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A U.S. Education Department researcher last week said that critics of college curricula, including Lynne V. Cheney, the chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, use "flimsy'' evidence when making their critiques.

Clifford Adelman, a senior associate with the department's office of research, said that students typically are required to take core courses for graduation and that the obscure courses that critics like Ms. Cheney cite as evidence that colleges ignore the basics may not even be offered, even though they are listed in course catalogues.

In "Tourists in Our Own Land: Cultural Literacies and the College Curriculum,'' the latest in a series of reports using data from a longitudinal study, Mr. Adelman writes: "We cannot have either Cheney's '50 Hours' or more than fragments of non-Western or multicultural studies as long as 50 percent of bachelor's degrees and 67 percent of associate's degrees are being awarded in occupational fields, as long as the accreditation/certification requirements in most of those fields eat up as many credit hours as they do, and as long as students attempt to assemble a record that will provide them with multiple skills and knowledges for a mutable economy.''

His observations are based on a review of the college transcripts of 10,700 students from the high school class of 1972 who earned more than 10 college credits by 1984.

While conducted under the auspices of the Education Department, the report does not necessarily reflect the views of high-level department officials, a spokeswoman said.

Ms. Cheney has been a frequent critic of academe. In her 1989 report "50 Hours,'' she contended that colleges offer too many irrelevant courses, and suggested that college students follow a core curriculum. Most recently, she charged that many professors are politicizing their teaching.

The proportion of first-year college students who say they have disabilities has grown dramatically since the 1970's, according to a study by the American Council on Education.

Almost one in 11 first-time students, or 8.8 percent, who enrolled in college in 1991 reported having a disability, compared with one in 38 students, or 2.6 percent, in 1978.

The study, "College Freshmen With Disabilities: A Statistical Profile,'' reports on 140,000 students with disabilities.

Sight and learning disabilities, both at about 25 percent, were the most frequently cited conditions.

Copies of the report are available for $10 each prepaid (or $7.50 each for multiple copies) from the American Council on Education, Box CFD, 1 Dupont Circle, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20036.--M.P.

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