Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Paglia Delivers Knockout Blow to Campus Coddlers


Camille Paglia has penned a brilliant and stunning indictment of the frauds and power seekers who repeatedly tell us that sexual assault on college campuses is an “epidemic” requiring urgent attention and encroachment into the personal lives of students. 

It’s rare to come across an article as chock-full of wisdom, insight, and cleverness as Paglia’s. She writes, “Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.” 

But Paglia doesn’t just address colleges’ malfeasance. She takes aim at the broader culture. “Young middle-class women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense,” she writes. 

Tom Lindsay Writes on the New Arum/Roksa Book


The sequel to Academically Adrift, the devastatingly honest book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa published in 2011, is Aspiring Adults Adrift. Tom Lindsay has a good piece about the book on The Hill.

Among the book’s findings is that, despite the fact that many of the recent grads surveyed are either unemployed or only marginally employed, most of them still think their educations were “worth it” and that things will soon improve for them. Lindsay wonders whether that optimism is based on rational analysis, or merely the kind of clueless optimism that comes from spending many years in schools and colleges where students hardly ever hear discouraging words or get bad grades. I lean toward the latter.


Some States Push Back Against the Martinez Decision


In 2010, the Supreme Court held in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez that universities may impose a rule on campus organizations that they cannot discriminate against anyone who wishes to become a member on the grounds that he doesn’t agree with the organization’s key beliefs. That is, if a school thinks that an “all comers” policy is consistent with its crusade against any and all forms of “bias” then it may impose it.

Quite a few people have argued that the decision was mistaken and has bad consequences. A number of states have enacted laws that keep their state universities from adopting such rules, at least when it comes to officers of the organization. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Harry Painter looks at this development. One of the states is North Carolina where the law, he writes, “prevents UNC and other state-funded colleges and universities from denying recognition to religious or political student organizations if they require leaders to conform to their mission.”

Painter (and I) think this is a welcome return to sanity, but the law doesn’t go far enough. Why should it apply only to the leaders of organizations? Why not all members? After all, how would someone who disagrees with the fundamental mission or belief system of an organization ever get elected to a leadership position unless the membership had already been salted with a large number of similar dissidents? Long before the election of leaders who disagree could happen, members who disagree would have to infiltrate in force. Whether or not a dissident leader is ever elected, groups should not have to put up with members who might be there only to disrupt or embarrass it. Still, a step in the right direction.


Sex Discrimination in Every Single Ph.D. Field


From the Chronicle of Higher Education article today headlined, “Report Examines Fields With Highest Gender Imbalances Among Ph.D.’s”:  “Among the 55 STEM-related fields, men were overrepresented in 74.5 percent and women were overrepresented in 25.5 percent. Among the other 80 fields, men were overrepresented in 77.5 percent and women were overrepresented in 22.5 percent.” 

Why can’t academics get their “representation” just right, not over or under?

Contra Income-Based-Repayment Schemes (of any kind)


In my latest SeeThruEdu post, I argue against the idea of income-based-repayment schemes for student loans — or anything else. Now, if rich Uncle Fred wants to lend his carefree nephew Buzz $200,000 so he can enjoy the college experience at some college and says, “Pay me back if and when you can,” no problem. Uncle Fred can be generous with his own money if he wants to be. When lenders are not in that position, however, they shouldn’t be generous, because it encourages the wasting of capital. Government shouldn’t lend money at all, but if it does, it should insist on market terms.

IBR for college loans supports the damaging idea, already rampant in America, that you don’t have to carefully think through the consequences of your actions because if things don’t go well, “society”will pick up the tab.


John Leo on the Political Correctness Mania at Marquette


If you think that universities with a religious affiliation are resistant to the mania for political correctness, guess again. In this essay on Minding the Campus, John Leo writes about the “anti-discrimination training” that is required of faculty and graduate assistants at Marquette University.

Start with the photo that the “training” presents, asking each individual to identify the eight “harassing or potentially harassing” things in a college dorm. Among them is an anti-war poster — bad because it might be hurtful to military personnel and veterans. Of course, a pro-war poster could just as well lead to some hurt feelings, so apparently everyone should keep his opinions about war to himself. Better to avoid the possibility of hurt feelings than allow open debate over contentious issues.

But look at the things Marquette’s trainers miss! See the miniature trophy marlin on the wall? That could hurt the feelings of vegans and anyone who is against inflicting pain on animals for sport. Out it should go. And what about the trophies displayed? Don’t they have the potential for hurting individuals who never did well in competitions? Trophies are emblematic of our meritocratic obsession with winning; some people would find that upsetting.  As for the offensive “men working” sign, it could be sexist, but isn’t it more likely to hurt the feelings of those who feel that society owes them a living and that work is just a way for the one percent to exploit everyone else?

Be sure to read the discussion about the “harassing” discussion between two female students who oppose same-sex marriage.

American college campuses have transitioned from places that encouraged free speech to places where everyone has to tiptoe around anything controversial.

If the University of Chicago were a Business....


Leftists enjoy griping about the supposed inequity of business executives who earn X times as much as the lowest paid employee. I don’t doubt that some executives are seriously overpaid, but there is a market mechanism that can deal with those cases — a hostile takeover. If the execs pay themselves more than their performance warrants, outsiders might spot a profit opportunity, buy up enough stock, and then oust them.

Too bad that can’t happen in our overwhelmingly non-profit higher education sector. Top administrators often boost their compensation not because they’ve earned it, but simply because they can. As we read in “Higher Education’s Aristocrats” by David F. Mihalyfy, the top brass at the University of Chicago has been doing exactly that. The author writes that top administrators have “enriched themselves at great cost to their institution.”

If the University of Chicago were a business, I think it would be ripe for a hostile takeover. But it isn’t, so it’s not, and the administrators need not worry about any adverse consequences of their propensity for lining their pockets.

Recently, Professor Henry Manne wrote a piece for the Pope Center, attacking the common idea that non-profit management is somehow superior to for-profit management. We have solid support for his argument here.

Hat tip: Harry Lewis


Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking


As an undergraduate senior, I took a money and banking course in which my professor asked a few students about their political affiliations. When the professor found out that the students were Democrats, those students were treated like gold for the rest of the semester. As the course progressed, a couple of classmates began to question, with politeness and genuine intrigue, some of the political statements and macroeconomic assumptions made by the professor, who was a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian economist. The professor often responded with snarling vitriol and even personal attacks. 

My story is probably not unique, but that’s exactly why some professors’ tendencies to reaffirm the “acceptable” point of view and teach students what to think, rather than how to think, have become so problematic: such instruction is now so common that it’s accepted as a fact of campus life, even though colleges everywhere claim to enhance students’ critical thinking skills. 

In this recent Pope Center article, English professor David Clemens examines the disconnect between campus reality and campus buzzwords. “Critical thinking,” argues Clemens, is a term often used by higher education leaders, but one that’s not very well understood or defined. “Real critical thinking didn’t stand a chance in the hostile education culture that denies its relevance. You can still find the remains of the critical thinking movement, but you will have to look in the math, science, and business enclaves where reality still matters,” he writes. 

Non-Collegiate Sexual Assault


Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop makes a good point in her latest column. It is that “the well-to-do tend to dominate public conversations.” Her illustration is the current furor over sexual assault on campus—which has reached the level of a White House task force—and concern about binge and underage drinking.

What about kids who aren’t at college?

“It’s hard to believe that sexual predators roam more freely at the dorms than in society at large,” Harrop writes. “Or that there’s more drunkenness around student hangouts than at working-class bars.” And:

What’s striking isn’t so much the worry over kids in college as the lack of similar concern over the other, usually less privileged, young people who don’t go to college.

When less privileged kids misbehave, she observes, they go to the police station, not the Honor Court.

Has the whole country become helicopter parents for the privileged?

(Note:  If the link isn’t accessible, the column can be found on her Creators Syndicate page.)

U. of Chicago Feminists Publish Libelous List


The Huffington Post reports that sexual assault and feminist “activists” at the University of Chicago have published, via flyers and the Internet, the names of male students who have, allegedly, shown “troubling behavior towards romantic or sexual partners.” The accused are given either a “Code Red” or “Code Orange” designation to indicate the alleged severity of their alleged past indiscretions. In an online note accompanying the “Hyde Park List,” the “activists” wrote:

The individuals on the list are individuals we would warn our friends about, because of their troubling behavior towards romantic or sexual partners. Usually, this means either a pattern of negative/troubling behavior, or a very significant negative act. Sexual assault can be one of them, but we are not claiming that all the individuals on the list have committed sexual assault.

Come again? A “pattern of negative behavior…or a significant negative act”? The ridiculous, ambiguous, and arbitrary nature of such standards is so obvious that an analysis of their merits and legitimacy is unnecessary. The publication of the male students’ names and brief descriptions was a malicious act, wildly inappropriate, and unbecoming.  

The accused male students should sue for libel and harassment, and then pursue a restraining order. Tumblr, the website that the “activists” used to publish the male students’ names, removed the page because of concerns over harassment and to avoid liability, so there is an apparent concern regarding the legality of the publications. 

More important than potential law suits, however, is the non-response from the University of Chicago. Declining to comment on the drama surrounding the published names, the officials there offered only platitudes about the importance of creating a safe environment and addressing sexual assault issues. Instead, they should have publicly rebuked the calumnious and immature actions of the “activists,” demanded an investigation, and considered imposing suspensions. 

“The Real Cost of College”


According to this news item from the Hechinger Report​, 90 percent of college freshmen believe they’ll graduate in four years, but only 48 percent do so. For some groups and organizations, including one called Complete College America (CCA), that low four-year graduation rate is a national crisis. 

Organized in 2009, CCA’s mission is to “significantly increase the number of Americans with . . . college degrees.” To that end, it identifies measures that encourage faster degree completion, such as requiring students to take 15 credit hours per semester.

CCA recently conducted a study to determine the opportunity cost related to a student’s fifth year of undergraduate study. The price tag for spending that extra, unnecessary year in college: $63,718. That amount includes tuition, fees, and, of course, the salary that could have been earned in that year. 

My takeaway: I’m not sure that low four-year completion rates are a national problem, but more important to me is that the CCA is conducting opportunity cost analysis only on the back end of the collegiate experience. That same analysis should be conducted by all prospective college students, long before they step foot on a college campus. They should consider the tuition they’ll have to pay, the money they will borrow, their career interests, their likely major, etc.

For some students, the results will reveal that spending time in college is worthwhile. For many others, the costs may be too high, and a different route may be more appropriate.

For years, high school students, parents, and counselors were encouraged to ignore those costs altogether. Attending college was a no-brainer. Now that that general consensus is no longer quite so “general,” and data regarding average debt loads, post-graduation salaries, etc., are becoming widely accessible and part of the mainstream discussion, I suspect that such opportunity cost analysis will become the new no-brainer.

Why Does the Federal Government Have Such Power in the First Place?


The federal government has of late been throwing its ponderous weight around on the question of the standards that colleges and universities use in cases of alleged sexual assault. Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial on that and today’s paper includes a letter on point from Hans Bader, an attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He protests that the administration is pressuring colleges “to find students guilty even when the facts are murky.”

Indeed so. This is just one more way in which the rule of law is being perverted so that outcomes thought to be politically better (for Democrats and their allies) are reached.

The federal government was never meant to have any such power. The Constitution grants no authority to Congress or the executive branch regarding education. We have this mess only because federal student aid has become the lever that gives the Education Department control over what colleges do. Young men who will be railroaded in cases where, as Bader notes, the deck is stacked against them, can trace their situations back to the Higher Education Act of 1965 and its subsequent reauthorizations.

Rewriting History


In case you haven’t been following the debate over College Board’s revision of the Advanced Placement course in American history, here’s a good summary of the situation, written on the Federalist blog by Larry Krieger and Jane Robbins. The two have been raising the alarm about the revisions. (Newsweek interviewed Krieger, who has forty years of experience as an American history teacher, here; Robbins is with the American Principles Project.) 

Advanced Placement courses have become big forces in high school; they enable many students to place out of introductory college courses. If the changes are as bad as Krieger and Robbins say, students will enter college with an even more distorted view of American history than they have now.

Adding to the brouhaha is the fact that the person who oversaw the rewrite, David Coleman, is also viewed as the designer of the controversial Common Core standards, as Mary Grabar explains in a Pope Center discussion of the potential impact of those standards on higher education. The Common Core is getting a little shaky, as some states reconsider them. Perhaps the Advanced Placement revision may undergo some revision as well.

A Rule of Men (and Women), Not of Law


The Department of Education has arbitrarily changed its rules about sanctioning schools if they have too many students in default on their college loans. It is apparently responding to howls of pain from colleges with high rates of default, especially community colleges and historically black schools.

Inside Higher Ed put it this way today:

…officials said they identified which colleges were on the verge of losing their student aid, and then removed from their cohort borrowers who defaulted on one loan but had not defaulted on another loan. The non-defaulted loan, they said, had to have been in repayment, deferment or forbearance for at least 60 days.

The adjustment was also applied retroactively to colleges’ three-year default rates for the past two years.

The penalty for exceeding the 30 percent default figure for three years is a ban on enrolling students with federal loans—a punishment that would be lethal to many schools.

That default standard was passed by Congress in 2008. Now, a friendly administration has changed the rules.

A Social Engineer’s Work is Never Done


The academic world attracts people who want to indulge in social engineering. It makes them feel good and the costs are borne by others.

As an illustration, consider University of Denver chancellor Rebecca Chopp’s statement, “I don’t think it is enough to leave new relationships to chance….Let’s cultivate practices in which students make friends not by chance but because we are cultivating friendships around community values.” Adam Kissel has a nice piece on Minding the Campus on this.

Imagine the consequences if Chopp’s idea were to be taken seriously.

Assistant Director of Friendship Inclusion: “Sorry, Mr. Smith, but we have determined that your friendship list has too many ______ and not enough ______. If you want to remain a student here, you will have to reduce your friendship gap either by unfriending some people in the former group or making enough new friends in your underrepresented groups so that you are in compliance.”

Smith: “I’m sorry, Assistant Director. I guess I was just leaving it to chance, but I see that’s not working and I need to be mindful of the university’s community values.”

ADFI: “We’ll let it go with a warning, but you have only one month.”

The Onion’s “Tips For Paying For College”


Whenever I browse higher education headlines, I see articles with titles like “10 Tips for Picking a Low-Cost College,” or “7 Reasons Why You CAN Afford College,” or “23 Creative Ways to Fund Junior’s Tuition,” etc. Now that the costs of college attendance are so high and the payoffs so uncertain, we’re seeing an uptick in such sensationalized lists.

I suppose that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I enjoy a good list as much as the next person. But they can be overplayed. The Onion satirizes this fad with its recent effort, “Tips For Paying For College.” My favorite “tip” from the list: “Avoid inflated tuition prices by attending college during off-peak season.” 

Do Profs Hold Copyrights on Their Syllabi?


Over the last several years, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has been engaged in a project to evaluate the nation’s education schools. One big part of that was to get syllabi from courses. Most colleges and universities cooperated, at least grudgingly, but not the University of Missouri. Mizzou dug in its heels, arguing that it could not give NCTQ copies of course syllabi without violating copyright. The university said it would allow NCTQ people to look at the documents, but that they couldn’t make copies. A Missouri court recently sided with the University.

Does this stance make sense, either legally or from the standpoint of institutional openness and accountability?

One professor who argues that it doesn’t is Michael Podgursky, former chairman of the Economics Department at Missouri. Here is an op-ed he wrote for the Columbia Daily Tribune. He writes, “UM is trying its best to block what is an important inquiry based on an absurd fiction that syllabi distributed to 35,000 students cannot be disclosed to an organization making use of the state’s Sunshine laws.”

I take a dim view of copyright to begin with, a position recently buttressed by my reading of Professor Tom Bell’s book Intellectual Privilege, and think that Missouri’s stance is nonsensical.

College Men Attacked After Rape Columns


Twice in the last two weeks, The College Fix has reported on college men who have offered their thoughts on the so-called campus rape epidemic and been vilified and smeared as a result.

On Sept. 11 of all days, campus feminists actually held a two-hour rally at the University of Arizona against a male student newspaper columnist after his piece “Only Responsibility Can Prevent Rape” enraged some on the campus community as victim-blaming and misogynistic.

What had this young man dared to suggest? In addition to watching their alcohol intake, he wrote: “Girls — go out in groups, keep an eye on each other, designate a driver. And bring your common sense. When it’s 2 a.m. and a guy invites you to his room, it isn’t to show you his baseball card collection. Plan ahead. Tell your girlfriends whether or not you plan to or want to hook up that night.”

Advice I’d tell my own daughter, but in the upside-down college world, it’s a hate crime or something.

Yesterday, The Fix also reported on an openly conservative student columnist at Cornell University who has been the target an ugly and malicious vandalism smear campaign. He had his name and face plastered on fliers spread around the Ivy League university that labeled him a “Racist Rape Apologist.”

His crime? His “The Truth About ‘Rape Culture’” column questioned the stats behind the so-called campus rape epidemic and defended due process for those accused of sexual assault, and his “Should California Redefine Campus Sexual Assault?” questioned “affirmative consent,” saying it’s an invasion of privacy and a potential legal nightmare.

But this is often the state of open discourse and a diversity of opinions at college campuses today, where Leftist ideas rule. Any question or challenges to those viewpoints are shouted down and often silenced with name-calling, ad hominem attacks and baseless accusations.

Tags: campus rape , feminism

Lazy Rivers: More Scenes from the Recreation-Industrial Complex


We’ve heard about the climbing walls, fancy gyms, and the multi-million dollar student unions boasted by colleges and universities hoping to lure prospective students. Now, it appears that the latest mania in the recreation-industrial complex is more aquatic in nature: a growing number of universities are building lazy rivers and water slides for their students. 

A 2013 study from the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (now called Leaders in College Recreation) indicates that 92 schools have a combined $1.7 billion of recreation-related capital projects in the works. 

It’s not easy being the killjoy, pointing out that such lavish expenditures have nothing to do with enhancing academics. If I were a student or a professor at one of the schools offering such amenities, would I make a pother? Of course not. 

But it is worth asking: Why is this phenomenon emerging in higher education? What are its underlying causes? Is this “malinvestment” on the part of universities? When will this trend end? Or is it here to stay?

What to Do about “Low Productivity” Degree Programs?


That is a question the UNC Board of Governors has to face every two years under a law requiring it to “encourage an economical use of the state’s resources.” Sometimes, programs are culled from the herd. In the latest review, out of 247 programs in the system that were identified as “low productive,” 22 were merged with other programs and 25 were discontinued.

In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron takes a look at this effort at economizing.

An important but unaswered question is whether program discontinuation actually saves any money. A senior administrator was asked about that and replied that the faculty and resources would be “redeployed.” If you realized that you were spending some money needlessly, you probably wouldn’t think you had accomplished much if you simply “redeployed” the dollars — but then you spend your own money, while administrators spend other people’s money.

An alternative to dropping “low productive” programs would be to charge students differentially so as to reduce or eliminate cross-subsidies. Unfortunately, public universities can’t usually consider that.


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