USF's Policy on Investigating Allegations of Research Misconduct
Since the University of Colorado’s president has concluded that Ward Churchill hit the research misconduct trifecta with fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism, faculty and professional employees should know the procedures at the University of South Florida when there are allegations of research misconduct. There are two guiding documents, the Collective Bargaining Agreement's Article 16 on discipline and USF's Misconduct in Research Policy. Article 16 guarantees that in-unit faculty and professional employees shall only be disciplined for "just cause", which requires a fair and objective investigation that provides substantial proof (among other requirements of just cause). USF's Misconduct in Research Policy defines research misconduct as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism and describes an exclusive process for investigating allegations of research misconduct. Ad hoc investigations are inconsistent with this policy, which protects the rights of both those who complain about misconduct and also those alleged to have engaged in research misconduct. According to USF's policy, all misconduct allegations go through a preliminary review supervised by the university's Research Integrity Officer before any full investigation is opened for allegations that warrant further probing.
Any full investigation is under the jurisdiction of the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct, which appoints an Investigation Panel that normally is to complete its work within sixty days. Both the investigation panel and the standing committee issue reports on a case that proceeds to full investigation. As in all discipline cases covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the burden is on the university to demonstrate misconduct.
How is USF's policy different from what happened in the Ward Churchill case? At the University of Colorado, there is a similar faculty committee on research misconduct, the Faculty Senate's Privilege and Tenure Committee. But that was not the committee that got the media coverage: it was the Standing Committee on Research Misconduct at the University of Colorado's 125-page report in May of 2006 that got the attention. In effect, there were two investigations, and there was a year between the two reports – while at USF, the (single) investigation must be concluded within sixty days. In addition, the Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits public disclosure of material in faculty and professional-employee evaluation files. If USF publicly releases information about allegations of research misconduct during an investigation regarding any faculty member outside the College of Medicine, it is violating both its own policy and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
And faculty and professional employees in the UFF-USF bargaining unit should be aware that the Misconduct in Research Policy, the rules governing public employees in Florida, and the U.S. Supreme Court's Weingarten ruling give us the right to ask for a union representative to be present during all interviews, meetings, and hearings regarding any investigation into research misconduct where the employee is the respondent.
For more information, read Article 16 in the
Collective Bargaining Agreement and the
Misconduct in Research Policy – and look at
USF's Research Misconduct Program webpage.
Tenure Denial for ... Lack of Collegiality?
Alan Dershowitz is Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard, one the nation's leading trial lawyers, and one of the less classifiable public intellectuals today. He has published far more articles and books than the ten books listed on his Harvard website suggest, and has long had a reputation as an ardent defender of civil rights (his clients include an actor in Deep Throat, Claus von Bulow and O. J. Simpson) and more recently of Israel (which he outlines in his recent book, 'The Case for Israel'). In the early 1990s, Dershowitz published a book, Chutzpah, which Amazon.com says it is "on what it means to be a Jew in America today"; the book was a Publisher's Weekly bestseller for 22 weeks and helped solidify Dershowitz's reputation for proud pugnacity. This includes feuds: opponents include Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle, Noam Chomsky, Jimmy Carter, and ... Norman Finkelstein, Assistant Professor of Political Science at DePaul University in Chicago.
DePaul University is a Catholic teaching institution with about 23,000 students, "Founded on the Vincentian principle of access for everyone, we remain committed to providing a quality education through personal attention to students from a wide range of backgrounds." (According to my Dictionary of Saints, St. Vincent de Paul is especially remembered for ministering to peasants, galley slaves, war refugees, and the poor.) According to their mission statement web-page, DePaul University "respects the religiously pluralistic composition of its members and endorses the interplay of diverse value systems beneficial to intellectual inquiry. Academic freedom is guaranteed both as an integral part of the university's scholarly and religious heritage, and as an essential condition of effective inquiry and instruction."
political science department offers baccalaureate degrees.
Finkelstein received a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1988, and held eight temporary positions at five institutions until his appointment at DePaul in 2001. In the mid-1990s, he started a series of books roughly on what DePaul lists as his areas: "theory of Zionism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the Nazi holocaust". In 2000, he published 'The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering'. He later wrote that in 'The Holocaust Industry', "I examined how the Nazi holocaust has been fashioned into an ideological weapon to immunize Israel from legitimate criticism." The book was controversial – Amazon.com's page on the 2003 second edition has 130 reviews with a four star average (out of five stars), but thirteen reviewers gave it one star while eleven gave it two or three, and Amazon.com's description says, "Finkelstein indicts with both vigor and honesty those who exploit the tragedy of the Holocaust for their own personal political and financial gain" and quotes
The Guardian writing, "The most controversial book of the year." Writing in Historical Materialism (11:2, 2003, pp. 215 – 225, available on-line via the USF Tampa Library), Enzo Traverso wrote, "... the argumentation developed in 'The Holocaust Industry' is so simplistic, sectarian, polemical and provocative that its conclusions are not convincing, even when its author is right."
Finkelstein then presented a small publisher, New Press, a book entitled 'Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History'. The book (available on-line via the USF Tampa library) is presented in its Introduction as an extension of 'The Holocaust Industry', this time being an examination of a "new anti-Semitism". The Introduction is blunt: "Looking back after two decades of study and reflection, I am struck most by how uncomplicated the Israel-Palestine conflict is", whereupon he begins a deconstruction of what he called "the Exodus version" of Israel's past (along with his own account – both sides being historical accounts of Nineteenth and Twentieth century events).
Then the Introduction continues on to...Alan Dershowitz. "The most recent addition to this genre and the subject of the second part of this book is the best seller The Case for Israel by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz." The Introduction had begun with an attack on a book by Joan Peters, and "It can fairly be said that [Dershowitz's] The Case for Israel surpasses [Peters'] From Time Immemorial in deceitfulness and is among the most spectacular academic frauds ever published on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Indeed, Dershowitz appropriates large swaths from the Peters hoax. Whereas Peters falsified real sources, Dershowitz goes one better and cites absurd sources or stitches evidence out of whole cloth." While "... it’s difficult to find a single claim in ... any ... chapter of The Case for Israel that, among other things, doesn’t distort a reputable source or reference a preposterous one," Finkelstein's goal "is not [to show] that Dershowitz is a charlatan." The book delivers on
Dershowitz: in the 2-column pages of the index, references to Dershowitz occupy more than a column of space, including "The Case for Israel, 89 – 314".
"Poor Alan Dershowitz," sympathized Mark LeVine in his Contemporary Sociology review
pp. 356 – 358), "one of the most humbling experiences an academic – aspiring or established – can go through is to have Norman Finkelstein take a pen to one's work. I know from first-hand experience..." LeVine sees the primary thesis of the book being the breaking down of that what Finkelstein called the "mechanisms for quality control". LeVine concludes by agreeing with Finkelstein that Dershowitz was functioning more as an advocate than as a scholar. LeVine never explicitly remarked on the relative amount of space Finkelstein had devoted to Dershowitz and 'The Case for Israel', although he occasionally complained about issues Finkelstein glided past.
Under what the Chronicle of Higher Education called "pressure from Mr. Dershowitz and his lawyers," New Press delayed publication of 'Beyond Chutzpah' and Finkelstein took the manuscript to the University of California – Berkeley press. Berkeley's review was, as the Chronicle quoted press director Lynne Withey, "a very arduous process because of Dershowitz's threats": instead of the usual two referees, there were six, as well as a number of lawyers. Niels Hooper, the book's editor said that "Every comma, every full stop" was checked. Among other things, the word "plagiarism" ended on the cutting room floor. (As a comparison, when Inventiones Mathematicae published Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem – certainly the most high-profile mathematical paper in recent memory – the journal relied on six referees, rather than the usual one to three.)
Battle was joined. Both
Finkelstein have impressive websites with links to their broadsides. There were accusations of conspiracy, complaints about the media, and even a debate over Finkelstein's mother, a Holocaust survivor (Dershowitz claimed that Finkelstein admitted that his mother was a collaborator, and Finkelstein said that he had not, etc., etc.); for an extreme example, see their joint appearance on
Democracy Now on Sept. 24, 2007. And others joined in, producing what appears on the www as a web of vitriol, but some observers were just disgusted: on April 12, Alexander Burns posted on the American Heritage blog the observation that "The striking thing about this feud is just how little it has to do with real scholarship, and the extent to which it must distract these professors from more serious academic work. Each of these
men has apparently poured hours of energy into producing personal attacks on the other ("The 10 Stupidest Things Finkelstein Has Said," for example, or "Should Alan Dershowitz Target Himself for Assassination?")...."
Meanwhile, Finkelstein was coming up for tenure. According to the Chronicle, last fall Dershowitz sent to DePaul law and political science faculty what Dershowitz described as a "dossier of Norman Finkelstein's most egregious academic sins, and especially his outright lies, misquotations, and distortions." The DePaul's Liberal Arts and Sciences' Faculty Governance Council sent a letter to DePaul President Father Dennis Holtschneider and DePaul Provost Helmut Epp complaining that "that the sanctity of the tenure and promotion process is violated by Professor Dershowitz's emails." The Chronicle quoted Finkelstein saying, "DePaul is in a growth mode, and they see me as an albatross because they’re getting all this negative publicity because of me."
DePaul University had a political scientist with strong support from his department and a full-scale feud with a Harvard superstar. The administration was not in the humor to see this in a positive light. The Chronicle reported that while the Political Science department voted 9 – 3 in favor of recommending tenure, and the College Personnel Committee voted 5 – 0 in favor of tenure, the dean wrote that "I find the personal attacks in many of Dr. Finkelstein's published books to border on character assassination and, in my opinion, they embody a strategy clearly aimed at destroying the reputation of many who oppose his views." On June 8, Finkelstein was told he was denied tenure;
President Holtschneider's letter, where Holtschneider quoted the University Board on Promotion and Tenure writing "Criticism has been expressed for his inflammatory style and personal attacks in his writings
and intellectual debates." Holtschneider maintained that the denial had been made independently of any "lobbying" by external parties. Finkelstein told the Chronicle that "This decision is not going to deter me from making statements...," while Dershowitz said, "It was the right decision, proving that DePaul University is indeed a first-rate university..."
Then one of Finkelstein's supporters, assistant professor of International Studies Mehrene Larudee, was also denied tenure. Professor Larudee had been recommended by the dean to be the next Director of International Studies, and reportedly had strong faculty support, but President Holtschneider wrote to Larudee that she was denied tenure because of "mixed teaching evaluations, at times below the departmental mean, a thin record of scholarship." The chairman of the Liberal Arts and Sciences' Faculty Governance Council was quoted by the Chronicle saying that the tenure decision was "devastating to international studies", while the administration assured the Chronicle that Larudee's case was independent of Finkelstein's. The two denials have caused DePaul serious problems, for the Chicago Sun-Times reported that
DePaul chief may face vote of no confidence.
Students have descended on officials (a sit-in was recently organized), and the story has hit the national media. Despite DePaul's insistence that no appeal is possible, the Chronicle reported that both Finkelstein and Larudee are seeking independent reviews while the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Faculty Governance Council is planning its own investigation. DePaul's own rationale was that Finkelstein was not...collegial...in the sense that many administrators tend to abuse that word. (DePaul had another collegiality incident recently, resulting in the dismissal of an adjunct professor for getting in a loud argument with some students during an "Involvement Fair": see
a brief account.) Indeed, on June 11,
Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik suggested that "the Finkelstein case is emerging as a test of whether a range of qualities grouped together as 'collegiality' belong in tenure cases". Larudee's tenure denial, however coincidental, suggests that what the DePaul administration is trying to do is get rid of people who make waves. And there are few more effective programs for mediocrity than systematically weeding out wave-makers. Just ask Harvard's School of Law.
Last May, the Florida Department of Education's press release, "Governor Crist Signs Budget Funding Education at Record Levels," quoted Florida Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg chirping, "Thanks to the leadership of Governor Crist, Lt. Governor Kottkamp, Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio, the state continues to invest wisely in its education system," adding, "This budget provides schools and educators with the tools needed to prepare students for academic success, postsecondary education and the workforce." Shortly afterwards, Governor Charlie Crist vetoed a statewide 5 % tuition hike by Florida's public universities.
The Board of Governors had originally considered a 7 % hike during it's August 10, 2006 meeting, a compromise between a lower hike to meet inflation and a higher hike to meet the national average tuition. Florida, as we've all heard, is below average. According to the College Board, for the 2005 – 2006 academic year, tuition and fees in four-year public institutions ranged from Vermont’s $ 9,800 per year down to Florida’s $ 3,336 per year, with only the District of Columbia ($ 3,210) and Puerto Rico ($ 1,396) below Florida. "The 7% tuition recommendation made at the last meeting assumes that the Legislature will fund the great majority of system needs through appropriations," read the Proposed Board Action statement. "A recent USA Today survey of state flagship institutions reported that recent tuition and fee increases averaged 6.4% nationwide, so 7% would likely keep us at or near the bottom in terms of average in-state tuition."
The legislature went with a 5 % hike, which the Action statement may have prophesied: "A substantial part of a 7% increase would simply be keeping up with costs. In the most recent year, the Commonfund Institute reported that the Higher Education Price Index, which tracks inflation in goods and serviced purchased by colleges, rose 5%." Notice that a 5 % tuition hike would, by itself, increase revenue perhaps 1 %. But Crist vetoed that hike anyway.
The big issue during June was a proposal to let permit UF and FSU to raise their tuition by 40 % and to let USF raise its tuition by 30 %, all by increments of at most 15 % per year. See the
May 17 Biweekly article for details. This legislation was pushed publicly by the university presidents, and not just of UF, FSU, and USF: UCF vice president (of university relations) Dan Holsenbeck told the Tampa Tribune, "We feel very confident that out of this will come a fair tuition policy for all the institutions." However, Holsenbeck did say that he would have preferred that UCF be explicitly mentioned in the bill, and the Tribune concluded its June 28 report with a discussion of tiered state university systems and their associated tiers of tuition. However, there was very little discussion of the possibility that the legislature might finally be letting a tiered system through the door.
Business groups and some of the media also supported the bill, and despite initial skepticism, Crist announced on Wednesday, June 27, that he wouldn't veto it. Still, Crist hopes that the universities will get money from elsewhere rather than from raised tuition, and the Miami Herald reported that Crist asked university presidents to "give us a shot to work it out through the budget process, rather than the tuition process and they agreed to do that" despite murmurs by legislators that additional appropriations during an election year featuring tax cuts might not be forthcoming. Perhaps more realistically, the Orlando Sentinel interpreted some of Crist’s remarks to mean that Crist expects universities to cut budgets. At any rate, the tuition increases will be put off for a year, which means that UF, FSU, and USF face the same budget crunch this coming year that other institutions do. UCF president John Hitt spoke to the Sentinel of the veto of the general 5 % hike:
"It's dozens of faculty members, it's hundreds of courses that we won't be able to offer." Meanwhile, The Oracle reported that "[USF Vice Provost Ralph] Wilcox said that administrators are looking to trim back services that would not impact educational delivery or campus safety and security."
And the situation may be getting worse. According to the state, revenues are falling below previous estimates, as much as $1 billion short of estimates that the legislature built the budget on. The Governor wants all state agencies to plan for cuts over the summer, and universities have been included in that request. The University of Florida has already announced a hiring freeze, and the USF provost's office has distributed a draft list of possibilities to the university community, which has been described in the media. The Chapter will be discussing the university budget situation at the meeting tomorrow, and we would appreciate input.
Crist's position is similar to the old-fashioned populist view that higher education should be accessible to all: "Times are tight, and I just didn't want to hit the students and families..." Crist is not unique: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has made access to higher education part of his campaign while the Chronicle of Higher Education has run an occasional series on students not being able to afford to go to college (see, e.g.,
a summary in the July 27, 2006 Biweekly). Indeed, the ideal of free higher education is an American tradition: in 1847, Townsend Harris founded a "Free Academy" to "open doors" to rich and poor alike. This institution became part of the City College of New York, which charged no tuition until 1975, when a combination of decades of political pressure and a passing financial crisis moved the Board to impose tuition. That trend continues, and on Nov. 23, 2006, the New York Times grumped,
"The public universities were founded on the premise that they would provide broad access in exchange for taxpayer subsidies. That compact has been pretty much discarded in the state flagship campuses..." who "...compete for high-income, high-achieving students ... while overlooking low-income students who are perfectly able to succeed at college but whose options are far more narrow."
But it is telling that the New York Times made this complaint in an editorial about Pell grants. A flagship university is expensive. If a state wants major research universities, it will need money. Ever since 1980 or so, federal money has been drying up, and that leaves state appropriations, tuition and fees, and fund drives. A state that is miserly in its appropriations will face stark choices. And that, most likely, is the fiscal reality that moved Crist to grudgingly accept differential tuition.
The Kolb Learning Style Inventory
UFF's affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, publish periodicals for their members. These periodicals not only keep members up to date on the latest labor news, but also on issues of common concern among members. Since we are all educators – research and other professional services are (if one thinks about what one actually does) substantially educational duties – many of our common concerns are educational.
Hence much of the content of the periodicals is education, including the feature article of the April 2007 issue of the NEA Higher Education Advocate. This was one feature in its occasional series on Thriving in Academe, entitled "Understanding Learning Styles," by Laura L. B. Border, Director of the Colorado Preparing Future Faculty (COPFF) Network at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The feature is on-line.
"It is commonly believed that most people favor some particular method of interacting with, taking in, and processing stimuli or information," says Wikipedia. "Based on this concept, the idea of individualized 'learning styles' originated in the 1970s, and has gained popularity in recent years," although, "Learning-styles theories have been criticized by many." Probably the best-known is the Representational System of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which associates a different learning style with a different sense, and includes the proposal that many people are primarily oriented towards learning via that particular sense: thus most people are predominantly visual, of the remainder, most are auditory, and of those left over, there are minorities associated with various other senses (kinesthesis, smell, taste, etc.) or who are "multi-modal." This system has generated proposals for teaching students using methods that engage them through their various styles,
as opposed to just through the style of the teacher.
Border presents a different system, David Kolb's Learning Style Inventory (LSI), which is essentially cognitive. It is based on a cycle suggestive of Sir Francis Bacon's model of the scientific method. Concrete experience (CE) is considered in reflective observation (RO) and distilled in abstract conceptualization (AC) which generates active experimentation (AE), which no doubt produces further concrete experience, etc. The point isn't that students learn by going through this cycle, but that in some sense they do not. Many students do not proceed in this cyclic order, and many tend to hover in on of the four primary styles, or alternatively, in one of the four intermediate positions on the cycle: thus, for example, "divergent" thinkers hover between concrete experience (CE) and reflective observation (RO); Barber does not define "divergence" but presents as an example an apparently divergent thinker, Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom she quotes saying,
"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions." The other three intermediate styles of thinking are "assimilation" (between RO & AC), "convergence" (between AC & AE), and "accommodation" (between AE & CE).
Like many models of learning styles, LSI comes with the proposal that many problems in teaching arise from a teacher having one style and many students having another. Indeed, most of the feature is devoted to the problem of having students of a wide variety of different preferred styles – many of whom are uncomfortable or dysfunctional when moving out of their preferred style. And all these students are in a single class. Barber proposes that lectures, assignments, etc., be constructed to engage students at all positions on the cycle: such materials will present almost all students with a toehold, and also present almost all students with components outside of their comfort zone to encourage growth. She then goes to her stated goal in the feature, which is how to encourage "deep learning," which she characterizes as "mastery and a high degree of confidence that they have made the information their own." However, she does not address the standard criterion
for measuring the success of deep learning (at least in mathematics): the ability to take what one knows to deal with a problem that is relatively novel to the student, but still soluble by means the student has been provided with.
All models of learning styles are controversial – indeed, the very proposal of an identifiable "learning style" is controversial. But Barber does not discuss any controversies, and instead concentrates on applications of the system. Readers can get more on the subject from one of David Kolb's original papers,
Learning Styles and Disciplinary Differences.
It, The Budget
Whenever someone has a good idea, complains Snoopy, someone mentions the budget.
As mentioned in the
last UFF Biweekly, Governor Crist vetoed legislation to raise university undergraduate tuition by 5 % throughout the Florida State University System (SUS), but decided not to veto legislation permitting Florida State University, the University of Florida, and the University of South Florida to raise their tuition incrementally, starting in the 2008 – 2009 academic year. Governor Crist would rather that FSU, UF, and USF not raise their tuition and give the "political process" (presumably the legislature) time to come up with more money. But legislators seemed skeptical that more money would be forthcoming. Meanwhile, a possible deficit of over a billion dollars (out of a budget of about seventy billion) looms. This happened just after the legislature muddled Florida's finances further with some ad hoc tax cuts and a proposal for more muddlement to appear in a state constitutional referendum next year.
Two interesting developments have developed since then, both pertaining to the constitutional status of the SUS and its board of governors.
Former Governor Bob Graham sued the state legislature, claiming that the constitutional amendment creating the board of governors as a constitutional body denies the legislature the power to set tuition: the only reason why the board failed to exercise its power to set tuition, said Graham, was its "timidity". "This lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to get unbridled tuition increases," growled State Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie. "God help our students if they win." State Senate Higher-Education Appropriations Committee Chair, Evelyn J. Lynn, R-Clay/ Marion/ Putnam/ Volusia, appealed to the board not to join the suit: "We'd lose our partnership, the wonderful -- I think -- camaraderie we have built up." But camaraderie doesn't pay the bills, and the board joined the suit; as SUS Chancellor Mark Rosenberg told the Chronicle of Higher Education, "We are drawing the line to say that quality counts."
But the money still comes from the state (see the
2006 – 2007 budget for details). Provost & Senior Vice President Renu Khator announced on July 12 that USF's Educational & General (E & G) funds will be cut by 4 %; E & G makes up a quarter of the budget, this year being about $ 400 million, so that's perhaps $ 16 million, of which ten million is to come from the Tampa campus E & G budget. (E & G funds come from state sales tax and other miscellaneous taxes, the lottery, and student tuition and fees; historically, about two thirds of E & G funds go into salaries & benefits.) The governor's office has asked for a budget assuming a total 10 % cut in E & G funds. This sort of exercise serves several purposes. It provides the governor with information about his available choices. It gives agencies advance notice so they can prepare for possible cuts. And it sets people thinking in terms of deep cuts so that they would be relieved by – and perhaps less cranky about – smaller cuts. After all, at the moment, the state anticipates only a two percent deficit...
In many ways, this is a political problem in which the administration and the faculty (and the community) have very similar interests. Tuition is at best part of the long-term solution to the historical funding problem, especially with access becoming an increasingly pressing issue. Chancellor Rosenberg was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times saying that up to now, "Yo-yo financial management has characterized our system." It's time it was fixed.
Higher Order Thinking
Philosophers of education, says Britannica, usually agree that critical thinking involves: (1) the ability "to reason well" and (2) the disposition "to be guided by reasons so evaluated." And they tend to agree that critical thinking is a good thing, so it would be nice if students were taught to think critically. But, says Daniel Willingham, professor of cognitive science at the University of Virginia, programs to teach such higher order intellectual skills are not particularly successful, and perhaps the time has come to ask why.
Willingham’s article in the Summer 2007 issue of the American Educator, provocatively described as
Can Critical Thinking Be Taught? ... Not in the Way You Might Think, begins with "Virtually everyone would agree that a primary, yet insufficiently met, goal of schooling is to enable students to think critically." Willingham’s definition of “critical thinking” is broader and more detailed than Britannica's: "critical thinking consists of seeing both sides of an issue, being open to new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning dispassionately, demanding that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available facts, solving problems, and so forth."
Calls for critical thinking are at least as old as Socrates, but Willingham concentrates on efforts since the 1983 publication of
A Nation At Risk, which had complained: "Many 17-year-olds do not possess the 'higher order' intellectual skills we should expect of them. Nearly 40 percent cannot draw inferences from written material; only one-fifth can write a persuasive essay; and only one-third can solve a mathematics problem requiring several steps." Since 1983, there have been a proliferation of programs to teach such skills. These, argues Willingham, have not been particularly successful (readers can pause to reflect on their own students), and writes, "After more than 20 years of lamentation, exhortation, and little improvement, maybe it’s time to ask a fundamental question: Can critical thinking actually be taught? Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really."
But he then modifies his position to say, "People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, ...and that ... once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation. Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill. The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought ..."
Now for some critical thinking. Several things are going on in this article. There is a notion (critical thinking) that seems to be a good thing even if we don't agree on what it is. There are several extant programs designed to teach critical thinking, and these may not be particularly successful. Socrates might ask: are we likely to be successful at teaching skills when we cannot agree on what these skills are? And more generally, do the failures of these programs suggest that critical thinking (whatever it is) cannot be taught, or just that we are teaching them incorrectly?
Willingham briefly addresses Socrates' question with a working definition: "How Do Cognitive Scientists Define Critical Thinking?" "Critical reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving ... have three key features: effectiveness, novelty, and self-direction," where "effectiveness" entails what old-fashioned rhetoricians used to regard as the construction and verification of valid argument. Notice that valid argument is only one of three features, the other two being "novelty" – which we'll look at below – and the ability to work on one's own. He devotes much of the feature to an indictment of current programs, and he implies that critical thinking might be taught, but only in context of particular subjects. In essence, Willingham does not believe that a class on "critical thinking" is likely to be very successful; instead he believes that critical thinking should be taught in content courses, where students should be taught to reason critically about the subject of the course.
Consider the "novelty" feature of critical thinking. Willingham looks at content courses, and describes a familiar phenomenon. A student learns to do problems similar to a group of examples, but when a slightly different problem based on the same principles appears, the student is helpless. Students tend to focus on the "surface structure" of a problem (e.g., a compound interest problem) and thus will not notice that a novel problem (e.g., a demographics problem) has the same "deep structure" and thus can be solved in the same way. Here, the goal is to teach students to find the deep structure. In practice, students succeed in finding this deep structure only if they have sufficient knowledge of the content of the problem: only after much practice with a wide variety of different examples do students start succeeding in the classic test of being able to solve problems of a novel surface structure but a familiar deep structure.
The most successful courses, he argues, are those that teach critical thinking in context of a content course, so that students develop the knowledge base that they need for critical reasoning on that content In essence, he is arguing against the classical view that Euclid can teach people how to think...about anything. His primary argument is empirical: programs designed to teach students how to think about...anything...do not appear particularly successful. As a reality check on Willingham's review of current efforts, consider the unhappy history of Euclid in European education: from its arrival in Europe in the High Middle Ages, professors have repeatedly tried to introduce it into their classes, and repeatedly failed. As early as the Renaissance, teachers were throwing in the towel and using Geometry for Dummies books in specialized courses on, say, how to be a surveyor.
So Willingham proposes that there really are no such things as "critical thinking skills." Instead, he suggests that students learn to think critically about a subject once they understand it very well. There are teaching techniques that can encourage students to think critically, but (and while he does not say this, it certainly follows from his argument) that entails getting students to do their homework.