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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Don’t Let the Sun Set on Perkins Loans

By Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, president

The clock is ticking on our nation’s longest-running student loan program.

Without Congressional action, the Perkins Loan Program, which began 57 years ago and provides need-based, low-interest loans to 500,000 low-income college students at some 1,500 colleges and universities each year, will expire Sept. 30.

The Perkins Loan Program is an important piece of our campus-based federal aid model and is  vital to keeping College affordable. The program provides federal funds to colleges and universities in order to offer five percent interest loans of up to $5,500 per year to students. Institutions must match at least 33 percent of the funds appropriated by the federal government.

During the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, lawmakers included a “sunset” date of Sept. 30, 2015 for the Perkins Loan Program. Institutions will be forced to slowly end their Perkins Loan programs and begin returning their federal disbursements from their institutional revolving funds to the U.S. Treasury beginning Oct. 1.

Further threatening the Perkins Loan Grants Program is the “one grant, one loan” policy proposal floating around Capitol Hill. Assuming that the single loan is a version of the Stafford Loan program, which accounted for $77 billion of the $96 billion of federal loans disbursed in 2013-14, a move to “one grant, one loan” would spell the end of the Perkins Loan Program.

While the Perkins Loan Program is on shaky footing, it has garnered support from many legislators, including two close to home. In July, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-25th District) sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce calling on the committee to reauthorize Perkins before the Sept. 30 expiration.

Wrote Slaughter: “Perkins loans provide necessary flexibility to colleges and universities, which can use Perkins loans in conjunction with other forms of financial assistance to help students afford the cost of higher education. Perkins loans also act as a lifeline when unforeseen disruptions, such as a parent’s job loss or student’s inability to work enough hours, jeopardize a student’s ability to pay for college. Because they do not accrue interest while a student is in school and maintain a fixed five percent interest rate when repayment begins, Perkins loans often offer a much more affordable alternative to private student loans. Furthermore, the Perkins Loan Program encourages graduates to serve their country and communities by offering partial or full loan forgiveness to borrowers engaged in various types of public service.”

One of the legislators signing onto the letter was Rep. Tom Reed (R-23rd District). The 23rd district is one of the top recipients of Perkins loans in the country; in the last school year, a total of $21.8 million in Perkins loans were distributed to 10,810 students at 11 schools—including Keuka College— in the 23rd. Reed also signed on to a House resolution introduced by Rep. Luke Messer (R-6th, Ind.) that expresses the House of Representative’s support for the Perkins Loan Program.

Private, non-profit colleges such as Keuka College awarded nearly 50 percent of all Perkins loans in 2014-15. However, eliminating the Perkins Loan Program will affect private and public schools alike. Many students will be forced to secure private, higher-interest loans in order to attend college or not attend college at all.

We have heard a lot on the campaign trail about America falling behind its economic competitors. While it is hard to distinguish rhetoric from reality in politics, there is no doubt we must provide more of our citizens with high-level math, science, and literacy skills in order to stay competitive in the global economy. We can’t do that by limiting access to the colleges and universities that teach those skills, which will happen if the Perkins Loan Program is not renewed.

In addition, the failure to reauthorize the program “would eliminate billions of dollars in student aid from the revolving funds that institutions use to disburse Perkins loans,” according to Slaughter. “These revolving funds are what make the Federal Perkins Loan Program self-sustaining, with student loan repayments paying for new loans. The continuation of the program would not cost the government any additional money but its elimination would cost participating colleges and universities millions.”

I commend Reps. Slaughter, Reed, and others for their efforts to keep the program alive. I join them in urging their colleagues to not let the sun set on Perkins loans.

Why People Mistrust Science

An editorial by biology major Kelsey Morgan ’15

It is largely undisputed that advancements in science and technology are extremely important to life as we know it. However, with the way science and technology are represented in the media and popular culture, it can be difficult to distinguish between science and science fiction. Will the Ebola virus become an airborne super plague and kill us all? Are GMOs really safe? Should we be worried about climate change? And who can we trust to give us the answers?

The answer to this last question should be science, because it is designed to help us answer questions in a systematic, evidence-based way. Unfortunately, people often take a cynical attitude toward science, unfoundedly rejecting its discoveries. A Pew Study published in January reports that while people think science is a good thing, there is often a gap between scientists’ attitudes regarding hot-button issues and those of the general public. While a strong majority of scientists agree that genetically modified foods are generally safe to eat, global warming is a serious problem, and vaccines are safe, only a small part of the general public tends to agree. These gaps in understanding show that despite people reporting that they trust science, there is a large amount of disbelief and mistrust surrounding scientific consensus.

While there are many factors that determine whether or not a person accepts scientific evidence, general mistrust in science can be boiled down to three categories: religious and political affiliations, confirmation bias, and the need for an emotional appeal.

Religious beliefs or political associations can have a profound effect on whether or not a person accepts scientific principles. Some people refuse to accept theories such as the Big Bang and evolution because these theories go against religious doctrines. Politicians also likes to take sides regarding science, often debating issues when there aren’t even two different sides to the issue. For example, the original source of the idea that vaccines cause autism and other harm was an extremely flawed and unethical study that was later retracted. However, this idea gained momentum when it was supported by U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana). Burton and other public figures allowed the “debate” on the MMR to spread, which was a factor that led to a serious mistrust in vaccinations in general.

The “Badge of Membership” principle—membership is more about wanting to belong than what you believe— can help us understand how these affiliations shape our view of science.  It’s like we are still in high school; no matter how old a person gets, he or she still feels the need to agree with his or her peers, and many times the need to fit in trumps science.

A study performed by Dan Kahan of Yale University found that understanding science results in polarization rather than consensus. This finding can be explained by confirmation bias. When people have an opinion about a scientific issue, showing them a collection of facts won’t change it. Shouting a bunch of complicated astrophysics and Darwinian natural selection theory at them isn’t likely to get them to believe in the Big Bang or evolution. Instead, people tend to pick out evidence that supports their preconceived notions.Anecdotal evidence that appeals to our emotions often holds more weight than facts, regardless of the source. We don’t like to rely on cause and effect because true causes can be hard to find and understand, and therefore we rely on people’s personal stories to come up with our own explanations and create meaning where there is none. A case in point:  the causes of autism are not well understood, and science provides little reassurance, in terms of treatment, to parents of autistic children. Therefore, in spite of the understanding that vaccines do not cause autism, the public often turns to parents and grandparents who blame vaccines rather than trusting medical professionals because it gives them something to blame, too.

Life today depends heavily on complex science and technology that only a small group of experts can thoroughly understand, and it is therefore important that people trust and support these experts. While there is certainly reason to be skeptical when looking at new scientific findings, Science editor Marcia McNutt said it best in an interview for the March 2015 edition of National Geographic: “Everybody should be questioning… But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall…”

Looking at science with skepticism is not the same as unwarranted distrust and rejection of consensus. In order for advancement in science to continue, the public must step away from scientific cynicism and put its trust in scientific consensus.

Editor’s Note: Kelsey Morgan ’15 of Lakeview, N.Y., holds a biology degree from Keuka College and has received a $28,000 fellowship stipend to attend Duke University Graduate School in the fall of 2015 to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. A research study she co-wrote with Dr. William Brown, assistant professor of environmental science and biology, was published in the Journal of American Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS) in the spring of 2015. She is one of three science majors featured in the spring 2015 edition of Keuka College Magazine as an “academic all-star” for earning the unique distinction of publishing in an academic journal as an undergraduate student. 

A Tribute from One “Literary Cobbler” to Another

By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

Dr. Sander Diamond

Germany’s best known contemporary writer and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature died in a clinic in the German city of Lȕbeck April 11. Gȕnter Grass was 87.

The photo that accompanied his obituary in The New York Times captured the man the German world knew so well: black hair with dashes of gray, trademark walrus moustache, and ever-present pipe, which he puffed from morning to night. I was saddened by the news, the death of a mentor from afar. His writings have been part of my life since I first read his masterpiece, The Tin Drum, as a college student more than 50 years ago.

Born in Danzig (today Gdansk in Poland) in 1927, he was the son of a grocer named Willie. His mother was a Slav who hailed from an indigenous people in the region similar to the Sorbs in Germany. His family could barely make ends meet. Pugnacious as a kid, he was a fighter most of his life, a public intellectual who never walked away from controversy. When the war broke out in September 1939, he was 12 and soon found himself in the Hitler Youth Movement like most of his generation, including Pope Benedict.  At 15 he was called up to serve in the Wehrmacht.  Instead, he was recruited by the elite 10th Waffen-SS Panzer division Frundsberg, after giving up the hope of joining the U-Boat fleet.  This decision to serve in a Waffen-SS Division would haunt him for the rest of his life, and for many darken what was a stellar literary career.

Not long ago, I finished reading one of his last books, Peeling the Onion, his memoir. The title is appropriate, not only for his life but also many Germans, who hide their past activities during the Third Reich.

He wrote: “What I had accepted with the stupid pride of youth I wanted to conceal after the war out of the recurrent sense of shame… I will have to live with this for the rest of my life.”  And he did.  It was the first thing mentioned in The New York Times obituary, much to the annoyance of his dedicated followers. For a man The Wall Street Journal described as “a vivid and controversial chronicler of German guilt,” at age 79 Grass finally peeled back the onion skin that surrounded his life. While some called him a hypocrite, others felt that the action of a 16-year-old in no way tarnished his long career as a writer about German guilt and efforts to bury and conceal the past. His biography was, in many ways, the biography of an entire generation.

While I was appalled but not surprised to learn of his wartime record—there had been hints for years—it in no way tarnished my view of him as a literary master craftsman. His books and articles impacted me in ways unimaginable when I first read The Tin Drum in the early 1960s. I credit Gȕnter Grass for helping shape my world as a practitioner of German history, as well as my work as a writer, especially my last major book, The German Table: The Education of a Nation. It tells the story of how my generation in Germany tried to avoid the past while their elders attempted to bury it under the stainless steel buildings that dot the landscape of the new Germany. The past always resurfaced and we can credit Grass for helping force the Germans to deal with it. He once wrote of Germany:  “The history of my people is like a clogged toilet; no matter how hard you flush, the waste keeps coming.”

After the war, he trained as a sculptor and joined Gruppe 47, a group of postwar German intellectuals. He never lost his interest in the plastic arts or abandoned the habit of writing at his stand-up desks, which were the centerpieces in his several studies in Portugal, Berlin, and late in life, Schleswig-Holstein. Once the initial draft of a manuscript was completed in longhand, he sat down and typed it out on one of his many electric typewriters. Pecking away on a blank sheet of paper taught him patience and if you typed with the window open, he wrote, “at least people know you are still alive.” The pecking away has ended but not his influence on literature.

The recurrent theme in each of his books is the complicity of the Germans in the Third Reich and Germany’s complacency in the postwar world. Grass held a position in German society many aspired to but few gained, a public intellectual who believed that a person with his status had the obligation to speak out on the major issues of his time, the ebb and flow of politics and social issues.  In his later years he wrote a poem about Israel and what he perceived as its aggressiveness. He had hoped to write this long ago, but feared being called an anti-Semite, a very delicate issue for the Germans. The fighting spirit of his youth lasted to the end of his days, and for many he was a thorn in the saddle of the nation. When Germany was reunified in October 1990, he was against it, calling it the Second Anschluss, a reference to the first when Hitler annexed Austria.

As can be imagined, he had his share of detractors, which apparently he loved, whetting his appetite for controversy. Such was the price of a lifetime of work and dealing with issues most Germans wanted to avoid in the 1950s and 1960s. As Germany’s leading public intellectual and greatest living writer in the last 30 years, his huge collection of writings was read not only in Germany but overseas as well. It would not be an exaggeration to write that he achieved almost god-like status among his followers, which was confirmed when the Nobel Committee awarded him the Prize for Literature in 1999. He joined two other Germans who received the literary prize since the war: Hermann Hesse (1946) and Heinrich Bȍll (1972). These awards did much to restore Germany’s literary reputation that was destroyed by the Nazis and sent many of the country’s leading writers into exile or worse.

Most of Grass’s major books cannot be read in a few days, especially in German. He was a literary cobbler and it was often hard to follow his army of characters. In the fabric of each page is woven the history of Germany’s conflicted past. Grass never asked “what if.” He dealt with what was. His books have a special place in my study. After The German Table was published, I sent him a copy with a polite thank you for addressing those issues that have been the central constellations of my intellectual and professional life. A reply never arrived. Grass was a very busy man to the end, giving his last interview to a Spanish newspaper. In it he expressed his fear that all of the latest chaos could easily lead to a world war.

As he grew older, a younger generation of Germans viewed the war as ancient history and his wartime service did not seem so extraordinary. Younger Germans are mindful of the past but do not wish to be engulfed by it. Grass was appreciative of this and his later books dealt with contemporary issues, as was the case with Crabwalk and Novemberland.

The world has lost a great man and an outstanding author, a giant in the context of German literary life with his trademark Holmesian pipe, walrus moustache, and bi-focal always on the tip of his nose. Gȕnter Grass, R.I.P. You will be missed. Every time I peck away at my venerable old IBM Selectric I will think of you and your influence on this modest cobbler of words.

The Obama Doctrine

Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

American influence has long been pervasive in the Middle East and when problems emerged, Washington saw itself as the region’s fireman. When Saddam invaded Kuwait in the early 1990s, the U.S. led a coalition to drive him out in the First Gulf War. When Lebanon fell into chaos, U.S. marines landed and after Sept. 11, with an upsurge of Islamic Fundamentalism and fears that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan.

But now the U.S. is distancing itself from the seemingly intractable problems in the Middle East as part of a major foreign policy realignment. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, historian and Middle East specialist Max Boot called this sea change “The Obama Doctrine.”

There a striking parallel between what is transpiring today and what happened after World War II, when an exhausted and bankrupt Great Britain and France shifted their assets and pulled out of most of the Middle East. Great Britain literally pulled out of the Mandate of Palestine overnight and the new Jewish State of Israel was left to fend for itself.

With the Cold War heating up and the implementation of the Truman Doctrine, the United States moved into the region, filling the vacuum left by the exit of Great Britain and France. It inherited all the problems, including the protection of the nascent State of Israel. In the early 1950s, Washington found itself immersed in the region, not only out fear of Soviet expansion but also as the protector of oil rights held by Anglo-American corporations.

To be sure, the United States is hardly bankrupt but the Middle East has exhausted its well of patience. Washington has grown tired of the intractable problems, the sectarian violence, the internecine violence, and the revival of the Sunni-Sh’ia rift. After so many small and large wars in the region, the American public has grown weary of our involvement in the Middle East. The lives and treasure we have poured into the Middle East have yielded as little fruit as the Arab Spring.

In essence, this foreign policy realignment started the moment Mr. Obama took office. He was dismayed by Israel’s intransigence on the Palestine statehood question. Complicating matters was the abject failure of the Arab Spring (perhaps with the exception of Tunisia), the rise of Islamic radical fundamentalism, the civil war in Syria, the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the problems with Hamas in Gaza. The emergence of ISIS, with its stated desire to rebuild the Sunni Muslim Caliphate, has only complicated an extraordinary complex situation. At the advent of Mr. Obama’s presidency, there were more than 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq; today, less than 3,000 special forces. In 2010, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan tripled but today there are less than 10,000 and the president has stated that all will be withdrawn by the end of his presidency.

Sensing all this, the Saudis, Jordanians, and Egyptians formed the Joint Arab Force, a military alliance to balance Iran’s growing regional influence. At its core is Egypt and it is no coincidence that Mr. Obama lifted an embargo on sending arms to Egypt.

A gradual withdraw by Washington does not mean it will abrogate its treaty obligations with the Sunni states and Israel. They will be honored and the U.S. Fleet will be used to implement its power if needed to ensure stability. But if the past is prologue—and it may not be in the unpredictable Middle East—Egypt and Iran will emerge as the major geopolitical players, a revival of the ancient balance of power between the Kingdom of Egypt and Persia.

Understanding Benjamin Netanyahu

By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

Since the Jewish State of Israel was founded just three years after the end of World War II and the near total extermination of European Jewry, it has enjoyed a special relationship with the United States. While there have been disagreements in the past, mainly over the creation of a Palestinian State on the West Bank of the Jordan River, nothing in recent memory comes close to the acrimony between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “Bibi” to friends and foes alike. They do not like each other for reasons that are the subject of gossip and speculation in the corridors of power in Washington, foreign capitals, and the cafes that dot the coastline of the small Jewish State. What appears to have begun as a political rift has become a chasm marked by an acidic relationship.

Mr. Obama is not the first president who has had his share of problems with Israeli leaders but somehow the others managed to overcome their differences and work together in an effort to bring peace to this benighted region of the world. Such was the case with Prime Minister Begin and President Carter, as well as President Clinton and Bibi. This is not the case now. While the differences can be attributed to demeanor, style and very different personalities, at the core of the open hostility are antipodal views in a very high stakes game of geopolitics and the inextricable issues of Tel-Aviv continuing to build Jewish settlements on the West Bank where the Palestinians hope to build their homeland. And, as the entire world now knows after Bibi delivered a 45-minute speech before a joint session of Congress, differences on how to deal with Tehran’s atomic and hegemonic ambitions.

From the moment Mr. Obama threw his hat in the ring and announced that he intended to run for president, every aspect of his personality, background, style, views, and demeanor have been the subject of endless analysis. Outside of Israel, this has not been the case with Bibi, who has led Israel through difficult times: the failed Arab Spring, the emergence of ISIS, the war with Gaza last summer, the failed talks with the Palestinians, and looming in the background, Iran with its atomic ambitions. He is up for re-election and odds are he will win, helped along by his reception in Washington, not by the State Department or the White House, but by the Republicans.

At home he is loved by many (they call him King Bibi) and disliked by others, but both sides agree that his only priority is the safety of his nation in what he calls “the world’s toughest neighborhood.” He is a man obsessed with national security and despite assurances from the Obama Administration, Bibi is unconvinced. At the end of his speech to Congress, he reminded the world that if need be, Israel would handle Iran on its own. Small wonder Mr. Obama did not watch the speech on TV and 50 Democrats boycotted the speech.

However affable in public, as the world witnessed when he entered the Congressional Chamber, he is a very tough military man and a seasoned politician, a man with a purpose. He is also a master politician, leading a nation of 6.2 million Jews or as the Israelis are fond of saying, 6.2 million prime ministers.  He loves to schmooze, or chat, but as it is said in Yiddish, the very big man is sometimes a shtarker, a man with a strong-arm persona. He is a hard-nosed realist and a practitioner of Realpolitik, who has argued over and over again that Israel faces “an existential threat” from Iran, whose Mullahs have promised to remove what they call “the Jewish entity” from the face of the earth.

The speech before Congress was Bibi’s third; the only person to be so honored was his hero, Winston Churchill. House Speaker John Boehner, who invited Bibi to speak, gave him a bust of the United Kingdom’s wartime prime minister.  In the 1930s, from the back bench of Parliament, the out-of-power Churchill warned against dealing with Hitler and believed that only timely action would stop his monomaniacal ambitions.  Few listened for fear of another world war. At the Munich Conference in September 1938, Britain, Italy and France handed over the Sudentenland to Hitler. In March 1939, Hitler took the rest of the Czech state. To this day, the word appeasement has entered the lexicon of the greatest foreign policy mistakes. For Bibi, the current discussions with Iran are an updated version of appeasement with the naive hope that Iran will change its behavior.  For him, the Mullahs are no different than the Nazis and have the same agenda, the destruction of the Jews. He sees Mr. Obama as a misguided idealist who believes that he can work with Tehran, not only on the nuclear issue but giving the green light for its elite troops to rout ISIS.

The fact that his English is flawless is no accident.  He is the son of Ben-Zion Netanyahu (1910 – 2013), a historian who had several professorships in Philadelphia. The family lived in the Cheltenham Township near Philly from 1956 to 1958 and again from 1963 to 1967. To understand the father—Ben Zion literally means “Son of Zion”—is to understand the son. Ben-Zion was an ardent Zionist whose historical works dealt with the history of the Jewish people, anti-Semitism, and his magnum opus on the Spanish Inquisition, which evicted the Jews from Spain after 1492. His central thesis maintains it was not a matter of religion but race that set into motion the exodus of the Jews from Spain and for him was the start of racial anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust. Bibi drew many lessons from his father’s work and uncompromising Zionism.

He is the first Israeli prime minister to be born (1949) after the end of the Second World War and the Holocaust. No different than many prime ministers before him, he cut his teeth in the military—first the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) in the Six Day War in 1967 and later in the Special Forces, or Sayeret Natkal. During the raid on Entebbe, he lost his brother, which marked him for life.

After he made his rounds in Washington and gave his well-publicized address to Congress, the 66-year-old Israeli prime minister boarded his El-Al flight for Tel-Aviv. He immediately was back on the campaign trail, using the address and the invitation as evidence of his standing in the world.  But his problems with President Obama aside, it would be a gross error in judgment to conclude there is a major rupture in American-Israeli relations. While he is up for his fourth term, the President is a lame duck with just a year-and-a-half until the end of his eight-year presidency.  Bibi will just wait him out and if a deal is cut with Tehran, clearly the Republicans will work to undermine it. As is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “this too will pass;” this dust-up between Washington and the small Jewish State.

Meanwhile, no different than Bill Clinton before him when Bibi was in office, Mr. Obama has to ask: “How is it possible for such a small state to appear so large in world affairs?”

Just ask Bibi, master politician and a real master at political theater.