Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Why the Feds Went Crazy on Sexual Harassment


For more than a year now, the Education Department has been going crazy with demands that colleges and universities under their thumb (that is, all except for the miniscule number that retain their independence by foregoing all federal money) obey draconian rules regarding sexual harassment or assault cases. What prompted the frenzy?

Hans Bader of Competitive Enterprise Institute argues in this piece that it was brought about by a slanted, misleading story on National Public Radio. Bader writes, “It now appears that the Education Department’s rules micromanaging college discipline were precipitated by a decpetive NPR report about the University of Wisconsin’s purported mishandling of a sexual assault claim.” More fishy still, the complainant in the UW case, Laura Dunn, is now on the White House Task Force on Sexual Assault.

We know how the left constantly manufactures “issues” which its champions in Congress and the bureaucracy can then use to influence voters and augment government power. Here we have another good example. Due process of law has been hastily shoved aside so that Democrats could benefit from another overblown grievance that helps them with one of their core voting blocks.

A Welcome Win for the First Amendment


The momentum has been running strongly against free speech on American campuses for years, with obsessions about “microaggressions” and “hate speech” and the claimed right not to be offended ascendant. But when speech infringements are challenged, judges usually toss them out, as happened recently at Waubonsee Community College in Illinois.

The school’s “anti-bias” regulations were invoked to prohibit a group called HOME (Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment) from distributing leaflets on campus. Judge Robert Gettelman found the rules to be in violation of the First Amendment, as well as inconsistent with its purported stance in favor of content neutrality. In his decision, the judge wrote, “Reliance on WCC’s anti-discrimination policy to bar plaintiffs from leafletting controverts defendant’s argument that the decision to reject plaintiffs’ request was content-neutral. Instead, the content of plaintiffs’ speech…was the precise basis for WCC’s decision.”

Inside Higher Ed has the story here.

The best approach for any college to take with regard to the distribution of leaflets that some people on campus dislike, no matter what their substance, is to allow individuals to hand them out — and then get discouraged when the vast majority of students either decline to take them or glance at them and then throw the leaflets away.  Now, some lawyers have pocketed needless fees, court time has been wasted, and HOME gets to claim to be knights in shining First Amendment armor. When will college officials learn that they should (and must) leave speech free?


Standing Up for What’s Right on Campus


I watched a group of brave, young students stand up for what’s right on the UCLA campus last Wednesday afternoon–and it was inspiring.

The Bruin Republicans have launched an effort  to help thwart a push by many faculty members there to create a new diversity requirement for graduation. 
Standing in a busy outdoor corridor, the group of 10 or so students handed out fliers declaring “say no to the diversity requirement” and chanting mantras such as “Let Us Choose” and “Foster diversity–don’t force divides.” 

It took courage to stand in the middle of their quad and argue against such a beloved catchword as “diversity.” But conservatism has long become the counter-culture movement on campus. 

The students said they consciously chose to push the argument that it’s their money, their tuition dollars, and their choice what classes to take. They acknowledged that the classes faculty are trying to force on students have radical bents–and that requiring students to take such courses is antithetical to the notion of fostering diversity. They brought up the fact the the proposed list of classes does not include anything that focuses on conservative thought. And they rightly brought up the fact that they are one of the most diverse groups on campus already. 

There was a fun energy surrounding the mini-protest at UCLA. These conservative students knew they were in the ones in the minority, they were the campus pariahs. And yet they stood strong.

“When you are on a college campus, you want to feel like you are making a difference,” Olivia McCoy, a 19-year-old UCLA sophomore, told me as she stood atop a concrete platform holding a big sign stating “#LetUsChoose.”

“We are taking traditional liberal tactics and using them for conservative beliefs.”

Former UNC Student Athletes Sue Over Fake Courses


We read in this IHE story that two former UNC athletes are suing the university and the NCAA, for, the story relates “failing to provide college athletes with the quality of education they were promised.”

Yes, UNC is guilty, but does that mean the plaintiffs have a case? At the time they took these fake courses, why didn’t they complain that there wasn’t really any education involved? Why didn’t they drop the fake courses and take real ones instead? This suit looks awfully opportunistic.

Why Subsidizing College and Especially Making it Free is a Bad Idea


President Obama’s recent proposal for “free” community college caused Vic Brown to ruminate on the way college has changed over the last 40+ years. In today’s Pope Center piece, he observes that Americans used to save for college, which both helped to keep prices down and also to motivate students to take it seriously. The more the government has done to promote “access” and make college “affordable” the costlier it has become and the less educational value it delivers for many students.

Brown writes, “We seem to no longer draw rational lines between serious students who need assistance, and the many non-serious students who squander it.”

Absolutely right, but I doubt that we will ever be able to draw rational lines as long as financial aid is a political matter. The US has more wealth than ever and it should be pretty easy for private organizations to identify students who have ability and determination to learn and just assist them — not merely to afford college, but to avoid poor college choices where they will just spin their wheels.


Just How Much Economic Diversity Would be Enough?


Among the big leftist education ideas is that we don’t have enough diversity. Not just the skin color and ancestry diversity, but also economic diversity. They’d have us believe that the country would make great strides if only elite colleges would admit more students from low-income families. A perfect illustration is found in this Ed Central piece by Stephen Burd.

Burd is writing about a program at Washington University in St. Louis that aims to double the enrollment of students who get Pell grants. The official behind this is former UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Holden Thorp, who states, “Improving the socioeconomic diversity of our student body is not just important; it’s critical to our success as a university.” Gosh, how did Wash U. ever become known as a good school? Will it plunge out of sight unless they admit more kids who are eligible for Pell grants? Or is that just the sort of silly stuff that academic administrators feel compelled to say to remain members in good standing of the liberal intelligentsia?

But for Burd, Wash U isn’t going far enough. “Getting to 13 percent in five years is not a very impressive goal, considering that other elite private colleges like Amherst and Vassar, have made more impressive gains over a comparable period of time.”

People like Thorp and Burd evidently think that it is some big advance in social justice when more students who’d otherwise have gone to a less prestigious institution are preferentially admitted to schools like Wash U, Amherst, Vassar and so on. It isn’t. Prestigious colleges and universities are not necessarily better learning environments for the preferred students; often, they’re worse. And assuming that the students graduate with a useful degree (which, as Peter Arcidiacono showed was often not the case at Duke), having earned it from a prestige institution doesn’t make much difference in the long run. How well they’ll do depends on their work, not on their academic credentials.

This is just another leftist feel good exercise.

The “Factual Feminist” on Sexual Assault


In the American Enterprise Institute’s ongoing YouTube video series, the “Factual Feminist,” myth-laden feminist talking points are critically analyzed and, ultimately, debunked. In the latest installment, the oft-parroted claim that sexual assault on college campuses is a “national epidemic” is taken to task. Here’s the video: 

Radio Host Dennis Prager Gets Colleges Wrong


Dennis Prager – I love and respect you my man; for that reason, I urge you to shift your generalization on the indoctrination that occurs at universities.  In your latest national column, you chronicle a debate you took part in at Oxford.  You reported that a majority of Oxford students deemed Israel a greater threat to world peace than Hamas.  That is cause for a pause, but I take issue with the generalizations you draw from it.

In your column (and often on your radio program) you state these points:

(1) “[The statements] are what students routinely hear about Israel at Oxford and other universities throughout the Western world.”

(2)  “These statements accurately represent the moral and intellectual level of Oxford and nearly all other Western universities.”

Routinely hear?  Nearly all other universities?  You’re making a faux pas here in thinking that what happens at Oxford is representative of most other Western colleges and universities.  While Midwest State U may aspire to be Harvard or Columbia, what occurs in such “average” schools is much different from what occurs in the elite liberal arts departments. 

If there is a generalization here, it’s that the current “average” college student is wandering aimlessly through an academic program while learning very little.  I’d be shocked if 50% of average students knew what took place last August in Ferguson. 

The average students are nice people, but most are collecting credits to earn an employability certificate.  Few of them major in disciplines that end with “Studies.”  They may take a class or two and hear some radical statements, but those statements don’t stick.  It doesn’t matter if average students hear anti-Israel protests, anti-Capitalism arguments, or statements asserting that the United States would be a different country if George Washington was a different type of leader; the real battle is getting students to finish their undergraduate degrees feeling like they learned something.

My greatest challenge in the classroom is getting students to take their studies seriously.  That’s a far cry from fighting off emotional arguments from indoctrinated students.  

Now, if you want to worry about young adults hearing the wrong message, think about how much TV and social media they consume on a daily basis, then think about how much of that entertainment aligns with the world view that you and I both share.

Another Tribute to Henry Manne


I first encountered the work of Professor Manne in the mid-70s. Somewhere, I happened across an article he’d written in opposition to what he argued was the needless fool’s errand of trying to stamp out insider trading. I thought that was a fascinating piece of unconventional thinking.

We lost that paragon of unconventional thinking last weekend. Jane Shaw posted a tribute to him on Monday. Here is another by Ohio University economics professor Rich Vedder.

I’m happy to be able to say that Dean Manne took some of his valuable time last year to write an article for the Pope Center, a rebuttal to the notion that non-profit management is good and appropriate for colleges, but for-profit management is bad and inappropriate.

A Political Science Prof Tries to Explain Our Critique of Higher Ed to Leftists


A few years ago, I was contacted by George Ehrhardt, who teaches political science at Appalachian State University in western NC. He asked if I’d be willing to do a guest lecture via Skype for one of his classes. My task was to give them an overview of libertarian theory. I was happy to do so and the effort was, I think, quite successful.

Recently, Prof. Ehrhardt wrote an article for a leftist political science journal New Political Science (it describes itself as committed to progressive social change, which hardly seems a fitting objective for an academic journal, but never mind), in which he endeavored to explain the conservative and libertarian arguments against the trends in higher education. In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Jane Shaw takes a look at his work and finds it fairly good, although not entirely convincing to her. (If you want to read the article, a link to it is included.)

Ehrhardt seems to grasp that many leftists have a cartoonish view of “right” critics of higher ed. They maintain that our criticism of the drift in the curriculum, for example, means that we are opposed to teaching about class, sex, race and other hot-button leftist manias. Ehrhardt replies that we are not opposed to such teaching, but don’t think it should crowd out most of the rest of the curriculum. That’s true as far as it goes, but a stronger riposte would have been to show that scholars on the “right” often do talk about class, sex, and race, but in a completely different way, to show that it is state power that hinders the people around whom the progressives love to build their “studies” courses.

Jane also offers a rejoinder to Prof. Ehrhardt’s argument that the conservative and libertarian critiques are incompatible. She doesn’t agree and neither do I.

It will be interesting to see what kind of reaction Ehrhardt’s article brings forth from its intended audience. I’m betting we get much more heat than light.



Delusional College Students


Results from the latest Collegiate Learning Assessment were released last week. They’re not good. Of the 32,000 students tested, 40 percent were deemed ill-prepared to enter the white collar workforce because they had not adequately enhanced their critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication skills during college.

As Inside Higher Ed reports today, however, students’ perceptions of their abilities in those important areas may not be tethered to reality. 

A recent Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACUsurvey asked employers whether college grads are well-prepared for work in terms of their written communication skills. Of the surveyed employers, only 27 percent believe that students are well-prepared in that regard, while 65 percent of surveyed students say their written communication skills are just fine, thank you very much.

What about critical thinking skills? Employers weren’t impressed here, either, with only 26 percent indicating that students are well-prepared. But when students were asked the same question, 66 percent said they are proficient in that area. 

“When it comes to the types of skills and knowledge that employers feel are most important to workplace success, large majorities of employers do NOT feel that recent graduates are well-prepared,” the AACU report states. 

Re: Odd Couple


Let’s take a look at the source of this controversy, namely Professor Swain’s remarks. She wrote, “What would it take to make us admit we were wrong about Islam? What horrendous attack would finally convince us that Islam is not like other religions on the United States, that it poses an absolute danger to us and our children unless it is monitored better than it has been under the Obama administration?” She continued, “If Muslims are to thrive in America, and we are to be safe, then we must have ground rules that protect the people from those who disdain the freedoms that most of the world covets.”

Some students automatically went into Maximum Indignation Mode, calling her comments “hate speech.” Vanderbilt’s provost, Susan Wente, issued a groveling statement: “We in no way condone or support the views stated in the editorial, and understand that they are deeply offensive to many members of our community — Muslim and non-Muslim alike. We are fully committed to ensuring our compus is a safe and welcoming environment for all. Closely related to this commitment is our support of free speech, which is put to the test when polarizing speech such as this is shared. It is in these time more than ever when we must keep dialogue open.”

(Read more about this on Inside Higher Ed.)

Has the language eroded so far that “hate speech” includes such observations as Prof. Swain made? True, she might have added that many followers of Islam denounce violence and oppose their co-religionists who espouse it, but her thoughts on Islam do not in any way incite hatred of Muslims generally. As for Provost Wente, her reaction is exactly the kind of mush we’ve come to expect from academic administrators. What it means is that the university isn’t going to punish Swain but that the “deeply offended” students have a real gripe because they expect a “safe and welcoming environment.” Apparently, a college has to shield the hyper sensitive from hearing any criticism of ideas or institutions they revere or else it’s not “safe and welcoming.”

Odd Couple: Actress and Professor Team Up to Fight Radical Islam


When Hollywood types descend on a protest, it’s usually to spout some liberal nonsense. 

So the last person I thought would come to a protest of a conservative black professor accused of hate speech against Islam to defend the scholar was a former performer on Saturday Night Live, one of the most left-leaning shows out there.

And yet that’s exactly what happened Saturday, when SNL alum Victoria Jackson came to a protest at Vanderbilt University to speak on behalf of embattled scholar Carol Swain, a staunch conservative who has come under fire for a recent opinion column in the Tennessean critical of Islam.

On her website, Jackson says she has a “conservative mind and a Godly heart.” It’s also clear from her website that she is waging a one-woman war against the advancement of Sharia law in America.

On Saturday at Vanderbilt, where students protested Professor Swain, calling her op-ed on Islam “hate speech,” Jackson was there holding a big “Ban Sharia” sign and asking the students and others who had gathered at the protest: “Why can’t I say that Mohammed had a wife who was six years old?” 

She said it in her famously soft, mickey-mouse voice, but it was still quite shocking to see such a bold proclamation to college students, and right to their faces no less. She was willing to debate “Sharia law and whether we have freedom of speech.” Instead of getting into it, the small crowd just walked away from her. The College Fix has a video of the exchange:

On Jackson’s website, she proudly proclaims: I stand with Swain. She also notes her belief that Sharia cannot coexist with the U. S. Constitution. And her description of what happened when she tried to address the crowd at the protest Saturday sounds about right for a college campus.

“I approached the microphone politely and asked the grownups nearby if I could speak,” Jackson relayed. “I’m Carol’s friend and a fellow conservative who is concerned about the safety of America. The grownups scuttled about nervously and quickly turned the microphone off.”

Has the Worm Turned at Duke and UNC?


Has the worm turned, to apply gambling slang for luck changing from bad to good?

In less than two days, Duke University reversed its decision to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer once a week from the venerable (and Methodist) Duke Chapel bell tower. Ten miles away, the University of North Carolina Board of Governors terminated president Tom Ross, ordering him to vacate as soon as a replacement is found. In the Duke fiasco, Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, and agitation from women’s groups who object to all-male worship as practiced in Islam, are given credit for the volte face. In the UNC case, a new Board was impaneled, comprised of Republicans who acted swiftly and decisively to end Democrat rule. No matter the underlying reasons, it’s a new day in university politics. 

Ross has presided over faulty decisions that bring to mind the sinking of the Titanic. Like the officers, crew and passengers of the so-called “unsinkable” luxury liner, UNC officials are oblivious, even in the face of a scandal that has torn a hole in its foundations. Everything they’ve done to save the sinking university is wrong-footed, ineffective and only adds to the inevitable disaster.

What began with disclosures from the NCAA – that football players were enrolled in fake courses – has twisted and turned to involve a department chair pleading guilty to profiting financially from the phantom classes. A chief fundraiser and former UNC football star was caught padding expense accounts – and carrying on an affair with the mother of a highly regarded basketball player who worked for him. And data prove academic fraud has been going on for 22 years. 

The reaction by UNC included impaneling a committee appointed by UNC Trustees and president Ross of the system-wide Board of Governors. A former governor was selected as chairman, who put his name on a report that can best be described as a whitewash. Then, assuming one coat of paint was inadequate, the Board engaged a former US Justice Department attorney to produce another useless investigation, as if repetition would render different results. The attorney and his associates were paid $3.1 million to to issue a 131-page report paid for by monies socked away in a previously undisclosed university fund. The impact of the report was spectacularly underwhelming. 

Adding to the panic on board as disaster loomed was the choice for a new chancellor after whiz kid Holden Thorp abandoned ship at the outset of the scandal. He was replaced by Carol Folt, a water quality scientist from Dartmouth, a liberal arts college with no major sports teams.

One example of a competent observer could see in the troubled waters was the growler (as Atlantic ship captains call small bergs) Mary Willingham, an advisor who arranged course study for athletes. She said publicly that the majority of football and basketball players she advised were not capable of work on the college level. So what did the officers aboard HMS UNC do? They attacked her results in the press. And they attacked her personally, a surefire way to get yourself sued – so she has. Willingham has co-authored a new book revealing more inadequacies at UNC. Carolina Gentlemen insulting a lady in public dramatizes how low you can go when you lose your moral compass.

The origin of the downward spiral at UNC can be traced to the coup by the radical scholars in the late 1970s who created dumbed-down courses for political purposes – to bring down the dead white male hierarchy and instill self-esteem for the “victimized.” The decline of classroom standards bled over into the administration, which learned it’s better to toe the politically correct party line than risk banishment at the hands of the new professorate. Affirmative action and sensitivity dominate hiring and management. In turn, mediocrity breeds mediocrity, the word that best fits the milieu at UNC.

Anthropology Used to be an Academic Discipline


My good friend Peter Wood earned his Ph.D. in anthropology, a discipline that studies “how we emerged as a species and how we have diversified into thousands of languages, tribes, and civilizations.” Sadly, he writes in this Minding the Campus essay, his field has fallen under the spell of political hucksters who use anthropology to spread notions that are useful to their agenda.

A strong piece of evidence in that regard is the current issue of Anthropology News, which features four predictable pieces about the Ferguson shooting. They’re all just about the leftist trope that America is awash in racism. The four pieces are highly tendentious and ignore facts that aren’t consistent with the line the authors are pushing. As Wood writes, “The ‘anthropology’ on display in these articles and in a great many more such declarations is a profound misappropriation of an intellectual discipline.”

What this makes me think about is how much anthropology could use the kind of daring article that Professor Richard Redding highlighted for the Pope Center in this piece. Redding extolled an article written by six scholars in social psychology who lament the increasing intellectual conformity they see in their field, with a narrow range of leftist ideas now acceptable and all others beyond the pale. Anthropology clearly needs the same thing.

The Coming College Decline


Ronald Brownstein writes about it in this recent National Journal piece bearing that title. It’s something we should all worry about, sort of like global warming. According to Brownstein, a drop in the percentage of Americans with college degrees is “bad for everyone.”

Of course, in the article you will find nothing about the huge numbers of young people with college degrees who have learned little or nothing during their years in college, nothing on the throngs who are seemingly underemployed (I say “seemingly” because the kinds of low-skill jobs that many of them do might be about right for their ability levels), nothing to suggest that putting more and more people through college has given us a terrible case of credential inflation. What we do find is hand-wringing over ….. diversity. If the percentage of Americans with college credentials starts to drop at the time when an increasing percentage of the population is “minority,” then the country will suffer from a dearth of “qualified” minority workers and leaders.

Brownstein likes Obama’s plan to get more students into community colleges, naturally.

Like nearly all “progressives,” he focuses on aggregate data about groups, then worries about inequalities among groups. Instead of fretting about groups and paper educational credentials, however, why not just allow each individual to optimize his education and skills in a free market? Aside from the fact that it would deprive progressives of one of their favorite subjects to complain about, that is.

Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds

Henry Manne, R.I.P.


Henry Manne—economist, legal scholar, and pioneer in the field now called “law and economics”—died  January 17 at the age of 86.

His death from cancer came less than two weeks before he was scheduled to attend a conference on higher education that I will direct for Liberty Fund, Inc. Dr. Manne was in the midst of writing a book (with Todd Zywicki) on the history of for-profit education in the nineteenth century. The Liberty Fund conference he was to attend will feature his recent paper arguing that land-grant universities came about in an effort to squelch that educational “industry.”

Henry Manne was astute about incentives and had the intellectual understanding and fortitude to look beyond platitudes and blandishments.

My husband, Richard Stroup, attended the first law institute for economists that Manne organized (in 1976, we think). As for me, I only got to know Dr. Manne in the past few years while attending conferences on higher education. The readings for several conferences included his wonderful essay about the role of trustees and universities published in the 1973 Liberty Fund bookEducation in a Free Society.” It revealed his skepticism about avowed sentiments and his insights into the operation of universities.

Manne wrote that early American private colleges, which were almost all religious and designed to train ministers (or Christian gentlemen), were “consumption goods” for the trustees. Trustees subsidized the education of young people in order to achieve their goals of religious instruction. Because tuition was subsidized, students were unlikely to have “consumer sovereignty” and demand what they wanted rather than what the trustees wanted.

That “consumption” element helped to determine the governance of universities that we have today. As Manne wrote in his recent paper, “Only the not-for-profit form of enterprise will serve this purpose [“’purchasing’ a strengthening of their religious interests"] and that mainly because the property rights are non-transferable.”

Once most schools became secular, the trustees no longer had an intense interest in directing the schools—while the faculty did. Because ownership was non-transferable, the highly committed trustees were gradually replaced by business men and women who were interested in building loyalty to their school or attaining prestige. They offered no check on the power of faculty.

This insight into university governance  (which I have sketched rather feebly) is only one of many ideas that Manne originated (plenty of them can be found in his latest essay alone!). He is best known for his writing about corporate control and insider trading, but I’m pleased that he also put some of his thinking into higher education. I’m very sorry that he did not live long enough to complete his book on the subject.

Another Reason for Credential Inflation


Employers keep ratcheting up their educational credential demands to sift out people who, on the basis of their lower credential levels are presumably less competent and trainable. It’s not just the business sector that contributes to credential inflation — so does government.

In reading the new book by Judge (and former U.S. Senator) James Buckley, Saving Congress from Itself (see my review here), I came across this passage:

“State agencies have also used the leverage of federal funding to achieve changes in state laws….Massachusetts, like other New England states, had long relied on town selectmen to administer assistance to the poor. In the 1960s, this rankled the state’s welfare director, who sought a rule requiring that Massachusetts administrators of the federal AFDC program have college degrees, which was his way of moving welfare administration from the town to the state level. As the Massachusetts legislature, half of whose members then lacked college degrees, was unlikely to oblige him, the director secured a letter from the relevant federal agency instructing him to administer AFDC funding through holders of college degrees.”

Buckley’s book is loaded with examples of the malign effects of what ought to be unconstitutional federal grants to state and local governments, but that is the only one pertaining to higher education.

Why College History Profs have to do “Remedial Work”


We know that a great many college students need remedial work in English and math, in a desperate attempt to make up for years of neglect and malpractice. The same thing is true with respect to history, as we read in this NAS essay by Hamilton College professor Robert Paquette.

The trouble is rooted in the kind of teaching about history that students receive in high school, and especially if they take AP History. The students are apt to get a big dose of Howard Zinn-inspired history — a “nothing but warts” portrait of American history. Students are also likely to have people teaching their history courses who have “a political axe to grind.” The APUSH standards make things worse.

Is Common Sense Now Verboten on Campuses?


The hysterics over “sexual assault”on campus have reached the point where an autistic student has been suspended from a college for hugging a woman. Hans Bader provides the details in this piece.

“Sexual assault policies,” he writes, “should protect people from violence and unwanted intimate invasions, not relatively harmless activities that simply lack advance authorization.” Certainly, but the authoritarian control-freaks behind this mania can’t draw such common sense distinctions. It’s similar to the “no tolerance” policies we now find with regard to anything even vaguely resembling a weapon. Students can get thrown out of school just because someone happened to see a kitchen knife in a parked car.

Ah, but perhaps this incident will set off a battle between interest groups since, Bader observes, colleges also have to comply with the administration’s broad interpretation of the duty to accommodate disabled students and that “Draconian punishments of students can sometimes themselves violate Title IX or other laws.”


Subscribe to National Review