1) When I was a freshman, I was surrounded by aspiring scientists, engineers, and doctors. When I was in my second year, I was surrounded by people with a much wider range of career ambitions, in part because some of them got their asses kicked in intro STEM classes. I understand that this trend has largely continued.
2) At my current veal farm, I see people who are in their third year and still taking intro STEM classes (and are still getting mediocre grades) because they placed into math classes lower than calculus, floundered and failed in some classes, repeated classes, etc. Nobody wants to tell them to change majors.
3) My current veal farm has a graduation rate that is pathetic compared to my alma mater.
4) Time is money. Delayed graduation means more loans and delayed income.I agree with much of what Thoreau is saying, although I suspect the rejoinder from the anti-weeders is "Look, your course structure/lecture style/whatever is what is unintentionally doing the weeding. Maybe if you changed how you lecture, you'd get more kids who understood things better." I'm not really sure that's been borne out in the literature, though.
Is it really so bad to use freshman classes to weed people out, and encourage those who are floundering to consider a different major? Indeed, from a social justice perspective, might weed-out freshman courses be ethically necessary responses to a world where students are paying higher and higher tuition and taking out more and more loans?
Also, over at Just Like Cooking, Thoreau has some interesting comments about the logistics of large classes and how seemingly draconian rules are really about teaching life skills and also taking edge-case decision making out of the hands of TAs who may otherwise be put in difficult spots. All worth thinking about.
One more thing I don't think that New York Times article addresses -- how much "new hotness" interactive-style courses would cost (in time and money) in comparison to classic large lecture courses.