Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

The War Is On


William Deresiewicz attacked the university reform movement in a recent issue of the Chronicle Review (the left-wing magazine of the Chronicle of Higher Education). For example, he went after Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor who pioneered MOOCs with his course on artificial intelligence and then quite Stanford and started an education company, Udacity.

Deresiewicz was reacting to a new movie, Ivory Tower, which features Thrun and other educational disruptors such as libertarian entrepreneur Peter Thiel. But Deresiewicz went on to blast the entire university reform movement as “hustlers and ideologues” and “pied pipers” – people who want to create a “factory model” of education.

George Leef responds to Deresiewicz on the Pope Center site.

Campus Grievance Procedures Not Designed for Felonies


The accused are denied due process and judged by kangaroo courts. Victims are ignored and mistreated. False accusations fly, crimes go unpunished, and justice is rarely served.

How on earth have we failed so miserably in dealing with sexual assault on campus?

With due process still under fire at America’s elite schools, and legislation on campus sexual assault pending in Congress, it is timely to reflect on a letter the American Council on Education’s president, Molly Broad, sent to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions last month. Therein, Broad explains the difficulties faced by campus administrators in dealing with accusations of sexual assault. She is worth quoting at length:

Conducting education and providing information is an area where college officials have vast experience. … But performing investigations and adjudicating cases is a far more difficult challenge. … Our disciplinary and grievance procedures were designed to provide appropriate resolution of institutional standards for student conduct, especially with respect to academic matters. They were never meant for misdemeanors, let alone felonies. While we take our obligations to the victims/survivors of sexual assault very seriously and are fully aware of our responsibilities with respect to sexual assaults, our on-campus disciplinary processes are not proxies for the criminal justice system, nor should they be.

Simply put, the higher education community is not equipped to play judge, jury, and executioner in matters that require the expertise of law enforcement and judges. After all, incidents of assault are often clouded in a morass of drugs, alcohol, and spotty memories. And when the accused actually is guilty, colleges and universities lack the authority to mete out the kind of punishment a crime as serious as sexual assault deserves. No matter how you cut it, someone, whether the accused or the victim, will not see justice served.

In spite of this, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) continues to insist that campus bureaucrats deal with matters of criminal sensitivity. The OCR has led a shakedown of schools with Title IX complaints. As Broad notes in her letter, OCR guidance is often unclear and inconsistent with other federal laws. On occasion, OCR requirements have even undermined institutions’ ability to cooperate with local law enforcement! But the Obama Administration’s OCR keeps pressing on, threatening to expand its “guidance” to elementary and secondary schools.

Sexual assault is too serious an issue to be dealt with in a parallel, quasi-legal system run by college administrators who proclaim their own lack of competence in these matters. As Broad correctly points out, colleges and universities are equipped to provide education and training about sexual assault. And it would be wonderful to see schools take serious steps to provide alternatives to the reigning culture of underage drinking and parties on many campuses. But this is an opportunity for trustees, presidents, and administrators to work together and remind the OCR that colleges are educational institutions, not law enforcement agencies.

Sexual assault is a crime. Let’s treat it as one.


Chug! Chug! Chug!


Remember the good ol’ days? The days when dull-brained college students could slam back a case of cheap domestic swill, yet suffer only fleeting embarrassment? 

“Tyler, bro, do you realize what you did to the statue near the campus promenade last night? Things got weird. Jennifer says she never wants to hang out with us again now. Thanks a lot!”

These days, however, getting ripped out of your mind on Pabst Blue Ribbon, bottom shelf whiskey, and other goodies can lead to long-lasting public shame and ridicule. Just ask the North Carolina State University students featured on “Wolfpack Passout,” a Twitter page loaded with up-close pictures of college students who have, you guessed it, passed out due to heavy partying. An ABC news affiliate in Raleigh reported on it and the reaction from students and campus officials here

Partying is not new. Being an immature college student isn’t new, either. But the phenomenon of becoming an overnight social media sensation for all of the wrong reasons is. And while I may laugh hysterically at the idiocy of these amateur booze hounds, the parents and taxpayers who are paying for their tuition probably don’t (and shouldn’t) share my lightheartedness on the matter. Future employers may take issue with the pictures, too. 

Of course, these Twitter-famous students are not in the minority; debauchery like this happens at universities all over the country, and not infrequently.

College used to be reserved for serious students and future intellectuals. Now it’s flooded with boobs representing the lowest common denominator. 

Obama Administration Non-Scrutiny on Race


Last week the Department of Education published a notice in the Federal Register, soliciting applications for the award of a new program:  “The objective of this program is to support a Center for the Study of Distance Education and Technological Advancements at an institution of higher education … to study and develop best practices in postsecondary education for online education and the use of technology-based teaching and learning tools.”  Okay, but then the notice goes on to state that, if a school is more than 85 percent white, then it is not eligible.  Period.

As discussed here on an excellent new website, “The New American Civil Rights Project,” this is clearly illegal and unjustifiable.  The Federal Register notice, by the way, gives no explanation for the discrimination, nor, of course, any legal justification for it.  This absolute racial requirement is not given strict scrutiny, but absent-minded non-scrutiny.

A New Islamic Studies Director at Duke


Duke University has just appointed a new director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, Omid Safi. Spencer Case, writing elsewhere on the NRO site, points out that Safi isn’t exactly impartial in the issues of the day involving Islam.

In particular, Case refers to a blog post Safi wrote last year for the Religion News Service. The title, “Zionist Atrocities at Palestinian Village of Deir Yassin, 65 years ago…and Today” says a lot. But in addition, Case recounts:

Zionist atrocities at Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, 65 years ago…and today

- See more at:

Zionist atrocities at Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, 65 years ago…and today

- See more at:

Zionist atrocities at Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, 65 years ago…and today

- See more at:

 The article featured a black and white photograph of a prison yard littered with hundreds of human corpses. The people in that photograph are not Arab victims of Deir Yassin, but Jewish victims of the holocaust. A article noted: “It’s clear that the photo is there to magnify the impact of [Safi’s] words, and to serve as a historical record of what he describes.”

The Religion News Service retracted the post for “failing to meet the editorial standards of Religion News Service.”

Did we ever expect impartiality at Duke?


An Effective Cartel?


It takes four years of hard work to get a degree in engineering. It takes six years of…well, education…to get a library degree (and the mere possibility of a job). Casey Reep has looked into the reasons why a master’s degree is required. The answer appears to be the American Library Association, which has successfully kept non-master’s-degree poachers outside the library or in menial positions. Reep notes that the “professionalization”of librarians (an effort to distinguish between librarians and clerks) started early in the twentieth century, and a 2011 study of requirements for  library jobs revealed that “a master’s degree was compulsory for entry-level positions, but that the degree alone was insufficient, calling for practical experience from internships, co-op programs, or employment,” Reep writes.     

The apparent cartel overseen by the ALA seems to have gone largely unnoticed. Maybe that’s why it’s effective.


Poetry in Motion


Who says the liberal arts are impotent in today’s high-tech world when a governor may have risked his future political career appointing a poet laureate whom the literary community would not accept? North Carolina’s chief of state found out, and fast, that his selection of a female state worker who had not earned her spurs was a bad move.

Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican elected in the historical 2012 GOP sweep of both Houses of the Legislature, has been the target of the Democrat-biased Raleigh daily since the took office. Naturally, the Raleigh News & Observer gleefully stoked the controversy by publishing dozens of letters lambasting McCrory for bypassing the traditional process that sought input from the North Carolina Arts Council. The paper threw kerosene on the conflagration by sponsoring a contest calling for poems from readers criticizing the governor for his uninformed choice and low-brow tendencies. 

Valerie Macon, whose oeuvre comprises two self-published and jejeune commentaries on social issues, resigned as poet laureate in a matter of days under pressure from the outraged poets, writers, and arts advocates. Medicare funding, teacher pay and the Common Core receded from the headlines to make way for an issue no one saw coming. The frustrated governor proceeded to make things worse by criticizing the literary and arts community for pointing out to him there is more to poetry than merely possessing a social conscience.

This episode makes it clear there is an unwritten, unspoken, intangible perception that a liberal arts background defines who is a leader and who is a technician. Or, to be precise, between an “educated” person and someone simply trained to perform a function. Governor McCrory demonstrated that deep inside voters prefer statesmen to proles with pedicures, a distinction the public couldn’t quite figure out about the governor–until now. McCrory, who has been mentioned as a possible GOP presidential contender, has been exposed as a Philistine over a decision he thought was trivial in his quotidian worldview.

He found out the hard way that poets are people, too.

Paul Ryan Joins Call for Accreditation Reform


Reform-minded lawmakers and policy wonks from both parties have started to take up the mantle of higher ed reform. Yesterday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) addressed the topic in his speech at the American Enterprise Institute accompanying the release of the House Budget Committee’s new report, “Expanding Opportunity in America.”

In his talk, Ryan tackled an issue that was once unheard of outside a tiny circle of higher ed reformers: breaking up the college accreditation monopoly. “We need to give students more options—in other words, we need accreditation reform,” Ryan proclaimed.

The Budget Committee even cited ACTA’s work on the subject, quoting from our 2007 report on accreditation reform:

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni sums up, “If the accrediting process were applied to automobile inspection, cars would ‘pass’ as long as they had tires, doors, and an engine—without anyone ever turning the key to see if the car actually operated.” Not only does the current accreditation process fail to truly access quality, its emphasis on high cost inputs makes it more difficult for fledgling institutions to get off the ground, shielding established schools from competition.

Over at our blog, ACTA discusses the importance of the mainstreaming of accreditation reform. With more and more friendly voices in Congress, the end of the college accreditation cartel finally seems in sight.


More Brilliant Ideas from the Ivory Tower


Have you been wondering what academics are doing these days? A professor at New York University, Matthew Liao, has been trying to use biotechnology to reduce the human “footprint” in order to curb global warming.

He has a couple of ideas—one is to create “a pill that would trigger nausea if [people] ingest meat, which would lead to a long-term aversion to meat,” writes Molly Wharton elsewhere on the NRO site. Why do we need this? Because 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from cultivating livestock.

If the pill doesn’t work, perhaps a patch that “make its user sick if he or she tries to eat a juicy burger” could be tried.

But the problem isn’t just that we eat too much meat; we’re also too big. Dr. Liao suggests using gene imprinting or hormones to reduce our height by 15 centimeters or so.

No, this is not the Onion. At least I don’t think so. He told this to the Atlantic and the BBC.

Now the kicker: Professor Liao is director of bioethics at NYU. If you were wondering what bioethics is all about, apparently it is about changing people so they do what the nanny-state-turned-into-a-totalitarian-state thinks they ought to do.

Langbert on Deresiewicz on the Ivy League


I recently noted the New Republic article by William Deresiewicz that usefully pans the education that students receive at our purportedly “elite” colleges and universities. In this blog post, Brooklyn College professor Mitchell Langbert digs more deeply into that piece, arguing that while it is true that elite colleges do not ensure a solid education, it doesn’t follow that it is better at non-elite ones.

In another Deresiewicz piece that will be the subject of a forthcoming article of my own, he claims that “the college ideal” is under vicious attack by “powerful forces” but the truth is the matter is that the college ideal has withered at most colleges and has been doing so for quite a long time. Those few students who are interested in that ideal have to look hard to find it.

Shining Sunlight on College Sports


College athletics have come under fire, and the powerful NCAA in particular. From its treatment of college athletes to its failure to investigate cheating in a timely manner, there is mounting concern about the association from all corners. College sports have, in recent years, grown considerably as an industry. Who exactly is reaping the fruits of this expansion, and how is money spent? A bill introduced by U.S. Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) intends to make following the money a lot easier.

The Standardization of Collegiate Oversight of Revenues and Expenditures, or SCORE Act, focuses on transparency. The bill calls for the reporting of key financial information from schools, conferences, and the NCAA and goes on to list numerous financial line-items to include, from team uniforms to grants in aid to athletes.

This bill warrants close consideration. As the cost of college continues to rise, it’s important that students (and their parents) have an understanding of schools’ financial priorities “Whatever we think, we need better information,” Price pointed out to the Durham Herald-Sun. “Fragmented information risks misinformation.”

A big part of the problem with college sports is that the oversight of trustees is often co-opted by administrators, namely college presidents.  Indeed, many colleges now spend six times as much on athletics per athlete as they spend on academics per student.

The NCAA already collects and stores most of the data the law would require, making it easy to implement. Rep. Price’s bill wouldn’t require additional reporting by schools themselves, merely that the NCAA’s data be made public.

An increase in transparency is certainly in order. Only when armed with this information can all those concerned make the case that schools should refocus financial priorities on education and use sports revenues in a way that supports the entire campus community. 

Affirmative Action in Film?


The reductive kind of “diversity” practiced by the university today, by gender, race, and other factors, is not only a destructive policy in itself but seems to produce a reductive way of thinking about everything. So I thought when I read an excerpt from Katie Pavlich’s new book, Assault and Flattery: The Truth about the Left and Their War on Women. Pavlich’s purpose is not only to combat the Democratic claim that Republicans are conducting a “war on women,” but, as the subtitle indicates, to turn the accusation against the accusers. In a section excerpted in the Sunday New York Post, she rightly points out how Hollywood, a bastion of the Democratic Left, treats women unfairly and even abusively. She cites, for example, Tinseltown’s staunch support of a known child molester, Roman Polanski, and its disregard of his victim.

Some of her evidence for the Hollywood Left’s depredations against women, however, is more questionable and sounds very much like that offered by supporters of affirmative action. “A 2011 study by Dr. Martha M. Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University,” Pavlich writes, “showed women are grossly underrepresented (although slowly increasing in representation) on the silver screen.” Lauzen’s research reveals that “In 2011, females remained dramatically under-represented as characters in film when compared with their representation of the US population,” and the figures were only somewhat better in 2013.

Since, barring some dystopian apocalypse, the female proportion of the population will always hover around fifty percent, does that mean that half of all characters in films must be female forever and ever? Or that for every war movie featuring mainly men there must be a film about a sorority? This kind of bean counting, as President Clinton once called it (when it suited him), is not a good way to judge the value of art, although, admittedly, the Left started it and continues to press it in many areas, and it may give us some gratification to see their own tables turned on them.

Pavlich continues, “A ratings system known as the Bechdel test takes a look at how women are portrayed in film. In order to pass the test, a film must accomplish three things: 1.It has to have at least two named women in it; 2.Those two named women must talk to each other and 3.Those two named women must talk to each other about something other than a man.”

Pavlich reports that all the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings films failed the Bechdel test, while Hunger Games: Catching Fire passed.

But the Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings series are expansive, imaginative, and inspiring films while The Hunger Games presents an immature view of life saturated in sullen hatred and adolescent resentment.

Beyond even bean counting, the kind of schematism represented in the Bechdel Test is likewise not a good way to judge the value of art. Such approaches bind us to a single strand of our identity and prevent us from seeing the larger human picture in which we all belong. It stands to reason that the Iliad and the myriad war tales that have followed it will have more “male” characters, as will most adventure and fantasy films, but they can be meaningful for women as well as men if they arise from a genuine and well executed vision of truth, and an understanding of the genuine diversity of human experience.

Athletics: Let’s Get Serious (Or Can We?)


Do we have to accept the status quo in college sports? Today’s status quo is to provide scholarships to academically unqualified students and support them with heavy-handed tutoring, easy majors, and even “no show” classes to keep them eligible. Yet many fail to graduate or graduate with meaningless degrees.

Jenna A. Robinson has combed through three documents that attempt to address those problems. They are the Knight Commission report of 2010, the 2013 Hunter Rawlings panel report on UNC-Chapel Hill, and the standing recommendations of the Drake Group, a national association of faculty trying to change college athletics.

The pickings for genuine reform are slim, but Robinson dissects the proposals: the pointless, the promising, and the should-be-tried. As for the last category, they would improve the situation but, as she points out, “universities must find the political will to implement them.”

Elite Colleges Are Not Really So Great


The key assumption made by people who insist on “affirmative action” (i.e. college admissions preferences for certain groups) is that getting into an elite institution is so good for “underrepresented” students that officials should bend their standards severely to admit them. Going to an “elite” college means getting an “elite” education, which will enable to poor and minorities to leap ahead, thus making the US a more “socially just” nation. Right?

For years, a number of contributors on this blog have argued that there isn’t necessarily anything great about going to an elite school. They are not necessarily ideal or even good learning environments. In this New Republic piece, William Deresiewicz argues strongly that parents should not send their children to Ivy League or other prestigious schools if they want them to get a solid education.

In a forthcoming Pope Center piece, I will joust with Deresiewicz over an irascible Chronicle Review piece he wrote last month, in which he slashed away at the motives of higher education critics and reformers. His NR piece, however, makes a very important point that will put him on the enemies list of affirmative action proponents.

Graduation Plan B


If you’ve followed higher education policies recently, you probably recognize the term “completion agenda.” It stems from the fact that many students enter college with the goal of graduating—but they never do.

Only about 56 percent of those who enter college to get a bachelor’s degree obtain a diploma within six years. For community college, the statistics are worse. Only about 29 percent of students starting in community college get an associate’s degree in three years.

Policy-makers have latched on to the figures, starting with the 2006 Department of Education report. That Spellings Commission report highlighted low graduation rates and began to push for “student learning outcomes.” As a 2011 article from the American Council on Education said, “Almost every other new initiative, research report, or news story on students and higher education somehow relates to graduation rates.”

So now we have many efforts to get students to complete their college or at least get some kind of degree. That brings us to “reverse transfer.”

It got a big boost in 2012 when a group of private foundations such as the Lumina Foundation provided seed money. It’s simple—if students started at a community college, transferred to a four-year school but never graduated, they may be eligible for a community college (associate’s) degree.

So in about 15 states, officials are trying to find those students to determine if they have already taken enough credit hours to have achieved the equivalent of an associate’s degree. If so, they will be able to get one.

And now, as Harry Painter discusses, reverse transfer is getting a push by U.S. senators for a national program.  He points out that if it’s such a good idea it will spread from state to state and really does not need federal intervention.

Big Bucks for Hillary’s Talk at UCLA -- Not Popular


Last spring, Hillary Clinton was paid $300,000 for giving a talk at UCLA. As we read here, the Daily Bruin subsequently did an online poll to see what students thought about that expenditure. A substantial plurality (48 percent) agreed that “large sums are inappropriate and demonstrate poor prioritizing on the part of the university and the Luskin lecture series.” Another 27 percent thought it unfortunate that such a large sum had been spent but thought that UCLA might not be able to get “the same level of notable speakers” without paying so much. (Hillary and many other “notable”speakers give pat speeches that are about as enlightening as elevator music, so what’s the big deal about bringing them to campus at great expense?) Finally, 21 percent of respondents said that it was worth the money.

I think it illustrates the point that Henry Manne recently made in this Pope Center piece that non-profit managers just take their profits through their spending choices. They aren’t allowed to pocket excess revenues, so they spend the money on things they like, such as opportunities to rub elbows with famous political figures.

This kind of thing is terribly widespread. Several years ago, East Carolina history professor Tony Papalas wrote this piece about the absurd talk Gloria Steinem gave on campus, for $10,000. Intellectual content less than zero, but she pocketed a hefty check. Tony later told me that there had been an effort to get Al Gore to speak, but that his price tag (as I recall, $175,000 plus a personal jet to transport the former veep to and from the Greenville, NC campus) was too high. At least sometimes, college presidents can say “no.”

Who’s Supervising the Gatekeepers?


Writing at See Thru Edu, my colleague Jay Schalin critiques regional accreditation agencies and offers a sound alternative to those “fiefdoms unto themselves” and “cartel-like” institutions:

[The] best accreditors of all would be private lenders. After all, they absolutely need to discover whether they are lending money to students attending a credible school or a fraudulent diploma mill, since their borrowers’ ability to pay depends in a great deal on their educations or vocational training. Their profits, and therefore their jobs, depend on it. 

Schalin also criticizes the U.S. News & World Report rankings, writing that they “[favor] inputs and image over outcomes and rigor.” I saw the deleterious effects of those rankings at my law school alma mater, the University of Baltimore School of Law. During my 2L year, I discovered that UB Law and a dozen or so other schools had fudged post-graduation job placement rates, an illicit tactic that can be used to climb the rankings. The intense pressure to attract students and artificially gain prestige via the ranking system had put schools like mine in a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” situation and may have caused some schools to fraudulently entice prospective students.

Click here to read Schalin’s piece in its entirety.

Another For-Profit Gets Shaky


I really did not expect private for-profit schools to falter so quickly. The latest school to be in trouble is Anthem Education, which, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, will be closing two of its three Missouri locations. While the school, which has 34 locations around the country, did not confirm the closures, it conceded that it is going through tough financial times. It has filed notice of probable layoffs in several states.

This is the second major for-profit school to get into  trouble recently. Corinthian Colleges, one of the largest with more than 100 campuses, is closing all its colleges. While U.S. senator Tom Harkin conducted a two-year campaign against for-profits, Corinthian’s problem stemmed specifically from investigations by the U.S. Department of Education of alleged false and misleading practices.

Anthem, one of the schools targeted by Harkin, has seen a severe drop in enrollment. Harkin’s report said that its numbers fell from 21,696 in 2006 to 12,792 in 2010.

I thought that for-profits would be more nimble than this. I thought that they could cut their costs in response to declines in demand. But I seem to have been wrong.

Ironically, Inside Higher Education reported the news about Anthem the same day that it reported on a talk by Bill Gates, whose foundation has spent half a billion dollars trying to reform higher education. Gates praised for-profit schools for their student support systems. IHE quoted Gates as saying, “For-profits know within 10 minutes when a student hasn’t gone to class so they can figure out why.”

But these days they don’t have so many students to worry about.

Farewell to KC Johnson’s Great Durham-in-Wonderland Blog


Brooklyn College history professor KC Johnson took an interest in the Duke lacrosse case in 2006 following the outrageous “sentence first, trial afterwards” behavior of many members of the Duke faculty. He began to look into the case and found much to write about, so he started a blog called Durham-in-Wonderland. He exposed a great deal of the ugliness surrounding the case. Quite recently, he exposed the deceptions in William Cohan’s lame attempt to rehabilitate Mike Nifong and suggest that the Duke players really must have been guilty. Now, he is closing the blog and  his final post  is well worth reading for all it tells us about the prevailing mindset in higher education.

Bravo for an enormous amount of work, motivated by nothing except the desire to see an injustice exposed.

AASCU Comes Out Swinging Against “Pay It Forward”


Last year, there was a lot of talk about the “Pay it Forward” concept of higher ed financing, under which students would pay no tuition while in school, but later repay the state based on their income. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities has just released a paper that’s very critical of the idea. The author of the paper, Thomas Harnisch, does a good job of explaining why this concept won’t have the lovely, egalitarian consequences that leftists envision, but he also makes what I think is a questionable claim that there are “right-wing” supporters who “believe that the policy change could introduce market dynamics into college financing and ultimately eliminate taxpayer subsidies….”

I don’t know of anyone who got enthusiastic over “pay it forward” for that reason. Harnish adverts to Milton Friedman’s 1955 paper on education in which he suggested that government might front students who wanted to pursue useful training programs and later collect the money back, but that is quite far from the financing scheme that the “pay it forward” enthusiasts have in mind for college in 2014. Friedman did not argue that his plan would eventually eliminate government support for higher ed, but only that it might alleviate a market imperfection. Later in his career, Friedman backed away from that idea. In 2003, he confided to Rich Vedder in an email that he thought a much better case could be made for taxing colleges than subsidizing student enrollments.


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