Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Law Professor Calls Out “The Law School Scam”


University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos makes a devastating attack on for-profit law schools in this Atlantic article. Those schools bank on luring in weak students who have little chance of ever landing a law job that would enable them to pay off the debt they’ll have to incur. The schools almost certainly couldn’t succeed (and probably wouldn’t ever have been started) if it weren’t for easy government money. They are a great illustration of the point I have often made that federal financial aid is what enables a lot of educational waste and later woes for students who were suckered in.

Campos is not just attacking the for-profits, though. Non-profits do the same thing. The underlying pathology is the same — the easy availability of government loans.

After reading the article, think about the claim made so often by establishment types that higher education is still a “great investment.” They say that because, on average, people who have college degrees make more than do people who don’t have college degrees. Exactly the same argument can be made in favor of going to law school. On average, people who have law degrees earn more than people who don’t, so better take the LSAT! The obvious problem with that argument is that the average earnings for people who already have law degrees is irrelevant to students thinking about getting one now, and especially the marginal students who might make it through law school but probably won’t pass the bar.

Can Group Work be Useful in College?


Today’s Pope Center piece is by Appalachian State political science professor George Ehrhardt, who responds to the piece we published recently by professor Bruce Gans. In his piece, Professor Ehrhardt argues that group work can be beneficial in college courses, and gives some examples from his experience. After reading Ehrhardt, you can read the rejoinder that Gans has written.



The Latest Excuse for Limiting Free Speech on Campus


Young people’s brains are still developing until they’re 21, and so should be protected against possibly harmful speech. So claims Michael Yaki, a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. In this SeeThruEdu post, Tom Lindsay takes a dim view of that notion.

My question: Who gets to decide what speech is all right and what must be suppressed for the good of impressionable youngsters? The only people who would want to have such authority are people who couldn’t possibly be trusted with it.

Postmodernism Invades the Courts


The ongoing ordeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, convicted of murdering Amanda’s housemate, Meredith Kercher, during the two girls’ study year abroad in Perugia, Italy, in 2007, has alarming postmodern implications, that is, that the truth is based not on agreed upon facts and evidence, but is contingent on narrative and point of view.

Their original guilty verdict in the Italian court was overturned on appeal, then reinstated in a new trial ordered by the high court. The reason for the reinstatement was that the explanation for the innocent verdict did not, in effect, sufficiently account for the narrative–that is, the narrative of the multiple killers and supposed animosity between Amanda and Meredith, the narrative that the physical evidence does not support. (The original narrative of the sex game gone wrong was rejected in the new guilty verdict but replaced with Amanda’s anger at Meredith’s supposed criticism of her hygienic habits.) 

The only supposed physical evidence for Raffaele and Amanda being at the murder scene was two tiny specks of DNA evidence, from a crime scene that was violent, disordered, and replete with copious leavings from the real killer, Rudy Guede. When the prosecution finally allowed the tests to be released that supposedly revealed the DNA of Raffaele and Amanda, the specks were shown to be unacceptable as evidence by international standards. The DNA profile supposedly derived for Raffaele could belong to several hundred people in Perugia. The court that declared them innocent analyzed each piece of evidence and the testimony of supposed eyewitnessnes and found that all of it collapsed on investigation. There is simply no evidence that the two were at the scene of the murder at all, period, full stop.

But evidently the narrative can survive despite the facts. The judge who handed down the second guilty verdict acknowledges that it is nigh impossible to clean up a crime scene of traces of two people, while leaving intact those of a third, but concludes anyway that such a cleanup must have happened since Amanda and Raffaele were there. The narrative also serves to support the unbelievably lenient sentence given to Rudy Guede, because he supposedly didn’t act alone. In February it was reported that he was studying history via a nearby university, and, having served less than six years, is eligible for release on day parole. I wonder if he’s studying postmodern history.

So terrible is this whole situation that Steve Moore, the retired FBI Special Agent who has been defending Amanda in the press and public venues advises American students to avoid study in certain sections of Italy! Italy, birthplace of the Renaissance, the ancestral home of so many millions of Americans! But Moore points out that many Italians are fighting this injustice, somehow both primitive, in its witch hunt aspect, and postmodern, in its denial of facts and objective reality.

Tenure, Free Speech, and the First Amendment


A recent incident has people talking about professorial free speech, namely the decision by the University of Illinois to revoke a job offer (to teach in its American Indian studies program) because of his astoundingly intemperate statements regarding Israel on twitter. The AAUP is upset, stating, “We stand by Professor Salaita and defend his right to engage in extramural utterances. The University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America.”

In this RealClearPolitics piece, Carl Cannon comments, “So there you have it. Keeping a college teaching job in this country is a constitutional right. Never mind whether it’s in the interests of the students or the university. Under this theory, tenured professorships are lifetime gigs with more job security than federal judgeships. But many people holding them don’t act like impartial judges — they act like unhinged advocates.” Cannon goes on to recount quite a few other recent cases that support his point.

The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech and the Supreme Court has long held that state governments and their institutions are bound by that limitation too. It does not say that state institutions cannot decline to employ someone on account of intemperate statements that call into question his fitness for a job.

This is a difficult area for making bright line rules. We don’t want academics to feel that their employment hangs by a thread that’s easily cut on the basis of a statement that someone in authority finds objectionable. But neither do we want colleges bound to employ or continue to employ academics who say vicious things in or out of the classroom. I can only say that it would probably be better for institutions to write contracts that spell out as clearly as possible what speech (and conduct) is grounds for sanctions or termination.


A New Vision of Opportunity?


In her new book Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America​, Georgetown law professor Sheryll Cashin argues that existing race-based admissions policies provide only “optical diversity” and don’t do much to level the playing field for genuinely underprivileged or disadvantaged students. She maintains that society is stratified and that, for many people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, the outlook for advancement is dismal. To help eliminate those structural barriers, Cashin proposes, prestigious schools should open their doors to low-income individuals who appear to be “strivers.” 

George Leef rebuts Cashin’s arguments – and their underlying assumptions - in today’s Pope Center Clarion Call. “How well people do in this country has little to do with their origins and everything to do with how good they are at producing what others value. No one is prevented from developing talents and profiting from them,” he writes. 

Even if we assume that the roadblocks for low-income individuals are so numerous that “something must be done,” does it necessarily follow that their attending top schools will prepare them for career and life success? Leef notes that “prestige schools can be far from ideal learning environments. The faculty is often too immersed in research to work much with undergrads. The curriculum is often a giant smorgasbord of courses, some useful, many doubtful, and little guidance to help students make good selections.”

“America will be much better off when we abandon the idea that ‘elite’ colleges are so special that which students they admit is a matter of importance,” concludes Leef. 

An Alternative that Might Rapidly Deflate the College Bubble


The typical student spends more than four years in college to get a degree, spending a huge amount of money and accumulating debt, then leaves (with or without a degree) to face a labor market where many of them will earn little more than the minimum wage in jobs that high school kids can do.

How is this for an alternative? Instead of pursuing that BA in Whatever Studies, enroll in a school that teaches you how to program. For $12,000, you can take a 16 week course that prepares you for work in a rapidly expanding field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a huge shortfall in programmers by 2020, and the compensation averages about $36 per hour.

All that is discussed in this piece on NCPA’s education blog, by Farhad Mirzadeh.

Moreover, he writes, “technology and the field of programming move at such fast paces that getting a degree will be almost worthless after receiving it. Instead, programmers stay up to date by being on the job and adapting to new advances within the field.”

The higher education sector mushroomed by selling low-grade occupational training along with a bundle of other courses that few students really wanted to take. With programming schools and other training options that cost less and don’t include lots of unwanted stuff in the bundle, the mushroom seems about to start its dessication.

Peter Wood’s “Tour of the Barricades”


Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars has a superb essay on Minding the Campus entitled Campus Activism: The Fight for Imaginary Victories.

In the essay, he surveys the various politically correct causes to which many students devote so much energy, including divestment of shares in naughty companies, denunciation of Israel, sustainability, microaggression, and preventing people who have bad views on important issues from speaking on campus. Peter writes, “Our college campuses are busy fretting over numerous imaginary dangers, which of course forestalls them from thinking seriously about some real problems.”

I strongly recommend the essay, as well as the two previous ones in Peter’s “the year that was in higher ed” series, links to which are included.

Blatant Conflict of Interest in Campus Accountability and Safety Act


Writing with his usual clarity and command of facts and cases, Hans Bader of Competitive Enterprise Institute points out a glaring problem with the proposed Campus Accountability and Safety Act in this Liberty Unyielding piece. It would allow the same government agency that imposes a fine to collect it. In this case, that would be the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education. Bader formerly worked in that agency and attests that it “is one of the most ardently left-wing federal agencies.” Letting it levy fines and pad its own budget with them would a terrible idea. “Giving the OCR the ability to fine colleges millions for dollars will encourage them to curry favor with the OCR by doing things like restricting politically incorrect speech on campus. It will also give OCR expanded leverage to curtail due process for students accused of various offenses.”

The bill, sponsored by Senator McCaskill, seems to be nothing but the usual political grandstanding over a problem that additional federal regulation can do nothing to help. With the provision about fines in it, it is intolerable.

A New Ranking -- Top Party Schools


There’s a new ranking out of the top party schools in America and the winner is…….West Virginia!

That’s no surprise. Last year, Professor Karen Weiss wrote a book entitled Party School, that was clearly about the school that employs her, although she did not disclose the name of what she called “Party University.” I wrote about here book here.

I keep wondering about the academic standards facing students who go to college mainly because they want the big party/sports atmosphere and, as Weiss observes, often do heavy partying four nights per week or more. My surmise is that the party types find out where they can get easy credits without much effort and that there are enough of those classes available for them to get the credits they need to graduate.

Paranoid “Progressives”


Over at, my colleague George Leef discusses some of the negative unintended consequences of federal interference in higher education. He explains how the incessant push to increase college accessibility has diminished educational quality. Unfortunately, as Leef points out, now that more and more people are waking up to the fact that higher education “costs much more but delivers less value,” some “progressive” defenders of the academy’s status quo are resorting to cheap shots and ad hominem attacks to dismiss reform-minded commentators. 

New Organization Opposes Unjust Standards in Sexual Assault Cases


Over on The Corner, Caroline Kitchens of American Enterprise Institute has a post about Families Advocating for Campus Equality (FACE), a new group dedicated to fighting against the horribly one-sided standards the currently prevail when a woman accuses a man of sexual misconduct. The group was founded by the mother of a young man who was falsely accused of sexual misconduct at the University of North Dakota and promptly expelled. The police, however, did not adopt the university’s “verdict first, trial afterwards” approach and based on the evidence, never charged him. After an investigation, the police determined that the accusation had been made falsely, and issued a warrant for the arrest of the woman who made it.

Nevertheless, it took a tenacious campaign to get UND officials to admit that its hasty finding of guilt was “not substantiated” (sounds much better than admitting that the school was wrong) and lift its sanctions. The student, however, decided he wanted nothing more to do with UND.

At one time it was much too easy for men to get away with sexual assault on campus, but the pendulum has swung far in the opposite direction. Good luck to FACE and other groups like FIRE that are working to get us back to reasonable, fair standards.

More Chinese Students -- Improving Diversity or Improving the Bottom Line?


On Minding the Campus, John Rosenberg writes about the amazing increase in the number of Chinese students (no, not Americans of Chinese ancestry, but students from China) at the University of Illinois. Linking to an Inside Higher Ed story, John points out that in 2006, there were only 20 Chinese students at the university; this year, about 600, or ten percent of the incoming class. U of I actually held three orientation sessions in China for these students. Seems like an unnecessary expense for the flagship university in a state with a horrible budget problem. Ah, but maybe it pays off because the school will pocket far more tuition dollars from the foreigners than it would from Illinois residents.

Another aspect of this is the ever-present “diversity” obsession. Rosenberg asks, “Should foreign women who are in this country only temporarily be counted toward ‘compliance’ with the ‘goals’ recommended by the Academies? Insofar as it is necessary to displace some men to make room for more women, should American males be displaced to make room for foreign females? And why should both American males and females be displaced to make room for our future Chinese competitors?”

Neal McCluskey on the Collegiate Arms Race on Amenities


Neal McCluskey of Cato Institute has long been interested in the wild spending at many colleges and universities for delightful amenities that will lure in students. His most recent SeeThruEdu post is on that topic. He provides some jaw-dropping examples. Schools are spending huge money in an effort at “keeping up with the Joneses.” What if some students should decide to go to a school with a better water park?!

Back in 2009, we published a paper by Professor Robert Martin, The Revenue-to-Cost Spiral on the lamentable fact that most college presidents are caught up on an “arms race” obligating them to raise all the money they can, then spend it on things that are supposed to enhance the image of the school. Clearly, that spiral is still going strong.


Wellesley Gives Honest Grading a Try


Dr. James Thompson has a lively blog and today’s post is entitled “Do universities award honest grades?”

Largely, no.

Thompson writes, “Do we want to be honest about what the students actually know, or do we find it expedient to make them, and the university, look good? Difficult question, isn’t it? The answer takes about five seconds. The university does not want to admit that they have let in a bunch of dullards, that the teachers are incompetent, the courses misconceived, the exams too easy and the whole institution a refuge for inebriated idiots. However true, it is best not to disclose this to students, parents, and grant-giving bodies, let alone the locals who are wearily familiar with the institution’s many shortcomings.”

He goes on to discuss a paper that delves into the effects of a modest counter-move against grade inflation at Wellesley, a policy of capping the overall course grade averages at B+. The policy apparently had some effect, most noticeably in departments notorious for their lack of rigor. Overall, Thompson writes, Wellesley’s grading became “more honest and informative” but “in the long run these departments drift towards their old habits of debasing the currency.”

I recommend reading the whole thing.

Breeding Ground for Political Sociopaths


Bribery. Extortion. Special interest corruption. Sham elections. 

No, I’m not referring to Frank Underwood’s tricks of the trade on the hit show House of Cards. I’m referring to the features of one of the most contemptible and repugnant forces in higher education - a force with millions of expropriated dollars and gangs of political operatives, lobbyists, and societal menaces on its side. 

I’m referring to student government. 

Mark Hemingway, in an eye-opening article that will be printed in next week’s Weekly Standard, describes some especially egregious cases of student government association malfeasance. He says such associations are “directly responsible for accelerating the degradation of our broader political culture.” 

Click here to read the article online. 

How Higher Ed Fails Students, Especially Leftist Ones


On July 31, Duke professor Michael Munger gave a Milton Friedman Day talk for the Pope Center, and his topic was an arresting one — he argued that higher ed really fails with leftist students because their views are hardly ever challenged. They don’t have to learn to make good arguments when confronted by opposing views. They rarely have the benefit of what John Stuart Mill called “the collision with error.” In today’s Clarion Call, we excerpt his talk.

I think Professor Munger is right in saying that leftist students are seldom challenged (his own courses are notable exceptions1) but I can’t agree that conservative and libertarians students necessary get much of an education in that regard either. I fear that instead of actually challenging their arguments with counter-arguments, leftist professors usually denigrate them, insult them, and impugn their motives. Instead of benefiting from intelligent exchanges in class or through papers, students who dissent from leftist orthodoxy merely learn how dogmatic their professors can be.

The Clery Act -- a Time Wasting Federal Mandate


Writing on Independent Review’s blog, Wake Forest University economics professor Robert Whaples recounts how he was dragooned into pointless “training” under the federal Clery Act. Whaples says, “The intent of the law seems laudable, but like so many other laws its implementation has taken on a life of its own — hungrily gobbling up resources in the process.”

I doubt that there is any benefit from the Clery Act’s mandated disclosures about crime. Students and parents (even if they bother with the reports, which few do) don’t want to know about crime in the aggregate at various schools. Instead, once they have chosen the best school, they’re interested in knowing how to best avoid the possibility of danger at that campus.

Lack of Federal Loans Puts Students at Risk?


Not all colleges participate in federal student loan programs. Some community colleges, for instance, have opted out because they’re wary of the Education Department’s new rules regarding student loan default rates, which will penalize schools where the “cohort default rate” is 30 percent or higher.

At such schools, students will no longer have access to federal loans or Pell grants. That could spell disaster for some community colleges, where Pell grant recipients far outnumber students receiving federal loans. 

In today’s Pope Center feature, Harry Painter points out that two-thirds of community colleges in North Carolina have decided not to offer federal loans. In 2010, the state’s Democrat-controlled legislature mandated that they do so, but 2012’s incoming Republican majority set in motion a repeal of that law. Painter writes:

The passion of the Democrats over this issue likely stems from the notion, pushed from President Obama on down, that policymakers should eradicate barriers to college access at all costs. However, the failure to consider the impact on Pell grants must be weighed against the access provided by loans.

Painter also criticizes a new report from the Institute for College Access and Success which states that community colleges “do their students a great disservice” by not offering federal loans. Read the full article here

Another Fisher-Related Point


At the oral argument before the Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas, some of the conservative justices had some fun at university counsel’s expense regarding the pesky business of just how one goes about deciding which person ought to be put in this or that racial/ethnic category.  On a new website here, Professor Jonathan Bean of Southern Illinois University elaborates on the problems inherent in this enterprise.


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