Tolerance on campus

I have a short piece on tolerance included in today’s Rocky Mountain Collegian, CSU’s excellent student newspaper. It’s a follow-up to an article I wrote last year about the need to celebrate political diversity on campus.

Last year I wrote in The Collegian that the diversity of political views at Colorado State is a major strength of our campus community. “CSU Rams should be proud of their oasis of pluralism,” I urged.“And they should be jealous guardians of its future.”

My point was that students can learn a lot from others with whom they disagree, and that we should acknowledge the value of a campus community where the free exchange of political ideas is truly fostered.

Few people would openly disagree with this sentiment. Indeed, there is a prevalent belief today that diversity of every sort—racial, ethnic, gender and so on—is an intrinsic good that needs to be promoted, protected, and celebrated. I agree. But despite the overwhelming social pressure for people to show an outward commitment to toleration in all its forms, the truth is that tolerance can be an obnoxiously difficult principle to put into practice when it counts…

Read the full piece here.

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Extra-curricular activities: Are they worth it?

People enroll in college to become more educated and to receive an academic qualification, usually with a view to improving their career prospects. But once they arrive on campus, all students quickly discover that there is more to college than just taking classes. Especially for undergraduate students, there are a host of extracurricular opportunities on offer: clubs, societies, sports teams, political parties, campaigning organizations, internship opportunities, and more.

Are any of these extracurricular activities worth the time and attention? And if so, how much effort should be devoted to them?

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Avoiding plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious academic offense and can result in your expulsion from college. It’s crucial, then, that students understand what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it.

First, it’s important to note that every student has an individual responsibility to do some research into plagiarism and to understand the limits of what is acceptable. As always, ignorance of the rules is no excuse for breaking them.

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Writing professional emails

Some things in college are hard to master. Conducting research, giving presentations, writing papers, solving problem sets—all of these can be difficult to get the hang of. But there are other things that no student should find taxing. Being professional in your written communications falls into this category.

I think that students sometimes forget that college is a professional setting. They forget that their relationships with staff and faculty are more like workplace relationships than easygoing friendships. And they don’t realize that how they act in college can have long-term repercussions for their own professional reputation.

In my view, the most egregious instances of informality can be found in emails. You might laugh, but I really do worry that my students will email prospective employers or future clients with the same casualness with which they email me. I can assure you, such a thing would not do wonders for their prospects of promotion.

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Strong writing skills aren’t optional

Learning how to write well is perhaps the single most important thing you can do while in college, especially if you are majoring in a liberal arts subject. In my experience, too few students realize how important it is to develop strong writing skills – and this can cause real problems when it comes to applying for jobs and graduate programs.

Strong writing skills shouldn’t be treated like an optional ‘extra’ that you can consider picking up, like a foreign language or a new software package. They are an absolute must. Simply put, you will be badly hamstrung for the rest of your professional life if you can’t write well.

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Writing a great introduction

The opening paragraph will be the most important part of every paper you will ever write in college. Being able to write a good introduction will keep your readers happy—not least of all those grading your papers!—but it will also help you, the author, in some significant ways. Unfortunately, many students struggle with writing strong introductions. What follows are some tips to avoid common pitfalls.

In my judgment, a great introduction ought to do three things: (1) state an argument in answer to whatever question you have been tasked with answering, preferably in just one sentence; (2) preview the logic underpinning that argument; and (3) give “signposts” as to how the rest of the essay will unfold.

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