CNN legal analyst and writer Jeffrey Toobin declared the order to be a “judicial hissy fit,” “a disgrace,” and “an embarrassment to the federal judiciary.”And David Dow of Newsweek wrote an article calling for the impeachment of those Supreme Court justices who might overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Yet even Laurence Tribe admitted that President Obama “obviously misspoke” in his comments about the Supreme Court, and Jeffrey Toobin is so lacking in actual practice experience that he doesn’t realize that a federal court is well within its right to require a party to give its understanding of the court’s jurisdiction.Perhaps Toobin doesn’t appreciate that courts exist to protect our rights when politicians trample on them—including a president claiming powers forbidden to him by the Constitution.And as for David Dow, he couldn’t even get his facts straight.He gave the example of Thomas Jefferson’s efforts to impeach Supreme Court Justice “Salmon Chase” in 1805; Samuel Chase was actually the justice who was impeached, while Salmon Chase was a member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1864.And apparently, Dow believes that judicial activism is okay as long as it’s in line with his liberal ideology.He wrote a book entitled America’s Prophets: How Judicial Activism Made America Great.
For me, the most concerning aspect isn’t the reaction by left-thinking critics.It’s the ignorance or the willingness to lie—take your pick—displayed by President Obama.First, let’s settle this whole “I was a constitutional law professor” debate.Barack Obama was never a professor at the University of Chicago School of Law.From 1992 to 1996, he was a “lecturer,” and 1996 to 2004 a “senior lecturer;” he was never even an adjunct professor.He never taught a constitutional law course—instead, he taught an election law course, a seminar on “race theory,” and a course dealing with equal protection rights, in which Marbury v. Madison likely never came up.Next, President Obama referred to the health care law as having been passed by “a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”Despite a huge Democratic majority at the time, Obamacare barely passed by a 219–212 margin.That’s not only not a strong majority, it’s barely a plurality.And then there’s Obama’s confusion over judicial activism.Judicial activism isn’t when judges strike down an existing law.It’s when judges permit their personal views, and not the Constitution, to guide their decisions or invent new “rights” where none previously existed.Obama can’t have it both ways.His own Justice Department is arguing that courts should strike down voter ID laws as unconstitutional, and he’d be the first to invoke the power of judicial review if a state were to ban abortions.Arguing here that a Court that would dare invalidate his precious Affordable Care Act must be the “unprecedented” work of “activist” judges is absurd and represents a direct attack on the independence of the judiciary.And Obama’s claim that the Supreme Court hasn’t invalidated any statutes that are “economic” and relate to “commerce” since the New Deal era is incorrect.The list is too long to give here, but let’s just say that some recent examples of laws relating to “commerce” that have been struck down include parts of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; the Trademark Remedy Clarification Act; the 1998 Harbor Maintenance Tax Act; the Transfer Act (which authorized transferring operating control of certain airports away from the Department of Transportation); and many, many others.
Presidents like Andrew Jackson and FDR publicly clashed with the Supreme Court, but only President Obama has chosen to level his attacks before the Court has even ruled.Whether you call it heavy-handed bullying in an attempt to influence the judiciary or a shocking ignorance about the fundamental concept of judicial review, it’s equally disturbing.For a former “constitutional law professor” to make such statements is like hearing a science professor argue that the world is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth.