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Catsam ’93 to return to Rhodes U.

As with American institutions affected by what Politico recently labeled “The Great Renaming of Craze of 2015,” South Africa’s Rhodes University has seen recent protests about the propriety of continuing to honor its namesake:

The momentum to transform Rhodes University is gathering pace and moving with urgency, including its possible renaming, vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela says.

The university’s student representative council (SRC) has led the drive for both institutional transformation and the name change. Students who embarked on protests this year at the Grahamstown-based university called for the name change because Cecil John Rhodes stood for racism, colonialism, pillaging and black people’s oppression.

More so even than the figures at the center of controversy in the United States — historical leaders such as Woodrow Wilson and Andrew Jackson — the question of whether Rhodes’s name is educationally appropriate is an intellectual challenge. Cecil Rhodes is not only the now-reviled architect of South African segregation and a colonialist ideologue, but also the provider of land and funds for the University of Capetown and Rhodes University (and Oriel College at Oxford), as well as the revered enabler of a liberal (even, arguably, progressive) education for individuals from Cory Booker to Bobby Jindal (not to mention Bill Clinton and Bill Bradley).

EphBlog regular Derek Catsam ’93 is not only a renowned historian with an expertise in race, history, politics, and Africa, but a former Rhodes University student. And now, he’s headed back to Grahamstown, where Rhodes is located:

University of Texas of the Permian Basin history professor Derek Catsam will be making what he terms a “grand return” to Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, on a Hugh le May Fellowship.

Catsam has made many trips to South Africa over the years and plans to spend from February to about mid-June in the country. The Hugh le May Fellowship is available in alternate years to senior scholars who wish to devote themselves to advanced work in one of the following subjects: Philosophy, classics and a variety of history and languages.

“It’ll really be a great experience,” Catsam said.

He added that he’s currently juggling two book projects, both of which are relevant to South Africa and the United States, but he’s going to focus on the 1981 visit to America by the national South African rugby team nicknamed the Springboks. The team came to this country to share their greatness and help improve American rugby, Catsam said.

Catsam is no fan of Rhodes or colonialism (and has offered useful, critical commentary on Rhodes Scholars at EphBlog in the past), but I don’t recall him expressing any views on the #RhodesMustFall campaign last year during his visit to Capetown. It will be interesting to see if he becomes involved in the renaming question during his fellowship. And even more interesting to see what he writes about rugby. You can follow him on Twitter @dcatafrica. Congrats on the fellowship!


SAT Prep Classes Do Not Matter

There is a shocking amount of ignorance in the Williams community about the effect of SAT prep classes (Kaplan, Princeton Review and so on). Many Ephs seem to believe (incorrectly) that taking a prep class has a significant effect on one’s scores and that, since rich families can more easily afford such classes, there is a bias in the Williams admissions process. Consider EphBlog’s own president, Derek Catsam ’93.

Asserting that SAT scores reflect intelligence is stupid. All things being equal, it would be stupid. But in a world where SAT prep classes have proliferated, and in a world in which the affluent have dozens of more options for elite test prep classes and one-on-one tutoring that will improve student scores well beyond any gap between them and these allegedly lesser poor students, to argue that SAT sores are a reflection of intelligence represents an exponential leap in stupidity.

Here (pdf) is a thorough survey of the academic literature. Summary:

The existing academic research base indicates that, on average, test preparation efforts yield a positive but small effect on standardized admission test scores. Contrary to the claims made by many test preparation providers of large increases of 100 points or more on the SAT, research suggests that average gains are more in the neighborhood of 30 points. Although extensive, the academic research base does have limitations. Most notably, few published studies have been conducted on students taking admission tests since 2000. Only two studies have been published on the effects for ACT scores, and no studies have been published since the 2005 change to the SAT, which added the Writing section among other changes. In addition, many previous studies were conducted on small samples or had other methodological flaws. Additional large-scale studies of test preparation—including both the ACT and SAT and examining a variety of test preparation methods—will be important to understanding more about the relative value of different types of test preparation. However, even with these caveats in mind, students and families would be wise to consider whether the cost of a given test preparation option is worth what is likely to be a small gain in test scores.

And note that the organization behind this report, National Association for College Admission Counseling, is, if anything, probably (?) biased against finding this result, i.e. more likely to believe if the efficacy of coaching. Note also that the 30 point effect is for math and critical reading combined.

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Sports, film, history, politics, the World Cup, etc.

Please continue the discussion here. Comments have been moved from Speak Up.


Not a good historian

Derek Catsam is no fan of Howard Zinn. More criticism linked by Catsam, here and here.


Reject Moderation

Derek Charles Catsam ’93 offers advice to Republicans.

If Republicans don’t want to consign themselves to irrelevance, they’d serve themselves well to look back to that most maligned of decades, the 1970s. In the years of Jimmy Carter, the Republicans were similarly divided, but they recovered and even flourished.

Desmond hotels
By 1977, after the triple blows to the American psyche of Vietnam, Watergate and an economic crisis that lingered into the 1980s, the Republicans appeared hopelessly divided. Internecine warfare threatened to tear the party apart. This division ran the risk of continuing indefinitely the Democratic ascendancy that began with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition and re-establishing liberalism’s place as the defining paradigm in American politics.

By 1976, President Gerald Ford, a member of his party’s moderate wing, found himself besieged by the GOP right wing. No critic was more vocal than Ronald Reagan, the former California governor with an amiable face but a deadly serious sense of politics. Many people, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who by the end of the Ford years served as chief of staff and secretary of defense respectively, undermined Ford from within the administration.

But a series of funny things happened on the way to the Democratic stranglehold on American politics. By 1981, they were on the ropes, not the Republicans. It was the “Age of Reagan.”

Today’s GOP need not despair, and Democrats ought not to celebrate. Four years is a generation in American politics and a lifetime in political memories. But the lesson from the 1970s rings clear. It is fine for the Republicans to embrace conservatism. But in so doing they should not reject moderation.

Funny, but, if memory serves, Reagan’s nomination in 1980 was widely (universally?) perceived, by both Democrats and liberal Republicans, as a rejection of “moderation.” One of the reasons that I voted against McCain was precisely because I wanted to see the Republican Party become less moderate (immigration, cap-and-trade, torture, and so on).

In 1977, Reagan represented the GOP’s disenchanted, angry and ambitious right flank. In November 2009, that angry fragment of the party is embodied by Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Joe Wilson and their ilk.

These politicians have mobilized the Tea Partiers with their Glen Beck-fueled rage, the Town Hall screechers with their vitriol and “death panel” talking points, the denialist “Birthers” with their tenuous grip on reality.

I can’t think of a single Republican who would take advice from someone who views the Town Hall protesters as “screechers.” Perhaps they should . . .

Derek is an EphBlog author so, if you make a substantive comment, he may reply.


EphBlogger spotted on C-SPAN

Derek Catsam ’93 speaks about the fight to desegregate trains, buses, and other modes of public transportation. The talk is part of a Civil Rights panel discussion that was held during this year’s Virginia Festival of the Book. Professor Catsam’s book on the Freedom Riders is entitled Freedom’s Main Line, and is available from your nearest online bookstore (such as this one or this one).

Link to video of Derek’s talk (opens in a new window).

Longtime readers may remember the Red Sox book Derek mentioned at the very beginning of his talk, Bleeding Red: A Red Sox Fan’s Diary of the 2004 Season, which was based on a series of EphBlog posts. In the words of one SNL cast member, this earlier work by Professor Catsam is “a great way to remember the best year in the history of mankind or any other species.”


Protest Darfur, buy American!

save darfur

In this article about Darfur, Ephblog regular and expert on African affairs dcat writes about the never ending diplomatic posturing of western powers that are not willing to take action to stop the bloodletting. The truth is that the French own Darfur. It is their baby. Lawn signs are not going to stop the fact that the United States does not have a legitimate course of action to stop the genocide in the Darfur. If you are mad about Darfur, protest against France.

This year is supposed to be a banner year for French Wine, but if you love America, you’ll buy from Napa.

JANUARY 2005– The crisis in the Darfur province of Sudan, which has already claimed over 70,000 lives and forced 1.5-2 million people from their homes, has placed France in the familiar position of resisting American activism in the United Nations. The United States has repeatedly tried to rally the Security Council into action, urging sanctions against the Khartoum government and deliberately using the term “genocide,” which requires action under international law. France, on the other hand, appears to be protecting Sudan or, at the very least, stalling. In July 2004, Paris opposed U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Sudan, forcing the passage of a much weaker Security Council resolution that threatened Khartoum only with eventual “measures” to be taken if it did not crack down on the militias blamed for the violence in Darfur. In September, France brushed aside the genocide charge made by Colin Powell before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Grave” human rights abuses had certainly taken place, French officials acknowledged, but whether or not they constituted a genocide, they argued, was a question that had to be determined after careful consideration by an international committee. France has consistently cautioned the international community against acting rashly and insisted on slow and careful mediation as the correct response to the crisis in Darfur. American critics of France and human rights activists alike are infuriated.


Never Again. Again. And again.

Derek Catsam ’93 writes about the situation in Sudan:

The pattern is relentless, bleak, frustrating, and odiously predictable. The leadership of Sudan and its murderous minions engage in brazen and cynical acts of murder and foment chaos, either directly or by proxy. The rest of the world responds tepidly if it responds at all. Sudan oversteps, the world criticizes, hinting of ramifications to come. Sudan backs off just long enough for the goldfish-length attention span of the western powers to turn their attentions elsewhere. And then the self-preserving thugs in Khartoum return almost immediately to their cruel and rapacious ways.


The reality is that there is no one right solution to the crises in the Sudan, though any proposal that does not include the use of force, or at least well-armed, well-provided, and sufficiently numerous peacekeepers with a mandate to use force when challenged (unlike in Rwanda) seems doomed to failure, and perhaps to risk the lives of those sent in to intervene. Nonetheless, with this understanding, there may be many plausible courses of action, many viable combinations of actors. But when the world’s powers and the bodies it empowers to act in these situations take no action, pursue none of the available options, make no discernible effort, the message is clear: Khartoum can do whatever it likes, as can the increasingly uncontrollable thugs on the ground, if every so often they feign being chastened when the West raises its voice. After all, the lesson of the last half-decade and more has been that eventually those raising their voices will slink away without so much as waving the sabers they so halfheartedly rattle.

Go read the whole thing.


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