The front page of the Sept. 27 edition of the North Adams Transcript carried a story by Evan Lehmann of the "Transcript Washington Bureau" reporting on a survey of college seniors financed by a group called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. It ranked Williams College No. 39 out of 50 schools on the extent to which it was said to add to the "civic literacy" of students over four years. it defines civic literacy as "knowledge of America's history, its key texts, its founding principles, and its free institutions and the ability to provide fair reviews of these facts and concepts." At first blush the resulted sounded disturbing. But The Transcript story did not note that colleges which scored worse than Williams included: Georgetown, Yale, Duke, Brown, Cornell, UC-Berkeley and Johns Hopkins. What is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute? Media Matters, the liberal-progressive media watchdog website did a little research. Media Matters says:
- William Bennett, a Williams grad, former secretary of education, and a noted conservative, is on the board of ISI.
- ISI has received large chunks of funding from the Coors brewing family and from Pittsburgh's Richard Mellon Schaife -- two of the most consistent multi-millionaire backers of right-wing political causes.
- A 1999 Salon.com article about conservative activism on college campuses reported that the ICI funds more than 60 conservative independent campus-focused newspapers around the country.
- The chairman of ISI's board of trustees is also a trustee of the study's top-ranked school, Rhodes College (Memphis, Tenn.). The third-ranked school, Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Mich.) is chairman of a foundation which contributed around $1 million to ISI since 1998.
According to ISI's own Sept. 26 news release: "College freshmen and seniors at 50 of the nation's colleges and universities were asked 60 multiple choice questions about (1) America's history; (2) government; (3) America and the world; and (4) the market economy. The average overall score for college seniors was 53.2 percent, just 1.5 percent higher than the average overall score for freshmen, which was 51.7 percent. Both scores represent failure by a wide margin on a traditional grading scale. More significantly, the results demonstrate that colleges and universities are failing to teach students about their country's history and founding principles. At 16 of the schools, the freshmen actually scored higher than the seniors." A copy of the report , "The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education's Failure to Teach America's History and Institutions," is available at http://www.americancivicliteracy.org.