Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

What Does $639,000 Get You?


It gets you a team of Title IX compliance officers–for one year. At UNC-Chapel Hill, that is. Embarrassed by allegations of inadequately dealing with sexual assault claims, the university just hired an attorney from the federal Office of Civil Rights (Department of Education), and will hire six people in total to deal with sexual discrimination and assault. Harry Painter of the Pope Center interviewed the new attorney, who said: “Regardless of what statistics you read, any sexual assault is too much sexual assault.”

But how much Title IX compliance is too much compliance? That’s Harry’s question.

In addition to the team, there is a 22-member task force trying to figure out a new policy for dealing with sexual harassment. And that’s not all:

[T]he university already housed the Carolina Women’s Center, a project focused on gender equity and diversity. Students with complaints could also go to the counseling and wellness center, the campus health services, the public safety department, the LGBTQ Center, the office of diversity and multicultural affairs, the dean of students, the office of student conduct, or the ombuds office, a place where students and staff can go for assistance more generally. There was also, of course, the Equal Opportunity/ADA office, where the new Title IX team is situated.

(By the way, that three-person “ombuds office” is the politically correct way to express “ombudsman office.”)

Oh, and even before this staff expansion, UNC-Chapel Hill had nearly 5 administrative personnel for every faculty member.

Student Debt Keeps Growing


We read in this Above the Law post that student debt has gone over the trillion dollar mark. Some of the most heavily indebted are law school grads, who borrowed their way through to their undergrad degrees, and keep on borrowing to afford the costs of their JDs.

As I recently argued, equity financing is better than debt financing controlled mostly by government. Who would have lent money to many of these students if he had to worry about the prospect of never getting his capital back?


Madison Plays Host to the Abominable “White Privilege Conference”


The 15th annual “White Privilege Conference” was held in Madison, Wisconsin last month. The event always highlights academics who insist that “teaching is a political act” and encourage educators to use the classroom as a means for fighting oppression. If you’ve heard leftists claim that there is very little politicization in our classrooms, this conference tells a different tale.

You can read about the conference in the reporting done by Wisconsin’s MacIver Institute here and here.

The Future of HBCUs


It was refreshing to see that North Carolina Central University recently hosted a student debate on the future of historically black colleges and universities. Jesse Saffron covered the debate (which was argued over two days), and his article shows that students at one of North Carolina’s five public HBCUs addressed some big questions.

Those questions included whether closing weak HBCUs would hurt access, whether it would make the remaining schools stronger, and whether or not the civil rights leaders of the 1960s would have approved of what is, in part, a continuance of segregation. (In fairness, today’s HBCUs are more racially  integrated than in the past, and it is possible that they will continue to move in that direction.) Finally, is maintaining HBCUs constitutional?

Whatever the answers to those questions, HBCUs are vulnerable to the changing landscape of university education. In a world in which traditionally white colleges seek the best minority students they can find–and have the funds to help bring them in–schools with mostly minority students struggle to get and keep good students. Last fall four out of the five public HBCUs in North Carolina experienced a decline in enrollment. Howard University in Washington, considered one of the best HBCUs, is facing financial trouble (Moody’s downgraded its credit rating in 2013 and the president resigned unexpectedly last fall). St. Paul’s, a private HBCU in Virginia, stopped operating in 2012 after losing accreditation for financial reasons. I expect we will see more mergers or closings, even if debaters argue eloquently for their continuation.

Introducing: The Jesus-Free Speech Zone


You’ve probably heard of campus free speech zones. But what about the Jesus-free speech zone?

Officials at Thomas Nelson Community College have come up with an entirely new speech zone concept!

What am I talking about? In his feature story today at The College Fix, Andrew Desiderio reports on a lawsuit that resulted when officials told a student that he must stop talking about Jesus on campus because he didn’t have permission to do so.

College officials told the student they were worried “he might offend someone.”


Time to Put an End to ‘Disinvitation Season’


By now, many have heard about the dispute at Rutgers over its selection of Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker. Rutgers, to its credit, is sticking to its guns. But what my colleagues at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have dubbed the annual “disinvitation season” rolls on nonetheless. The latest absurd row is over the invitation to Greg and Susan Gianforte to give commencement addresses this year at Montana Tech and at Rocky Mountain College. The Gianfortes are multi-millionaires who two years ago sold their Bozeman, Montana-based business, RightNow Technologies, to Oracle for a reported $1.5 billion.

So what’s the problem? Is it that, as The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports, that Greg Gianforte “is involved with an affiliate of Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group, and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.?” Yes, in part. Is it that they have spoken out against the possibility of a local ordinance that would add sexual orientation as a protected class for discrimination? Yes, in part. But their greatest sin seems to be that “they promote unscientific beliefs, as evidenced by their contributions to the faith-based Glendive Dinosaur Fossil Museum, which teaches that humans co-existed with dinosaurs.” Some Montana Tech faculty members are planning to boycott the speeches.

There is growing conviction in some quarters that if another person has a belief that strikes one as weird, stupid, unfounded, or bigoted, that person cannot possibly have anything useful to say and must be excised from polite society or, better, silenced. This also applies to people who are merely the other side of the political spectrum, like Condoleezza Rice or Dick Cheney.

This conviction is self-evidently absurd. Dr. James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, has been roundly criticized as racist. Senator Robert Byrd was a member and sometime leader in the Ku Klux Klan. The Reverend Jesse Jackson called New York “Hymietown.” And Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes penned an opinion in support of eugenics in which he (in)famously declared that “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Yet all of these people managed to make meaningful contributions to society. And while these comments and opinions are certainly hard to defend, the fact remains that in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, the Internet, and surreptitious video recordings, you can always find something to feed the outrage machine. (Ask Stephen Colbert.)

Gianforte, according to reports, was not asked to talk about and is not planning to talk about gay rights or the coexistence of humans and dinosaurs. He’s there to talk about his experience in business and technology, a subject that he obviously knows plenty about. More importantly, though, a college or university is supposed to expose people to views they might not have heard before or with which they might not be comfortable.

Too many in academia take the Marcusian view that openness to differing views should only go one way—i.e., that expression is free for left-leaning views only. Recognizing (and resenting) this, some on the right try to fight back by lashing out with the power of the state when it’s available. What both these approaches have in common is that they victimize students in order to score political points. As John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty:

[T]he peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

College students deserve to have the opportunity to exchange error for truth, or just as usefully, to gain a “clearer perception and livelier impression” of their own views and the views of others. This is as true in commencement speeches as it should be in the classroom.

As a new author on Phi Beta Cons (my thanks to Jane Shaw and George Leef for inviting me!), I hope to help guide the conservative discussion of higher education towards the principle of free speech and open debate on campus. It’s no secret that academia is overwhelmingly left-wing, and that the groupthink and general blinkered attitude of too many at our colleges and universities is hurting our students and our society generally. (My boss, who is liberal, wrote a book on this.) But the conservative solution to this problem cannot be a right-wing purge of the Ivory Tower. Not only would that be wrong, it would be doomed to fail. The conservative solution must be the continuous, untiring, and utterly principled insistence that the “marketplace of ideas” must be open to all the intellectual products available.

Why Unionizing College Athletes is a Bad Idea


Owing to an expansive, unprecedented interpretation of the word “employee” in the National Labor Relations Act, last week a regional director of the NLRB ruled that the football players on Northwestern’s team can proceed with a union election. That ruling has generated lots of discussion and in this Forbes piece, I argue that the players are not really “employees” but in any event, voting to form a union and have the Steelworkers union represent the players would be a bad call.

Better to Be Nerds


The University of Colorado at Boulder has reprimanded its philosophy department for sexist behavior. It removed the department chair, required department staff members to take sensitivity training, and suspended the admission of graduate students for a year.

Why? A team from the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status of Women saw signs of bullying and sexual harassment (not to mention too much social drinking) in the department.

Apparently UC-Boulder’s isn’t the only philosophy department to look bad in the eyes of women. One author, noting the report, wrote sarcastically in Slate that the discipline of philosophy “among the humanities is perhaps the last relic of the good old days of academe, before the feminazis and the ethnics ruined everything.”

It is true that about 27 percent of all philosophy doctorates go to females. Is the figure low because of sexual harassment? Ben Cohen, writing for the Pope Center, is not convinced.

Black Republican ‘Shatters Stereotypes’ at U of Wisconisn


Julian Bradley, age 33, is a rising star in the Wisconsin Republican party. He also happens to be black. Bradley recently gave a talk at the University of Wisconsin about the evolution of his political views. He grew up in “a Jesse Jackson household” and later became a conservative Republican:

In a recent speech at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Bradley said he remembers the strong connection his family felt toward Jackson during the 1984 Democratic convention, feeling as though Jackson and the Democrats knew what was best for his community.

But then there was the issue of abortion, something that had always nagged at Bradley.

Once he realized he was prolife about ten years ago, he began to further question the Democrats’ platform, he said. Research on the differences in the two party’s fiscal policies further helped Bradley realize his beliefs matched up closer to a conservative ideology.

Today, as a candidate for Wisconsin Secretary of State, he champions conservative causes, running with a slogan #ItsTime. In 2013, Bradley launched his “Shattering Stereotypes” speaking tour, sharing his story of transforming into a Republican and rising through the ranks in Wisconsin politics.

Read Kyle Brooks’s full report on Julian Bradley at The College Fix.

AU Students Heckle Dick Cheney, Walk Out in Protest


This happens so often it’s starting to become tedious to write about it.

Last Thursday, former Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at American University at an event sponsored by the school’s Kennedy Political Union, a non-partisan, student-run, student-funded organization. As if on cue, students took to Twitter to denounce him as a “war criminal,” and a protest was organized against his appearance.

Of course, the arrival of a figure like Cheney on campus ought to spark dialogue, discussion, and even controversy about serious issues. And some of the student protesters used the occasion to express their views in a wholly appropriate way. But others were quick to ask why “war criminal & America wrecker Dick Cheney” is “still invited to speak at places like American University.”

Could it be because he is a former congressman, cabinet official, and vice president who may have important thoughts on the issues of the day? No matter. He served in the Bush Administration, so he’s persona non grata.

What was most deplorable was the group of students who interrupted Cheney’s speech with foot-stomping and shouting before walking out. Instead of behaving like thoughtful adults and asking hard questions (as other students did), these hecklers decided to behave like children and shut their ears to opposing viewpoints.

None of this is surprising. But that hardly brings any comfort.

University of Gomorrah


Recently, a caller to the Diane Rehm Show on NPR repeated the statistic that one in four young women is raped on American college campuses each year. Rehm’s guest, former president Jimmy Carter, actually had said sexual abuse, not rape, but neither he nor Rehm corrected the caller. Carter was plugging his new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power – touted by publisher Simon and Shuster as “an impassioned account of the human rights abuses against women and girls around the world, particularly in religious societies.”

According to Carter, the administrators of “Harvard, Yale, Emory and the University of Georgia” refuse to take action against the predation of young women on college campuses for fear of negative publicity. However, he failed to mention that victims are not prevented from reporting cases to local police, nor that a number of accusations are made by victims for revenge against a male partner, knowing that simply making a charge stains him for life.

This style of blanket condemnation is typical of left-wing utopians like Carter, as demonstrated within the context of his diatribe against men everywhere for “gross abuse,“ including genital mutilation, spousal abuse, work place discrimination, attacks on Christian preachers for not following the dictates of the Bible and the proposition that women are treated worse today than in the time of Jesus.

As for college campus sexual assaults, what’s a mother to do? Young women leave home and join men their own age in an atmosphere that is best described as licentious. No parents to monitor them, complete freedom to come and go at any hour, alcohol and drugs everywhere – and gee whiz! Sex rears its ugly head. Worse, as feminist agitator Camille Paglia points out, college women are drawn into the radical cabal on most campuses that asserts females are superior, yet vulnerable to the male dominated superstructure of American society.

Apparently, college today is not only expensive and vacuous, but girls are susceptible to sexual attack by out-of-control boys trolling the campus for victims. Even if they manage to escape this cauldron of predation unscathed, graduates are faced with a two-front assault by their own president who has caused a deplorable  50% unemployment or under-employment rate for citizens under 25, coupled with a Soviet-style demand to purchase health insurance or be investigated by the IRS.

Perhaps Hamlet had it right: “Get thee to a nunnery!”

Yet Another Cost of Affirmative Action


From an Inside Higher Ed article today on a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination by Miami University:

“Marvin Thrash brought the suit after he was rejected for tenure. He had joined the public university in Ohio as an ‘opportunity hire’ after he was a finalist, but not selected, for an open tenure-track position in paper science and engineering. He argued that his record was devalued because of bias against those hired with affirmative action.”

Well, yes, it’s quite plausible that, if you are hired according to lower standards, some people will devalue your record.  One of the many costs of racial preferences.


Trouble’s Brewing in the Lowcountry


Students and faculty at the College of Charleston are infuriated. They’re upset that trustees tapped Glenn McConnell, currently South Carolina’s Republican lieutenant governor, to be the college’s next president.

McConnell’s opponents say he’s a “Confederate sympathizer” (he once owned a store that sold Confederate memorabilia and has supported flying the Confederate flag at the state capitol) and a career politician with no higher education experience. Even the NAACP has chimed in, claiming that a McConnell presidency will make the College of Charleston less attractive to potential black students.

Backlash regarding the board’s selection has brought some of the college’s management and leadership issues to the forefront.

This week, the college’s Faculty Senate drafted a resolution – to be voted on in April – stating that the presidential search was a “predetermined” sham that ignored the recommendations of a search committee and an outside consulting firm.

The resolution also alleges that the board of trustees has shown a “willingness to interfere in curricular issues” and has not been up-front with the College of Charleston community about a potential merger with the Medical University of South Carolina. The resolution expressed concern about the college’s “potential re-shaping into a research university.” 

Such language may reflect a belief that McConnell and the board have a vision not shared by the College of Charleston faculty. Indeed, in an interview conducted after his appointment to the presidency, McConnell said he’d like to make the college’s liberal arts focus compatible with the needs of businesses and local communities. 

Another issue, according to the college’s Faculty Senate and student government (which has already voted no confidence in the board of trustees), is that academic freedom and faculty decision-making have been undermined by the board’s tepid defense of a controversial freshman reading program that resulted in the South Carolina legislature voting to reduce the college’s funding.

McConnell has defended himself against detractors. He dismisses those who call him a racist by stating that his interest in the Confederacy is based on his broader fascination with Civil War history. And, perhaps to answer his lack of higher education experience, he wrote in his formal presidential application that his career in politics gives him a “network” of public and private contacts that can advance the college’s various initiatives.

It looks like McConnell’s off to a rough start, yet he hasn’t served one day as president. Opposition is intense and vociferous. Will he be able to adequately allay faculty, student, and alumni concerns and fears? Or will his presidency be derailed?

College Offers ‘The Sociology of Miley Cyrus’


We have a new winner for Dumbest College Course of All Time award.

Presenting, “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus”

Yes, it’s a real, full-credit course, offered at Skidmore College, which is among the most expensive colleges in the nation.

(via The Daily Caller)

What Caused the Grad School Debt Crisis?


Per Jane’s post below, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that bad policy created the increase in graduate school debt found in the new NAF (New America Foundation) report.

First, most of the increase occurred between 2008 and 2012, after a 2006 law eliminated the cap on borrowing from the federal government for grad students. It looks like the Bennett hypothesis is at work here: the government’s decision to offer more money to student borrowers was quickly followed by a massive spike in student debt.

What’s more, income-based repayment and student loan forgiveness policies can encourage students to take on additional debt by providing an opportunity to avoid paying it back. Jason Delisle, one of the NAF study’s authors, wrote about a program by which Georgetown Law quite explicitly takes advantage of federal loans and income-based repayment to educate students on the taxpayer’s dime. As more graduate and professional schools get wise to this loophole, the problem is likely to get worse.

National Labor College Folds, Migrates to Michigan State


For several years, the AFL-CIO ran its National Labor College in the Washington, DC area. I wrote about it back in 2009. But late in 2012, the AFL-CIO decided to close it because it cost too much money. Last year, the college seemed to find a new home at Michigan State University, but quite a few taxpayers and politicians objected to the use of state funds for what amounts to a training school for union activists. As we read in this Lansing State Journal story, the state legislation plans to take a bite out of MSU’s appropriation as a result.

Hat tip: Ben Brubeck

A New Look at the Debt Crisis


Loans incurred by students getting master’s and professional degrees may be even more burdensome than loans taken out by undergraduates, says the New America Foundation.

Using Department of Education data, the authors of “The Graduate Student Debt Review” show how large those debts are. The total debt (graduate and undergraduate) for the median graduate of a master’s of education program is $50,879; for master’s of arts degrees, it is $58,539. Needless to say, law school debt is higher—$140,616, which makes the borrowing for an MBA look good, a mere  $42,000.

“[D]ebt for students who earned a range of master’s and professional degrees has surged in recent years and the trend gained significant momentum  in the years between 2008 and 2012.,” write Jason Delisle and two coauthors. They estimate that 40 percent of the $1 trillion in outstanding student debt comes from borrowing for graduate degrees (that figure includes Ph.D.s).

This is worth pondering. Undergraduate loans are troubling enough—the average debt for college graduates was $29,384 in 2012. But when you add graduate debt, especially as young people go back for another degree hoping to enhance their job prospects, it is scary.

We Have a Tower of Babel, Not a Marketplace of Ideas


For the last several decades, American higher education has seen an enormous increase in the number of “voices” on campus as various groups have pressed for and gotten their own “studies” programs. Unfortunately, that has not led to a more robust marketplace of ideas, argues Professor Robert Weissberg in today’s Pope Center piece. That is because those new “voices” tend to shut off criticism of their ideas by contending that they have their own special “ways of knowing” and that outside criticism must be rooted in opposition to the group itself, not to the particular point at issue. Rather than more reasoned debate, we’re seeing more ad hominem attacks.

Cal State Makes Race/Ethnicity Class Mandatory


What do you do when student interest in your Ethnic Studies classes wanes? Lobby university administrators to make classes in your department mandatory for all students!

That’s the solution Ethnic Studies professors at Cal State came up with.

Alexandra Desanctis of Notre Dame University reports in her feature story today at The College Fix:

Ethnic studies educators at Cal State University Los Angeles who feared their departments’ could waste away due to waning student interest have successfully convinced their peers to add a race/ethnicity requirement to graduate.

In a recent controversial vote – preceded by student and faculty protests claiming ethnic studies face extinction – the public university’s academic senate agreed to require that one of two mandated diversity courses needed to graduate must focus specifically on race and ethnicity.

As it stands, Cal State LA students must take two diversity-related classes to graduate, but neither must deal specifically with race and ethnicity…

There’s no “diversity” like compulsory diversity.

What are the odds that Cal State requires even once class in US History?

Click here to read the full story.

Two Perspectives on Gainful Employment


Anyone who thinks that reformers on the right think alike should look at two assessments of the latest federal “gainful employment” regulations. Richard Vedder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity offers a scathing attack, while the Pope Center’s Jenna Ashley Robinson thinks that the rules have merit—and should be applied to all colleges, not just strictly vocational programs.

Aside from the authors’ differing styles, the articles differ on two main points. Vedder opposes the rules because they are directed mostly toward for-profit schools and because they are so stringent (“awful”): A graduate earning $35,000 ought to be able to pay $4,800 for a loan, he thinks.

In contrast, Robinson thinks that paying $400 a month for a student loan when one is earning $35,000 is a sign of excessive borrowing. While she agrees with Vedder that the for-profits are being unfairly singled out, she recommends that the rules be applied to all non-profits as well.

Vedder and Robinson agree that the government should not be in the college loan business. Vedder castigates the rules as another consequence of federal meddling. “Indeed, in a perfect world, the feds would exit the student loan business, replacing it with private entrepreneurs making loans or buying equity in future student earnings, thereby ending the need for ‘gainful employment’  regulation.”

But if they are implemented, the rules would likely reduce loans from the government, and that is a positive start, Robinson says: “Ever since the passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965, federal funding has been steadily ratcheting up—more money for more students to go to a huge array of schools. These rules are a long-overdue ratcheting down.”


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