Outlets like Politico continue to write about the race to control the Senate as one in which the Republicans have blown their chance to win an easy victory. It’s true that sure GOP wins have been lost. The Todd Akin fiasco will probably cost them a once-sure pickup of a seat in Missouri and Olympia Snowe’s decision to retire will likely mean a pickup for the Democrats. But a look at Real Clear Politics’ Senate map shows that there’s still plenty of doubt as to whether it will be Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell sitting in the majority leader’s chair next January. With 12 races rated as a tossups and with a Florida seat now called as a likely Democratic win, though still competitive, this is no time for either side to be making assumptions about the outcome on Election Day. Each race needs to be judged on its own merits and the particular circumstances in that state, but the impact of the presidential race will be crucial.
The odds are there will be no partisan sweep like the midterm victories of the Republicans in 1994 and 2010 or the Democrats in 2006. Nor does is seem likely that either presidential candidate will have the kind of coattails that will create a landslide that will radically affect the composition of Congress. But that doesn’t mean the fates of President Obama and Mitt Romney won’t materially impact the various Senate races. With so many Senate races too close to call, the ability of either candidate to create any kind of a groundswell down the ticket will probably be the difference. Though there are too many variables to be sure of anything this year, the party that wins the White House is likely to be the one that controls the Senate as well.
The fact there are an almost unprecedented number of competitive Senate races this year is a function of the Democrats’ big win in 2006 when they seized control of the upper house for the first time since 1994. That set up 2012 as a year in which they would have to defend far more seats than the Republicans, including some in states like Virginia, Montana, and Missouri where they would be underdogs. Thanks to George Allen’s problems in recapturing his old mojo in Virginia and Todd Akin’s unfortunate discussion of pregnancy and rape, things aren’t lining up quite so easily for the Republicans.
However, this campaign may turn out to have as many pleasant surprises for the Republicans as it has disappointments.
Joe Lieberman’s old seat in Connecticut was thought to be a layup for the Democrats, but thanks to Linda McMahon’s unexpected strength and a weak Democrat like Chris Murphy, it may turn out to be a GOP pickup.
In Ohio, Democrat Sherrod Brown looked to be a shoe-in against young Josh Mandel, but the Republican’s staying power in the polls is scaring Democrats.
Even in blue Pennsylvania, the Democrats have their Senate worries. Bob Casey beat Rick Santorum by a whopping 18 percentage points in 2006, but now polls show him with a slim lead over largely unknown Tea Partier Tom Smith. The Republican may not be able to close that gap, but if Romney, who is also trailing by only a few points, gains more ground in the coming weeks, Smith may be dragged along with him.
All three of these states may wind up staying in the Democratic column, but a strong showing for Romney in all of these states is likely to give a boost to all those Republican candidates. Even though he won’t win Connecticut, if he makes it close, that could be enough to also make the difference for McMahon, who is running ahead of the top of the ticket right now. The same is true elsewhere. If Romney’s surge isn’t derailed by the last debate, it will be interesting to see whether he is able to create a tide that will lift all GOP boats. All 12 of those tossups and even the Florida seat that Bill Nelson looks to be holding onto right now are as much in play as the presidency itself. Which means there is a good chance that the next president, no matter whether his name is Obama or Romney, will be able to count on a slim majority in the Senate next year.
Presidential Race Will Determine Senate
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Are the rewards worth the costs?
Universities may be non-profit, but they are big business. At the end of fiscal year 2015, for example, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton’s endowments were $38 billion, $26 billion, and $22 billion respectively. Those are correspondingly equivalent to the gross domestic products of Mongolia, Cyprus, and the West Bank and Gaza. University presidents make salaries on par with and often higher than corporate CEOs. Fundraising—traveling the world glad-handing alumni and lobbying—rather than academe has become the primary function of many university presidents.
To be fair, universities have become ever more expensive to run. Government regulations and mandates attached to the receipt of federal funds have burdened campuses with ever more administrators. So, too, has the culture of victimhood, which requires an ever-expanding support staff. Add into the mix the transformation of universities into country clubs competing to offer increasingly luxurious amenities, and management of a university requires ever more cash.
Universities pride themselves on diversity, which they too often define superficially in terms of skin color. Attracting international students to campus kills two birds with one stone: diversity plus full tuition since the foreign students accepted seldom qualify for financial aid from the university.
I am fortunate in my current job to be able to visit perhaps ten different colleges and university campuses each year, sometimes for stand-alone lectures but often for debates. During these visits, I am able to talk to students, professors, and administrators. In addition, many of my peers from graduate school are now tenured faculty, and rising through the ranks of their respective universities. Some of them have raised concern that certain dynamics surrounding ever increasing numbers of foreign students from certain countries have been counterproductive to universities’ educational mission.
The Peoples’ Republic of China sends several hundred thousand students to U.S. colleges, for example. Saudi Arabia sends 60,000. Many of these students fit in and receive a top notch education, but many also cheat on their applications. Academic corruption is fairly commonplace in both countries. In the most blatant cases, students pay others to take various exams required for college admissions, such as the Test of English as a Foreign Langue (TOEFL). Politically-connected students in each country can ensure that their transcripts and extracurricular portfolios highlight what American universities seek rather than what reality is.
Once admitted and on campus, it is clear that these students are not what they claimed to be. In some extreme cases, they cannot speak English well-enough to communicate and cannot understand what is said in class. This forces a choice upon the university: expel the sub-par students or expel them. The former maintains the school’s quality of education; the latter protects its bottom line. The unending quest to raise funds leads universities to choose the later. Some justify this practice because the tuition paid by the substandard students or their governments subsidizes the financial aid awarded to other students. Others recognize the problem but feel they have no recourse. Add into the mix the fact that some Chinese national students appear to be conducting surveillance on their peers, and the dynamics only get more complicated.
To be fair, fewer university administrations succumb to the quid pro quo of loosening standards than do those which rationalize limits to free speech and intellectual inquiry. The general pattern seems to be that middle-ranked undergraduate programs and masters programs at elite schools make the greatest compromises.
How to resolve the problem? Financial discipline among management would go a long way. So, too, would be a no-nonsense approach to standards. If necessary, universities should proctor their own exams overseas. After all, if dozens of mainland Chinese students can pay $50,000 per year to a university, that university should be able to find $5,000 to send a proctor to one or two cities in that country to oversee and mark exams and conduct in-person interviews.
American universities are facing multiple crises. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has documented threats to free speech on campus and, admirably, stands on objective principle; it does not pass its judgment through partisan litmus tests. Threats to free speech may get the headlines—and deservedly so—but as American universities increasingly become global campuses, willingness to bend standards after the fact when foreign nationals admitted do not match the abilities reflected on their applications can have a deeply corrosive effect on educational quality in America’s most elite colleges and universities.
So many foreigners—the sons and daughters of political and business elite—flock to American universities because they offer the best and broadest education. To destroy that reputation for short-term gain would be mismanagement in the extreme.
Expect the impossible.
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