Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

A Defense of the Very Reverend Jane Shaw


Campus Reform, followed by Rush Limbaugh, poked fun this week at  the Very Reverend Jane Shaw, newly appointed dean of religious life at Stanford University (and no relation to me). They ridiculed her for naming climate change as the most important issue of our time, for saying that she’s not very “churchy,” and for wanting to bring more art into religion (as she has done as dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco). She is also a lesbian. The point seems to be that she is not really religious and this is a sign of our society’s decline.

Okay, she deserved some of it. How can any Christian consider climate change the issue of our time in the face of vicious wars (complete with beheadings), global poverty, and racial animosity in our own country? It defies common sense.

And Dr. Shaw, as interviewed by Palo Alto Online, is indeed the epitome of the British female academic. Speaking with a full-throated British accent, wearing very round horn-rimmed glasses, she is easy to parody–astutely informed about the Bible, biblical history and English literature, but not communicative about the role of God, in her life or anyone’s.

But she did say that she reads Morning Prayer every morning and Evening Prayer every night.  Give her something for that!

And we really don’t know much about her spiritual life—although she was quick to say that she welcomes people into the church whether they are spiritual or not.

I fault the interviewer, who seemed afraid to ask questions about Shaw’s faith and instead asked her about non-religious issues such as the role of technology in modern society. I’d like to know whether Dr. Shaw believes in God; and if so what does she mean by God? In fact, do Anglicans believe in God these days? Does “anything go” theologically? Where does Anglican theology fit into “religious life” if at all? What is religious life if it isn’t just spiritual? And so forth.

Then we might criticize her answers. Or we might be surprised.

Should Brandeis Student Be Expelled?


Last weekend, Khadijah Lynch posted two Tweets that have ignited a debate about free speech in higher education and the role universities should play in terms of regulating student conduct.

Lynch, who at the time was the undergraduate representative in Brandeis University’s African and Afro-American studies department (she resigned this week), wrote that she had “no sympathy” for the two NYPD officers who were recently murdered and that she “hates this racist fucking country.” In a prior Tweet, she wrote that “the fact that black people have not burned this country down is beyond me.”

As Inside Higher Ed reports, petitions on Facebook and are calling on Brandeis to expel Lynch, while others are defending her. 

The AAAS department stated that Lynch’s comments “do not reflect” the department. But the official statement continued: 

While it may be easy and convenient at this emotionally charged moment to condemn Ms. Lynch, we must also strive to understand why she would make these comments. This means openly and honestly recognizing the very real pain and frustration that many young people of color struggle with in trying to navigate their place in a society that all too often delegitimizes their existence.

There are two petitions. As of this post, the “expel Khadijah” petition has 100 supporters and the “support Khadija” petition has 750 supporters. 


The Latest Top Ten


You’ll laugh. NRO’s Katherine Timpf lists her “top ten” most politically correct moments on campuses this year, and they describe a crazy year. They range from Harvard’s effort to ban water machines from an Israeli company (because it is an Israeli company) to “serious sanctions” against a “Taco Tuesday” event at California State University Fullerton because students wore “culturally insensitive attire” (sombreros).

Thank SCOTUS for Credential Inflation


Before the early 1970s, many employers did not require that applicants have college degrees – even for well-paying jobs necessitating advanced skills and intelligence. A high school diploma and a passing score on an employee aptitude test were, in many instances, enough for a worker to advance in a rewarding and lucrative career. Unfortunately, as George Leef points out in today’s Pope Center feature, the Supreme Court’s decision in Griggs v. Duke Power (1971) effectively precluded employers from basing hiring decisions on aptitude test results. The reverberations of that decision are still being felt today. 

In Griggs, the Court deferred to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) interpretation of section 703(h) of the Civil Rights Act (CRA), which permitted employers to use a “professionally designed ability test” so long as the test was not “designed, intended or used to discriminate…” The EEOC, which enforced the CRA, had promulgated a broad interpretation of that provision, making it illegal for a test to have a “disparate impact” on minorities. For example, if an employee aptitude test disproportionately weeded out black applicants, it would be considered illegal. 

As Leef makes clear, the end result of the Griggs decision was that employers became paranoid about using aptitude tests, for fear of potential litigation costs. Instead, they began to use the college diploma as the new employee screening device. “We probably have a college ‘bubble’ just from the effects of easy federal college aid and the push by politicians for educational attainment, but by making employee testing legally dangerous, the Griggs decision helped inflate it,” he writes. 

Another Chronicle Review Screed


Chronicle Review often publishes outrageous pieces by “progressive” academics eager to smear the free market and its defenders. A good example is the essay “Slavery and Capitalism” by Harvard history professor Sven Beckert. In the letter to the editor below, George Mason University economics professor Don Boudreaux strenuously takes issue with Beckert’s position.

20 December 2014

Editor, Chronicle of Higher Education

Dear Editor:

Sven Beckert struggles to portray slavery as essential to the origins of capitalism (“Slavery and Capitalism,” Dec. 12). His core argument boils down to this: slavery existed at the time of the industrial revolution; textile production was the leading activity of that revolution; textile mills used lots of “cheap, slave-grown cotton” from the U.S.; therefore, slavery was necessary for the creation of capitalism.

Problems aplenty infect Prof. Beckert’s narrative, but none more fatally than his presumption that using slaves to grow cotton made that commodity especially “cheap” (and, thus, an unusually inexpensive input without which there would have been no industrial revolution). Data from the 1880 U.S. Census show that by the mid-1870s the price of cotton at New York was about the same as this price had been, on average, during the quarter-century before it spiked because of the Civil War. And as reported by economic historian Stanley Lebergott, “by the period 1870-79 Southern production [of cotton] was running 42 percent above its pre-war level.”

If slavery made cotton especially “cheap” (meaning especially abundant) – so cheap and abundant to have supplied the necessary spark for the greatest economic transformation in human history – we can only wonder why this millennia-old institution failed to supply such a spark at any earlier time. Yet even greater wonder is caused by the data’s failure to show that the price of cotton was lower, and the supplies of cotton higher, with slavery than without it.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics

Much more could and should be said in opposition to this nasty guilt by association argument.



Comparing the Duke Lacrosse and UVA Frat House Hoaxes


Professor William Anderson of Frostburg State, who carefully followed and wrote much about the infamous Duke lacrosse hoax has an excellent piece here comparing it with the recent UVA hoax.

“Instead of building her narrative around evil and brutish lacrosse players, Erdely decided to construct her story around the narrative of evil and brutish UVA frat boys,” Anderson writes. “All of the stereotypes were present and Erdely might have been able to get away with her work of fiction, but then she decided to paint Jackie’s friends as beholden to the evil and brutish social atmosphere that she wanted to believe dominates UVA and about every other college campus.”

Once the story fell apart, of course, university officials who had eagerly embraced it, especially president Teresa Sullivan and the school’s sexual assault awareness officer Emily Renda (what a great story to capitalize on from her perspective!) naturally continued to act as if it were true because, even if technically false, it supposedly proves a “greater truth.” Sullivan has offered no apology to the people wrongfully accused and Renda, despite playing “a major role in smearing her alma mater and both male and female students there, will keep her job,” Anderson notes.

For all their self-professed intellectual sophistication, progressives are easy marks for false stories that appear to fit in with their desire for more government control almost everywhere.

Augustana College Bans Yakety-Yak on Yik Yak


Yik Yak is an app that’s popular with college students and young people. It allows them to communicate anonymously with peers in their vicinity. If you download the app and post a comment, anyone else with the app who’s within 10 miles of you will see it. A friend of mine downloaded it recently just to see what all of the hullabaloo was about, and then showed me some of the posts. I saw a lot of talk about partying, inquiries about where to find marijuana, crude sexual comments, lowbrow one-liners, and lame attempts to pick up dates for the weekend. Lots of amateur comedians, you see.

I can understand how some people may be offended by such vulgarity, but the appropriate response to the stupid and cringe-worthy posts is a face palm (or deletion of the app), not outrage and calls for a ban. That’s why I was disappointed to see that the private Augustana College in Illinois recently used a firewall to block access to the app on its campus. Augustana’s Black Student Union, Student Government Association, and something called the Multicultural Club Council had complained to the administration about “racist” and “offensive” comments that were posted on the app. 

Augustana’s administration should have responded with a line used often by one of my former professors when responding to whiny students: “too bad, so sad.” In other words, get over it! Thick skin is important. Colleges that cater to the emotional whims of their students or try to coddle certain groups to “protect” them from the Big Bad World undermine the foundations of free speech and end up encouraging the incivility they originally sought to eliminate. If a society’s mindset toward offensive or disagreeable ideas is “We need to ban that!” then that society is on the fast track to authoritarianism.

Just When You Thought Things Couldn’t Get Any Sillier....


Harvard bows to pressure to get rid of SodaStream machines because the company is Israeli and if someone who feels aggrieved by Israel might think that Harvard was microaggressing.

Katherine Timpf has the story on the home page.

What will Harvard do if North Korea demands that the university ban Hyundai cars, Samsung phones, and anything else made in South Korea?

“Multiracial Marriage on the Rise”


That’s the title of a short but compelling discussion on the Brookings website here.  It was brought to my attention by Washington, D.C.. lawyer Carissa Mulder, who asks, “How can racial preferences continue to be justified when more than 40% of Hispanics and Asians marry someone of a different race (usually white) and nearly 30% of new black marriages are to someone of a different race (usually white)?  Are we going to ask kids the races of their parents and penalize the ones who have a white parent?”  Good questions, especially in the context of university admissions.  Also makes you wonder a bit about just how racist a country we can be, with all this fraternization going on.

Higher Ed Has Become Morally Bankrupt


In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron writes that moral bankruptcy is undermining higher education. His inspiration for it was a recent Chronicle article about the party atmosphere at the University of Georgia, which he was familiar with as a youngster. While UGA’s buildings are as imposing as ever, the students seem to be increasingly interested only in the party life. Fewer and fewer students there (and at schools around the nation) are in college because they’re intent on truly studying anything. They look for the easiest courses and have no qualms about cheating to get through any course. Saffron correctly observes, “They’re not interested in academics; they’re interested in perfunctorily obtaining their diplomas and partying their way to graduation.”

Moral decay and academic decay spring from the same root. That root is the federal policy of trying to ensure “access” to higher education for almost everyone. The supposedly well-intentioned Higher Education Act with its manifold subsidies transformed higher ed. What had formerly been a good that a few Americans saw as worth striving for and saving to afford, was turned into a near entitlement, mostly paid for by government money and easy, cheap loans it made available to all. (That’s the same story as with the disastrous housing bubble.) Over time, the percentage of weak and disengaged kids who just want to have fun has steadily increased, and most colleges decided to accommodate their desires (watered-down courses, lax discipline, lush amenities) rather than risk losing tuition dollars.

Saffron closes by wondering if “higher education’s dark side will take control of the Ivory Tower.” It’s already far along.

University Presidents Paid More than POTUS


A great number of Americans have not felt the benefits of the economic recovery, but in 2012, the number of private university presidents receiving over $1 million in compensation increased by one, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

For context, the President of the United States makes less than half that—$400,000.

Why should the CEO of a small institution receive a base salary greater than that of the President of the United States? This is an affront over which American taxpayers should be thoroughly riled. Though the report considered only private colleges—making it tempting to brush off their spendthrift ways as institutional, rather than public, problems—all of these schools are accredited and so receive taxpayer money in the form of federal student loans. Some receive so much that it would be reasonable to question their status as “private” entities. How do colleges and universities defend this spending?

The argument for so highly compensating college presidents (and other administrators) boils down to a concern about prestige. ACTA’s report Education or Reputation? A Look at America’s Top-Ranked Liberal Arts Colleges outlines the ways in which private liberal arts colleges chase reputation at the expense of student success. Wrapped up in this concern for name and notoriety is a desire to attract “big names” to executive positions with huge salaries.

But consider the example of Mitch Daniels at Purdue. Despite asking for less compensation than he was offered, he’s far from a no-name presidential pick and has already proven his worth time and again. Raymond Burse at Kentucky State University asked for a similar cut. Both prove that talented administrators don’t take their jobs based on compensation alone.

On a deeper level, however, these salaries undermine morale on campus. The message sent by administrative compensation at eight or ten times that received by faculty is a clear one: instruction doesn’t matter and neither do instructors. Rather, such salaries proclaim, what matters is institutional prestige, the name and fame of the president and the school, and reputation-building investments that provide little for students. If you wonder what deteriorating campus morale might look like, check out the student protests currently plaguing the University of California system as it raises tuition in the midst of administrative salary hikes.

Some colleges, thankfully, are catching on. ACTA covered a plan for a presidential pay cap at St. Mary’s College earlier this year. We thought St. Mary’s professor Sandy Ganzell hit the nail on the head with regard to this issue. She said they wanted a president who: “would be attracted because of the pay plan, which is rooted in the notion of an academic community and in a belief that higher education represents a call to service, not the pursuit of top salary and privileges.”

University leaders must realize that they have the power to rein in presidential pay, through pay-caps and hiring decisions, and make the tough decisions that—despite varying from the norm—will help maintain a sense that a campus is a community of learning rather than the presidential palace.   

Tags: Higher Education , Government Waste , Tuition

U. of Michigan Offers NFL’s Harbaugh $49M


According to ESPN, “The annual average pay of $8.17 million would make [Jim] Harbaugh the highest-paid college football coach, surpassing Alabama’s Nick Saban by more than $1.21 million.”

The 11th Commandment at Marquette


Marquette University in Milwaukee is a Catholic institution and apparently a new Commandment must be observed by faculty members: Thou shalt not criticize leftist professors.

As we read in this Daily Caller story, political science professor John McAdams has been suspended from teaching and barred from campus. Did he shoot people on campus? Was he spreading Ebola? No — he had the nerve to write a blog post critical of another faculty member, Cheryl Abbate. In her philosophy class, Professor Abbate told a student that there would be no discussion of gay rights and marriage because, she explained, “you don’t have a right in this class to make homophobic comments.” She recommended that the student drop the class; he did.

McAdams thought this was unscholarly and wrote, “Abbate was just using a tactic typical among liberals now….opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, but are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”

What an offensive thing to write! McAdams should have known that he was creating a hostile environment on campus. He has tenure, but tenure can’t shield you from the consequences of truly heinous acts.

A Professor Admits She Hates Republicans


Elsewhere on the NRO site, Katharine Timpf reports on an article by Susan J. Douglas, University of Michigan professor and head of the communications department. Posted on In These Times, the article’s title is:  “It’s Okay to Hate Republicans.” Its first line: “I hate Republicans.”

As Timpf explains: “Republicans now, [Douglas] writes, are focused on the ‘determined vilification’ of others, and have ‘crafted a political identity that rests on a complete repudiation of the idea that the opposing party and its followers have any legitimacy at all.’  (Apparently, the irony of this accusation given the content of her own article was lost on her.)”

Timpf notes that the University of Michigan’s anti-discrimination policy bans creating a hostile or intimidating environment, which her views might create for Republican students. However, intimidated Republicans don’t constitute a protected class, so the policy doesn’t apply.

Downstairs in the Ivory Tower


Inside Higher Ed reports that the English Department at Arizona State University will now require instructors—full-time, non-tenure-track faculty—to teach five classes in English composition each semester. Classes can be as large as 25 students per class.

Currently, the standard is four. While some instructors do teach five courses, they receive additional pay for the fifth. These are teachers with Ph.D.s (or “terminal” degrees) and their starting salary is $32,000. (Top salary is $52,000.)

First question: In a department with 75 tenured or tenure-track faculty, why do only non-tenured instructors teach English 101? (We know why: tenure-track faculty don’t want to teach it and don’t have to.)

Second question: Why are so many Ph.D. graduates (some from Arizona State) unable to get tenure-track jobs? (We know why: colleges are producing too many. Indeed, some of the tenured faculty who can avoid teaching  English comp may have persuaded some of these graduates to get their Ph.D.s.)

Third: Why is so little status given to teaching English composition when employers report that writing skill is one of the most important needs for new hires? (We know why: the Ivory Tower is a fortress unto itself.)

The Egalitarian Madness Gripping Madison


I’m referring to the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin, where administrators are utterly determined to wipe out “racial grade gaps.” In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, emeritus economic professor Lee Hansen discusses the pressure that the school is putting on faculty members, particularly those in a number of introductory courses that students must do reasonably well in, to make sure that the “gaps” disappear.

The essence of the problem is that UW admits a large number of relatively weak students to meet its “diversity” goals. But then, many of those students don’t do well in introductory courses and can’t get into “high-demand” majors. All of that makes the diversiphiles very sad. So they’re telling the faculty to employ better, more multicultural and student-friendly teaching methods so the “targeted students” will do as well as the white and Asian students in those courses. Hansen is just as skeptical as I am that there are any such improved methods for teaching basic courses like chemistry. What is apt to happen, he argues, is that to keep the higher-ups off their backs, the faculty teaching those courses will inflate the grades of the weaker students.

Hansen also skewers the pretentious notions behind the egalitarian mania, such as that if students in “target groups” don’t do well, that’s going to “suppress their horizons.”

His conclusion sums up the problem very nicely: “UW-Madison is going through all these contortions because the administration can’t or won’t acknowledge a simple fact: some groups of admitted students are significantly less well prepared for college work.”

Intercollegiate Football Isn’t an Essential


So argue Rich Vedder and Joseph Hartge in this Inside Higher Ed piece.

They begin with the decision at the University of Alabama–Birmingham to drop intercollegiate football, which had been a huge drain in school resources in exchange for no educational benefits. Cheers for UAB president Ray Watts. Then they contrast the good sense at UAB with the folly at their own institution, Ohio U, where Vedder has been on the faculty for many years and Hartge is a student. Ohio U’s president Roderick McDavis looks at the mediocre OU football program and says, “Let’s spend more to make it a winner!” That will include spending (oops — I mean “investing”) more than $5 million on a new “academic center” that will be, they write, “a gated community of sorts where athletes but not ordinary students can study.”

Having a winning football team is just a positional good, so no matter how much a school spends, it is merely racing with all the other schools that also want winning teams. That is obvious with regard to sports, but no less so with the many other ways schools spend (there I go again — “invest”) money trying to improve their rankings and reputations. The education offered to students doesn’t improve along with those positional measures; it just gets more costly.

So, What about Those Confucius Institutes?


The government of China is promoting Chinese language and culture at “Confucius Institutes” at 97 schools in the United States. Should we care?

Some people, including university officials, are worried that the institutes are propaganda arms of a socialist state. Well, actually, there is no doubt about that, but are they curbing on-campus freedom to explore Chinese topics that the government doesn’t want explored?

The University of Chicago and Penn State have dropped their connections with the institutes, and a congressional committee held hearings earlier this month on Chinese government influence on academia.

Here’s a quotation from Harry Painter’s article on the Pope Center site discussing the institutes:

NC State illustrates the danger Confucius Institutes pose to academic freedom. In 2009, the university had invited the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to speak on campus. NC State’s Confucius Institute director Bailian Li reportedly interfered. According to a 2011 Bloomberg article, Li warned Provost Warwick Arden that the speech would dampen “some of the strong relationships we were developing with China.” The speech was canceled.

If they are attempting to curb free expression, they have a lot of opportunities. The NC State’s institute alone also runs “Confucius Classrooms” (mini-institutes) at two North Carolina community colleges, a private college, and a Raleigh, N.C.,  high school. And the University of North Carolina’s Center for International Understanding, a university-wide organization, operates 43 Confucius Classrooms at elementary, middle, and high schools.

Hey -- Stay Where We’ve Put You!


 John Rosenberg, with his usual perspicacity, writes here about a finding that has the diversiphiles in a dither. It seems that the very students they want more of in STEM fields (women and minorities) are much more likely to drop out of academic careers in them. Frustrating! The central planners work so hard to get “underrepresented” groups into STEM only to have many of the favored individuals undo their handiwork. Now those groups are “overrepresented” in another statistical category.

Of course, the work in STEM won’t be the slightest bit better if we could somehow achieve perfect “diversity” with every subfield reflecting the right percentages of people from every one of the groups the diversity obsessed regard as important. But playing at this silly quest gives meaning to the lives of so many people. Take away that obsession and they’d have to find something productive to do.

Michigan State Stands Up for Free Speech


Syndicated columnist George Will offended a lot of left-wing activists and feminists this summer when he challenged the “supposed campus epidemic of rape.” That’s why I was surprised to see that Michigan State University had had the backbone to invite him to speak at one of its recent commencement ceremonies. Rather than defer to the offended campus groups that wanted to stifle the open exchange of ideas (there was a petition calling for the university to disinvite Will), MSU officials stood on the side of free speech and allowed the commencement to proceed as planned. 

Good for MSU, and good for the protesters in attendance who didn’t “shout down” Will or otherwise disrupt the ceremony. 


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