Texas Takes On Grade Inflation

by Jesse Saffron

In his latest Forbes article, Tom Lindsay discusses a bill being debated in the Texas legislature that would require public university transcripts to show average or median grades in each class. It’s a move that some argue could help combat grade inflation and create the national “gold standard of collegiate reporting.” 

Over the past fifty years, the percentage of A’s given in college has tripled. Today, about 43 percent of all grades are A’s. 

“As monetary inflation devalues the dollar, grade inflation debases the currency of education: student transcripts. Consequently, employers regularly complain that transcripts have become less-than-desirable indicators of genuine academic achievement,” writes Lindsay. 

Easy A’s and puffed up GPAs, according to Lindsay, also diminish students’ ability to handle real-world criticism and the high demands of the workforce. It makes them soft. 

“[Grade inflation] teaches them that, with minimal effort, they can…receive high grades. The result? New graduates, still sloshed from years of imbibing the heady brew of easy A’s, are frequently floored on their entry into the working world, where results matter, and where ‘participation’ alone is no guarantee of promotions or even of continued employment.”

Texas is not alone in its attempt to fight grade inflation. Columbia, Dartmouth, Indiana, Eastern Kentucky, and UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, have addressed or are planning to address the issue by adding context to transcripts.  

Mentioning Facts Makes Berkeley Students Feel Unsafe

by George Leef

How quickly our major universities have caved in when hyper-sensitive and intolerant leftist students whine that hearing things they don’t want to hear makes them feel “unsafe.”  Since “safety” perceptions now trump open discussion on many campuses, such students know they have a weapon to attack anyone who dares to disagree with them. An illuminating case occurred recently at UC Berkeley. As we read in The Daily Californian, “Students [in the School of Social Welfare] expressed concern over comments they said Professor Steven Segal made during a Feb. 9 Black Lives Matter event, introducing the topic of black-on-black crime into a small group discussion.”

The Black Lives Matter movement is all about attacking the police, so when Segal brought up black-on-black crime, he had walked into a minefield. A white grad student, Emily Myer is quoted as saying, “My first reaction was straight-up shock. That was followed by an acute awareness of rising anxiety and and a desperate need for him to stop.”

Naturally, once the students complained about him, Segal apologized, but as with Larry Summers, it was too late. The school’s dean, Jeffrey Edelson, declared, “We understand that a faculty-student exchange in our of our classrooms today caused offense and great distress to some of our students and made the classroom environment feel unsafe.” Moreover, the students were offered the opportunity of switching to a different professor. Of course — we can’t have grad students taking a course from a prof who makes them feel unsafe! Conflicting ideas are so, so threatening.

Dean Edelson met with the students, telling them, “I hope that you don’t see all faculty as adversaries, but that you see us as potential partners and champions of change.” So we’ve come to the point where angry grad students can make a dean grovel before them and say that the faculty isn’t there to teach them, but rather to act as their “partners and champions of change.”

How far will this go? I have a hunch that we will see this tactic played out again and again, in a wide array of disciplines. Profs had better go through their lectures carefully to excise any ideas that could make some students feel “unsafe.”

Hat tip: Hans Bader


Cheated by Jay Smith and Mary Willingham Reviewed

by George Leef

I’m still waiting for my copy to arrive, but Saturday’s Wall Street Journal has a review of Cheated, Jay Smith and Mary Willingham’s account of the big scandal at the University of North Carolina, by Gregg Easterbrook (an Atlantic editor).

The book is very hard on UNC’s administration, which ignored evidence that many athletes in the big money sports (football and men’s basketball) were able to keep their eligibility to play because they were channeled into soft courses (sometimes courses in name only) where they received high grades. Easterbrook writes, “UNC officials did not want to know how athletes who had barely bested chance on their SATs were suddenly pulling A’s at a selective college. Cheated recounts two instances when staffers told superiors that football or men’s basketball stars handed in plagiarized work. The university took swift, decisive action, the authors write: It punished those who made the reports.”

Winning teams bring in more money, so recruiting the best high school talent is a top priority. Once they start playing, keeping them eligible is crucial. Because many of those players have weak academic skills and very little interest in coursework, universities across the land play the game of pretend education with them. UNC happened to get caught, then made things worse by trying to sweep the scandal under the rug with superficial “investigations” that said, “Move along, folks, nothing to see here.”

I have to take issue with Easterbrook on a couple of matters. First, he repeats that ridiculous trope about how “a bachelor’s degree adds about $1 million to lifetime earnings.” Oh, good grief. That statistic is just as nonsensical as the “one woman in five is sexually assaulted in college” one. That dubious average leads people to believe that getting a degree is like a winning lottery ticket that entitles you to a wonderful payout stream. It doesn’t. Huge numbers of college grads find themselves working in jobs that any reasonably good high school kid could do if it weren’t for the degree screening practiced by many employers.

Second, I think he overplays his hand in declaring that UNC “exploits” these student-athletes. I am certainly not defending educational malpractice by UNC or any other big sports university, but nothing prevents any student who wants to take some serious courses where the sporting adage “no pain, no gain” applies intellectually. The Athletic Department at UNC facilitated those students who merely wanted to play and enjoy the status on campus of being athletes, but lots of non-athletes manage the same thing — coasting through by finding easy courses. The football and basketball players who took the ersatz courses aren’t any worse off than other students who did the same thing. Talk about exploitation of the athletes (some of them at least) is a distraction from the big picture: that many colleges and universities have decided to enroll academically weak, disengaged students and keep them in school (and thus bringing in revenue) with easy-to-pass courses and inflated grades.


To Phi Beta Cons Readers:

by Jane S. Shaw
We can’t publish comments now, but will later

To Our Readers:

The redesign of the NRO website (of which Phi Beta Cons is a part) has caused a few glitches. If you haven’t been able to make a comment, you’ll recognize  that that’s one of them. Please be patient. The developer is working on the problem. And meanwhile, we’ll keep you informed with regular posting.

When University Boards of Governance Actually Govern

by Jay Schalin

The AAUP is all in a tizzy over the proposed closing of three academic centers in the University of North Carolina system. There has also been a very loud local outcry by UNC faculty members and supporters. It would appear, from all the rhetoric, that Big Brother’s bigger brother had shut down academic freedom and condemned the entire university system to submission to conservative politics.

The AAUP and the locals are confusing academic freedom with some imaginary right to do whatever some professor feels is worth doing. The Governors could have easily closed down 20 or more with proper justification—three was a minimum. Last year, the Board of Governors was ordered by the state legislature to review the system’s 237 academic centers. The Governor’s—the governing body of the UNC system—found that three were so overtly politicized that they needed to be closed. The three include the infamous Center for Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill’s law school that was created to give John Edwards a launching pad for his intended 2008 presidential campaign, and has since been a launching pad for director Gene Nichol’s highly political missives against the Republican state government.

In this op-ed piece in the Durham Herald-Sun, I explain how the board acted as they are supposed to according to North Carolina law and how they followed the AAUP’s own original assessment of how faculties should conduct themselves. Well done, Governors.

Jobs Data Don’t Prove College Is Worth the Cost

by Jesse Saffron

After January’s federal jobs report showed that the unemployment rate for college degree holders is 2.8% (compared to the overall unemployment rate of 5.7%), Paul Fain wrote a piece for Inside Higher Ed saying, “Doubts about the labor market returns of bachelor’s degree, while never serious, can be put to rest.” 

But does this data prove that college’s return on investment is large enough to justify the tuition costs and opportunity costs borne by those pursuing degrees?

“Absolutely not,” writes George Leef in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call. “Simply being employed in some job doesn’t mean that a college graduate is receiving any added compensation – any ‘return’ on his degree. Many graduates are working in jobs where their education is mostly if not entirely irrelevant.” 

Leef says that the glut of degree holders has exacerbated the underemployment problem – for both college graduates and those without degrees.

“All that the favorable job statistics for college graduates tell us is that having a degree positions you better in the job market compared with people who do not have those credentials. Many employers who need workers for jobs that require only basic abilities and a decent attitude now screen out people who don’t have college degrees. Companies looking to hire for positions such as sales supervisor and rental car agent, for instance, often state that they’ll only consider applicants who’ve graduated from college. What they studied or how well they did is largely beside the point,” writes Leef. 

Professor Called Racist for Saying Black-on-Black Crime Hurts Black Community

by Jennifer Kabbany
Students too traumatized to return to his classroom have been allowed to transfer out

Truth-telling about black crime statistics probably never goes well in a classroom, but when it’s presented via rap - by an old white guy – it’s probably going to go a lot worse.

Case in point: Students at UC Berkeley this week held a protest against a professor who recently told his class the Black Lives Matter movement “needed to stop scapegoating the cops” and shared statistics to argue black-on-black crime is the real harm facing the black community.

Saying he was inspired by the campus Black Lives Matter conversation, Professor Steven Segal made his argument not only as part of a lecture to his graduate-level social work class, but also delivered some of his comments via a rap he wrote.

The professor at UC Berkeley – the birthplace of the free speech movement – has since been accused of racism and of creating a “toxic climate for people of color in the classroom,” and a #BlackLivesMatter sit-in demonstration against the longtime scholar was held Tuesday.

Still Needed in the 21st Century

by Jonathan Marks
Berkeley Student Government Passes Resolution Against Anti-Semitism

The University of California system has had more than its share of straight up anti-Semitic incidents this year. At UC-Davis, after a successful campaign to persuade the student government to demand that Davis divest from certain companies alleged to benefit from Israel’s West Bank activities, someone apparently decided to celebrate by painting swastikas on a Jewish fraternity house. At UCLA, the student government seriously considered rejecting a candidate for the campus judicial board because she was affiliated with Jewish groups on campus.

In response to those incidents and others outside the UC system, UC-Berkeley’s student government passed unanimously a resolution condemning and pledging actively to fight against anti-Semitism.

The vote comes on the heels of the release of a report co-authored by two Trinity College researchers that shows that, at least as self-identified Jewish students report it, anti-Semitism is much more prevalent on college campuses than one might have imagined.

The vote also comes as we commence the eleventh year of Israeli Apartheid Week on American college campuses. This week, now actually two weeks, is the only example I know of an ongoing campus movement devoted to demonizing a state and its supporters. That this state also happens to be the only Jewish state may just have something to do with the hostility toward Jews the Berkeley resolution targets. Perhaps the Senate’s new ad hoc Committee on Anti-Semitism could take a look.

The Logic of Lobbying

by Jane S. Shaw

Okay, some high-level university research officials went to Congress to pitch for more funding for basic research. Thus the headline in the Washington Post higher education blog: “Universities fear the federal research pipeline is withering.” (A bit of a mixed metaphor, but we all do it, I suppose.)

Then the author, Nick Anderson, provided inflation-adjusted figures for basic research for the years 2005 to 2015. The numbers go from $13.9 billion in 2005 to $16.3 billion in 2015.

So, with an increase in real terms of 17.2 percent, universities are worried about the “withering” of basic research funds?

Yes, and here’s why. Thanks to misguided federal “stimulus” money, there was a surge in basic research funding in 2010, to $18.2 billion.  From now on that will be the standard against which potential recipients will measure future funding.

KC Johnson on His Attempt at Discussing Due Process

by George Leef

Brooklyn College history professor and well known critic of the erosion of due process for students accused of crimes (his Durham in Wonderland blog about the Duke lacrosse case was just stupendous) was recently invited to Ohio University to give a talk about accusations of sexual assault and due process. In this Minding the Campus essay, he writes about his not-so-happy experience.

He had to deal with a group of students who tried their best to interrupt the event. Obviously, they had made up their minds that anyone who dares to say anything contrary to their beliefs about the campus the “rape culture” must be treated as an enemy. Not willing to listen to Johnson, they had to be admonished by the moderator to allow others to do so. This is more evidence about the decline of both civility (oh wait, that’s a “racist” concept, Steven Salaita tells us) and and intellectual discourse on campuses.

Especially revealing, I think, is his recounting of how one student protester demanded to know how he could stand up for the “oppressors.” What Johnson stands up for is fairness in legal procedures for everyone, but that was a foreign concept for her. Where do you suppose the idea of dividing the world into “oppressor” and “oppressed” groups comes from? Mostly from professors who blather away on such foolishness in their classes, I’d say. Not a good advertisement for Ohio University’s ability to teach students how to think. Instead, it shows that some students are led into primitive, tribal modes of looking at the world — a childish good groups versus bad groups mentality.

Ohio’s reputation also suffers when we read about Professor Thomas Costello whose academic specialty is “intercultural communication” and has completely absorbed the propaganda about the “rape culture.” Johnson writes, “It appears as if Costello, much like Kirsten Gillibrand, believes that the mere allegation of sexual assault transforms an accuser into a ‘victim.’”

At least Johnson didn’t get disinvited before speaking, though.