Brooks, Nocera and Bruni

In “Beyond the Fence” Bobo says opponents of immigration reform rarely say exactly what it is that they want. He’s decided to spell it out.  Mr. Nocera, in “The Chancellor’s Lament,” says as the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill moves on, he raises some interesting questions about the management of college sports.  In “Religion Beyond the Right” Mr. Bruni says as a closer look at the Boy Scouts’ debate shows, God doesn’t wear tidy political labels.  Here’s Bobo:

The opponents of immigration reform have many small complaints, but they really have one core concern. It’s about control. America doesn’t control its borders. Past reform efforts have not established control. Current proposals wouldn’t establish effective control.

But the opponents rarely say what exactly it is they are trying to control. They talk about border security and various mechanisms to achieve that, but they rarely go into detail about what we should be so vigilant about restricting. I thought I would spell it out.

First, immigration opponents are effectively trying to restrict the flow of conservatives into this country. In survey after survey, immigrants are found to have more traditional ideas about family structure and community than comparable Americans. They have lower incarceration rates. They place higher emphasis on career success. They have stronger work ethics. Immigrants go into poor neighborhoods and infuse them with traditional values.

When immigrant areas go bad, it’s not because they have infected America with bad values. It’s because America has infected them with bad values already present. So the first thing conservative opponents of reform are trying to restrict is social conservatism.

Second, immigration opponents are trying to restrict assimilation. The evidence about this is clear, too. Current immigrants enter this country because they want to realize the same dreams that inspired past waves. Study after study shows current Hispanic immigrants are picking up English at an impressive clip, roughly as quickly as earlier immigrant groups. They are making steady gains in homeownership rates, job status and social identity. By second generation, according to a Pew Research Center study released earlier this year, 61 percent of immigrants think of themselves as “typical Americans.”

Third, immigration opponents are trying to restrict love affairs. Far from segregating themselves into their own alien subculture, today’s immigrant groups seem eager to marry into mainstream American society. Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9 percent of whites married outside of their racial or ethnic group, as did 17 percent of blacks. But an astonishing 26 percent of Hispanics and 28 percent of Asians married outside their groups. They are blending into America in the most intimate way.

Fourth, immigration opponents are trying to restrict social mobility. Generation after generation, the children of immigrants are gradually better educated and more affluent than their parents.

A few years ago, the great political scientist Samuel Huntington asserted that Hispanic immigrants were not succeeding as previous immigrants had. James P. Smith of the RAND Corporation conducted the most prominent investigation into this claim and concluded: “The concern that educational generational progress among Latino immigrants has lagged behind other immigrant groups is largely unfounded.”

Some intelligent skeptics say that mobility is fine through the second generation but stalls by the third. It is indeed harder to rise in a more chaotic and fragmented society. But one of the country’s leading immigration researchers, Richard Alba of the City University of New York, calls the third generation stall “a statistical illusion.”

Much of the research that shows the effect compares today’s third-generation immigrants with today’s second-generation group. But the third-generation families originally came to the U.S. decades ago, at a time when segregation was prevalent, discrimination was high and immigrants were harshly treated. You’d expect those families to progress more slowly than families that came to more welcoming conditions a generation later.

Fifth, immigration opponents are trying to restrict skills. Current reform proposals would increase high-skill immigration. Opponents of reform are trying to restrict an infusion of people most likely to start businesses and invent things.

Alba points out that, over the next decades, the retirement of the baby-boomer generation will open up a large number of positions, especially atop the labor force. He points out that the fastest-growing ethnic groups are already rising to fill these slots. Whites occupy 80 percent of the top-paying jobs among older workers. But, among younger workers, whites occupy only 67 percent of the top jobs. The work force is already more diverse the younger you go.

Finally, opponents of reform are trying to hold back the inevitable. Whether immigration reform passes or not, the United States is going to become a much more cosmopolitan country than it is now. The country will look more like the faces you see at college commencement exercises and less like the faces you see in senior citizen homes.

One crucial question is whether America will be better off in that future with today’s dysfunctional immigration laws or something else? Another interesting question is whether a major political party is going to consign itself to permanent irrelevance. If conservatives defeat immigration reform, the Republicans will definitely lose control of one thing for years to come: political power.

From your typing fingers to God’s ear, Bobo…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

By most measures, Holden Thorp’s five-year tenure as the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is coming to an end next month, was a roaring success. The university went from 19th to 9th in federal research grants. Undergraduate applications rose 43 percent. And, at a time when university budgets are under extreme pressure, Thorp helped keep U.N.C. an affordable public university.

But you won’t find a lot of people giving Thorp, 48, a pat on the back. For the last three years, North Carolina was mired in an athletic scandal. And the fact that it took place on Thorp’s watch overshadows everything else he did.

Though it started out as an N.C.A.A. rules-violation investigation, it morphed into an academic scandal when it was discovered that the chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies Department had long allowed students — athletes very much included — to take no-show classes.

For a university that had long held itself out as one of the “good schools” athletically, the scandal has been humiliating. The N.C.A.A. meted out penalties to the football team. The football coach, Butch Davis, was fired. The athletic director resigned. Even the college accrediting agency got involved.

By his own admission, Thorp was shellshocked by the experience of dealing with the scandal. As a lifelong North Carolina partisan, he had bought into the myth of the university as a place that harvested genuine student-athletes. The scandal showed him a reality he never before had to face.

It also engulfed him. If you are a college chancellor or president, you can’t delegate when there is a problem in the athletic department. “The governing board, the newspaper, the fans, the faculty, they all expect you to sort it out,” he said. He was spending, literally, half his time dealing with the football team. Yet he had no real experience with the business of college athletics — nor, for that matter, do most college presidents.

He found himself buffeted this way and that. At first, he supported his coach, but then he finally felt he had to fire him. He did so at the worst possible moment: on the eve of a new season. His press conferences dealing with the scandal were, by his own admission, “terrible.” He was, to be blunt, in over his head.

And as he departs U.N.C., his message is that virtually all college presidents are in over their heads when it comes to their athletic departments. They have no background, no experience, that would prepare them for overseeing the $6 billion entertainment complex that big-time college sports has become. In he early 1990s, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics issued a series of reports saying that college presidents needed to regain control of their athletic departments and restore “integrity.” The N.C.A.A. adopted this position.

But today, notwithstanding this supposed reform, the system is as morally corrupt as ever — and far more awash in money. It’s conference presidents, not college presidents and chancellors, who run college sports. The prototypical modern athletic director is David Brandon at the University of Michigan. His previous job — are you sitting down? — was chairman and chief executive of Domino’s Pizza. He is an unabashed revenue maximizer. Compared with the hard-nosed businessmen who control college sports, the presidents and chancellors are babes in the woods. The main thing they offer everyone else in the system is cover.

Not surprisingly, Thorp’s comments have not exactly been embraced. At U.N.C., there is still a lot of indignation, some deserved, at the way Thorp handled the scandal. Some people think he is trying to shuck his responsibility.

People associated with the Knight commission are also upset. Hodding Carter III, a former president of the Knight Foundation, which finances the commission, was quoted as saying that Thorp was “wrong on every count.” But he’s not. Even the Knight commission has begun to examine whether the system is so broken that it can’t be reformed.

That is what Thorp now thinks. He is not ready to go as far as I do, namely, end the hypocrisy and start calling “student-athletes” what they really are: employees who deserve to earn a paycheck for their labors. But he does believe athletes should be allowed to attend school after their playing days are over. And, he said, “the concept of amateurism” — the current bedrock of college athletics — “needs to be examined.” For a college chancellor, those are radical words.

Thorp himself will soon move to Washington University in St. Louis, a first-rate academic institution that no one will ever mistake for the University of North Carolina athletically. It is in Division III, meaning, among other things, it doesn’t offer athletic scholarships.

Not long ago, when he was being taken around the Washington University campus, Thorp remarked, “I hear that the football stadium seats 3,500.”

“Yes,” came the response, “but it’s never been tested.”

“I’m looking forward to Division III,” Thorp told me.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

As the Boy Scouts of America reassesses its ban on gay scouts and leaders, we’re hearing a lot about the organization’s need to remain sensitive to people whose religions condemn homosexual behavior. Their morals must be properly respected, their God aptly revered.

But what about the morals and the God of people whose religions exhort them to be inclusive and to treat gays and lesbians with the same dignity as anyone else? There are many Americans in this camp, and their opposition to the Scouts’ ban is as faith-based as the stance of those who want it maintained.

Take Scott Ward, 48, a public relations executive and married father of three in Takoma Park, Md. He’s a scout leader, with a 10-year-old son who’s a scout. He’s also an elder in his Presbyterian church.

And for him, the ban must go not in spite of what Christianity says about homosexuality (or what selective literalists have decided it says), but because of what it says about humanity.

“From my faith perspective, singling people out for exclusion from the life of the church or the life of the community cannot possibly be part of God’s plan,” Ward told me on the phone recently.

He added, “If you look at the people Jesus tended to be most suspicious of, they were people who sat in positions of authority to say that they had the unique ability to judge others.”

We refer incessantly in this country to the “religious right,” a phrase routinely presented as if it’s some sort of syllogism: to be devoutly religious is to gravitate to a certain side of the political spectrum, one set of values dictating the other. “Christian conservatives” is an almost equally ubiquitous bit of alliteration.

But there’s a religious center. A religious left. There are Christian moderates and Christian liberals: less alliterative and less dogmatic, but perhaps no less concerned with acting in ways that reflect moral ideals. We should better acknowledge that and them.

And we should stop equating conventional piety with certain issues only and sexual morality above other kinds.

Our tendency to do that was illustrated by the hullabaloo last year over the Nuns on the Bus. The Vatican officials who wanted them to be more assertively anti-abortion and anti-birth control were portrayed as the dutiful guardians of tradition, while the nuns, focused on matters of economic justice, were the rebels.

Why? It’s as fundamentally Catholic and Christian to care about the underprivileged as to safeguard the unborn (or to combat homosexuality). Indeed, many Catholics look to a politician’s social welfare policies as much as they do to other positions, and vote in a manner that would be accorded a label other than conservative.

Many people of faith are pacifists, and that’s a decisive factor in how they cast their ballots, though this concern is infrequently characterized in religious terms.

“I find it perplexing the way the ‘moral values’ phrase is used,” said the Rev. Mark Greiner, the pastor at the Presbyterian church that Ward attends.

“Concern for the environment, concern for workers’ rights: those are moral values,” he told me. “But the phrase ends up being limited to matters of human sexuality, as if Jesus was primarily concerned with what people did with their reproductive parts. It’s crazy-making.” Greiner wants the ban on gay scouts and leaders lifted.

Religion is inevitably part of the Scouts’ debate: more than 70 percent of local scout troops are chartered by religious groups.

Later this month, the organization’s National Council will vote on a recommendation that the ban on gay scouts be lifted but the prohibition against gay leaders be preserved. The Mormons have indicated that they can live with this. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting has been vague.

The Baptists have cried foul, as have evangelicals like Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, which sponsored a webcast over the weekend called “Stand with Scouts Sunday.” Rick Perry, the Texas governor, appeared on it to denounce any change to the ban, and for good measure called homosexuality “the flavor of the month.” Like pralines ’n cream, I guess.

But that’s not the whole story. The Episcopal Church wants all aspects of the ban lifted, as does the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, whose former chairman, a Baltimore lawyer named Jay Lenrow, told me that while no troop should be forced to choose a gay leader, no troop should be prevented from doing so, either.

He noted that our country was founded on a principle of religious freedom; that the Scouts’ bylaws require equal treatment of every religion’s teachings; and that certain denominations — the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), for example — ordain gay and lesbian ministers. By the Scouts’ current rules, those very ministers, fit for the pulpit, aren’t deemed fit to lead a troop.

Isn’t that as much of an insult to their religions as the ban’s end would be to Perkins, Perry and their kind?


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