Comments for Take-Home Midterm

I will return your take-home midterms via OWL-Space today, March 4. While grading your take-home midterms, I used a rubric organized around the following questions, which you will find at the end of the PDF file I send back to you.

I will be happy to talk with you about your essay, but be sure to read this page before coming to see me, as it contains extensive explanations of the comment shorthand that you are likely to find on your individual exam.

Does the essay directly and completely answer the question at hand?

Choice A required you to explain setbacks after 1954 to programs designed to redress racial inequality, which included but were not limited to affirmative action policies in higher education. As the question notes, policies designed to “aid integration” (like busing programs to combat de facto segregation) or “equal employment opportunities” (like the programs recommended by the EEOC in Hollywood) were also under fire by the late 1980s and early 1990s. Setbacks to these programs were also various, ranging from Supreme Court rulings to decisions by individual institutions like the University of California to suspend affirmative action. If you received a DNAC (did not answer completely) comment, you may not have addressed the full range of programs designed to redress racial inequality that we have read about in class, or you may have addressed only one kind of setback that these programs suffered. A DNAD (did not answer directly) comment may mean that you talked about changes to affirmative action programs (for example, citing the decision of the University of California to end AA; or mentioning the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a landmark follow-up to Brown v. Board) without addressing the cause of these changes, which the question explicitly asks you to do.

Choice B is a question about the extent to which modern-day conservatism was a new response to the 1960s, so it is implicitly a question about change and continuity (what was new?) and, implicitly, a question about causation (was it a response to the 1960s?). A DNAC (did not answer completely) or DNAD (did not answer directly) comment may mean that you talked about the causes of modern-day conservativism without discussing how new they were, or you may have discussed what was new about the rise of conservatism without addressing the causal role (if any) played by 1960s radicalism and counterculture. Since the question proposes “backlash” as one common explanation for the rise of conservatism, a direct answer will also address this possibility head-on and assess its validity. A complex answer will move beyond saying it was or was not a backlash to assessing the “extent to which” modern-day conservatism responded to the 1960s.

Are the essay’s claims well-supported with specific reasons and evidence drawn from relevant course readings or lectures? Is the strength of each claim calibrated to match the extent of the evidence?

As I asked myself these questions about your essay’s claims, I may have marked down the following comments:

  1. Ev?: This means your claim is an unsupported assertion; it needs to be backed up with evidence or further reasoning.
  2. BMS: This means “Be More Specific.” For example, instead of alluding in general to a reading, bolster your claim with specific examples or evidence from it.
  3. CM?: As the important notes for the take-home prompt explained, outside research cannot serve as a substitute for evidence drawn from course materials. This comment indicates that you supported many claims with evidence drawn from outside course materials, even when relevant course materials were available that could bolster the same point.
  4. Too strong: This means that your claim, while supported by evidence, may go beyond the evidence you have. For example, the claim might generalize about Americans as a whole, or an entire group or era, on the basis of only one piece of evidence. The fix for this problem would either be to provide more evidence to support the generalization, or temper the generalization with limiting words (“Some Americans,” or “at least in part”).

Does the essay ignore highly relevant evidence from class that would either bolster or challenge its major claims?

Both of these prompts were crafted with our course materials in mind; answers to either one had a wealth of evidence to draw in, even though the evidence we’ve found sometimes pointed in various directions.

In cases where an essay drew on only a handful of materials, indicating a lack of familiarity with a large number of relevant pieces of evidence that either challenge or support your argument, I may simply have commented Source base too limited.

When relevant, however, I also tried to name specific materials relevant to the question whose absence from the essay is conspicuous, either because it would directly support a claim or because it directly undermines a claim and needs to be dealt with for the claim to be more persuasive.

Below are some examples of such highly relevant sources. The point of this list is not that to get an A, you had to list every one of these readings; rather, depending on your essay’s particular claims, some of these pieces of evidence might really have been essential to consider and/or refute.

Choice A

  • Milliken: An important ruling, included in the Readings for January 30, declaring that de facto segregation alone was not proof of illicit segregation in school systems, a ruling that also undercut some of the logic behind affirmative action.
  • Bakke: This 1978 Supreme Court ruling, while not overturning all forms of affirmative action, did overturn the use of quotas by the University of California medical school, laying the groundwork for broader attacks on other forms of affirmative action.
  • Quinn: The article by Eithne Quinn, discussed in class on January 28, provides evidence that there were real inequalities in employment opportunities for African Americans in the late 1960s and early 1970s that the EEOC tried to address. It also provides strong evidence that opponents of the EEOC developed the language of “reverse discrimination” and applied it to affirmative action in an effort to undercut these programs. Quinn argues, in other words, that the claims of early opponents of affirmative action that the programs were discriminatory towards majority groups were not founded in fact, but were instead rhetorical strategies designed to deflect attention from real inequities in industries like Hollywood filmmaking.
  • Dudziak/Gilmore: These authors, discussed in the Readings for February 11, present evidence that the Cold War contributed to the weakening of support for civil rights legislation and programs in the long run, either because anti-communism targeted Civil Rights activists (Gilmore) or because rulings like Brown v. Board of Education were limited and conservative in the first place, designed mainly to refute charges of American hypocrisy outside the United States instead of to create rapid change.
  • R of C: In various ways, the “rise of conservatism” that we have discussed in class and readings helps explain the retreat from programs like affirmative action. For example, conservatism helps explain support for smaller government in general, rightward turn of Supreme Court under Warren Burger, and Reagan’s appointment of conservative officials like Clarence Thomas, as discussed in the January 25 lecture; all of these could also help explain the retreat from affirmative action.
  • General racial attitudes: A wealth of evidence in class dealt with general attitudes about race in the period between 1954 and 1994, like the Willie Horton ad watched in class, Reagan’s comments about welfare queens, states rights, and Martin Luther King, Jr., the reactions to the Los Angeles riots and debates about the Rodney King beatings, the Louisville anti-busing riots, the murder of Emmett Till, etc.
  • CR division: As discussed in the February 1 lecture, the civil rights movement itself experienced fractures in the 1960s (over issues like the Vietnam War, as shown by King’s speech against the war, and the use of violence, as shown by the changes in SNCC and the Black Panther Party) that might have weakened internally the strongest supporters of racial equality. Evidence of ambivalence about affirmative action among prominent African Americans themselves (as shown in the article on Obama’s election to the Harvard Law Review, or the views of Ward Connerly) also shows internal reasons why support for affirmative action might have waned.

Choice B

  • Schlafly: Several readings and lectures dealt with Phyllis Schlafly and provided evidence of her involvement in the conservative movement even before she founded STOP ERA (e.g., her running for Congress in the 1950s, her support for Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign in 1964). Her pre-1960s activities were also discussed in more detail on the Conservativism Questions page posted after the January 25 lecture. At the same time, her focus on women’s liberation in the 1970s and beyond was a new emphasis that post-dated the 1960s.
  • Quinn: The article by Eithne Quinn, discussed in class on January 28, discussed the rise of neoconservative arguments designed to undercut affirmative action, which used the language of the Civil Rights movement to craft a new discourse about “reverse discrimination.”
  • Buckley: William F. Buckley, who was featured in the Firing Line clips, discussed by Richard Brookhiser, and discussed in the January 25 lecture as the founder of National Review, showed both that conservatives were active prior to the 1960s and also that the liberal movements of the 1960s helped mobilize conservatives in the 1970s.
  • Isolationism: In our discussion of the causes of World War 2, we noted in lecture that conservatism was a force in American politics even in the 1930s and 1940s, and arguably going back to the rejection of Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations. Figures like Father Coughlin anticipated some of the arguments against foreign interventionism later articulated by movement conservatives like Goldwater and Schlafly.
  • Cold War Culture: We discussed the conformity and fear of communism common in 1950s postwar culture. Although the images that were common in advertisements of the time didn’t always match reality (see Conservatism Questions), the conservatism of postwar culture suggests that in some ways the 1960s was a new response to conservatism, rather than the other way around.
  • Liberal Division: One way to explain the rise of conservatism after Nixon is to point out the many internal divisions within liberal groups like SDS.These divisions were discussed in lectures like the one on February 1.
  • Hendershot: Hendershot’s article from the Readings for February 4 showed that right-wing broadcasters were active during the Cold War, before being silenced by the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine.
  • Douglas: Douglas’s article from the Readings for February 4 depicted some forms of conservative media as a response to the increasing inclusion of women and racial minorities in the body politic after the 1960s.
  • Falwell / Moral Majority: The discussion of Falwell and campaigns like Anita Bryant’s “Save the Children” movement show a definite response to the gay liberation movement of the 1960s, revealing an aspect of conservatism that was not as prominent in the 1950s when gay rights was advocated by less visible homophile groups.
  • Burger Court: We discussed some of the conservative decisions of the Supreme Court after Warren E. Burger took over as Chief Justice in 1969, replacing the more liberal Earl Warren. While this court was responsible for cases like Roe v. Wade, even this case was framed in conservative terms that permitted state regulation of abortion, and other cases (like Bakke and Milliken) represented more conservative responses to the problem of segregation than those envisioned by pre-1960s cases like Brown v. Board.

Does the essay take into account points of view or salient facts about sources that bear on the quality or kind of evidence they can provide?

Usually I indicated problems in this areas with the abbreviation POV, which indicates that the answer does not sufficiently take into account the source of the evidence being provided. This issue of the perspective of a source’s creator is something that we’ve discussed frequently in class; for example, claims made by Emmett Till’s murderers about what Till said before he died are suspect given the reasons they had for trying to deflect blame. Likewise, for example, opponents or proponents of affirmative action may have made claims that need to be examined against other evidence before they can be judged as fully reliable or accurate.

Is the essay clearly written, with a minimum of grammatical errors, so that major claims and the evidence to support them were easily grasped?

In order to answer the first four questions, I had to be able to find your major claims and understand the evidence you were using to support them. If your paper was not clearly organized or riddled with grammatical errors that made this more difficult, you likely received a lower mark on this section of the rubric.