Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

A Highly Practical Course Surprisingly Few Students Take


That would be personal finance and in today’s Pope Center piece, Professor Josiah Baker of Methodist College in North Carolina writes about the rather surprising fact that few students take a course that could pay off enormously for them.

I’d disagree with him on one point, though. Baker says that the mathematics involved in a personal finance course aren’t beyond the ability of any college student.  Perhaps, but many are so completely math averse that the prospect of dealing with any numbers at all probably scares off a lot of students.

What Should Policy Schools Do?


James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley have an excellent, incisive commentary on schools of public policy. These programs, created to bring social science and efficient, nonpartisan administration to government offices, face a host of problems. Their missions have become unclear as fewer and fewer students enter government, their faculty work on problems that are remote from the needs of government workers, and their research is increasingly specialized. The authors quote the former dean of Princeton’s public-affairs school saying that she “doesn’t know anyone in government who would read the academic journals that policy-school professors get rewarded for publishing in,” and while the “need for translation [for lay readers] is ever greater, the rewards for translation in the academy are ever smaller.”

But their most telling criticism comes here:

The mission of [schools of public policy] began to change in the 1970s, when the Ford Foundation issued multimillion-dollar grants to eight universities, including Yale, Duke, and the University of Michigan. According to Graham Allison, writing in 2006 in the Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, the new cadre of students needed to be versed in not only “budgetary cost and efficacy” but also “social equity, civil rights, and quality of life.” People who were concerned with intragovernmental relations and American federalism began to seem “old and crusty,” DiIulio says. Now the goals of these schools were to dream up ways to “make the world a better place.”

The old goal of running an efficient government was not enough for students who want to “make the world a better place.” Figuring out how to run the snowplows efficiently in a small town (one of Piereson and Riley’s examples) is out; tackling “climate change, demography, budget problems, terrorism, extremism, and partisanship” is in.

It’s all well and good to bring a broad, learned perspective to policy questions — indeed, for years ACTA has advocated for core liberal-arts disciplines in college curricula.  Similar but more advanced studies would surely be useful to a master’s student in public policy. But policy programs have gone too far, neglecting the nuts and bolts of public administration that they exist to teach.

In ACTA’s work, we’ve seen a similar issue in undergraduate curricula. Many professors are more excited to teach niche courses in their research interests than the mainstream courses that students need. Students, in turn, don’t think they need foundational courses — and they often prefer The Cultural Politics of Lady Gaga to the American Founding, anyway. As a result, they graduate with big gaps in their knowledge

The heart of the problem is that students and professors underestimate the value of their own work. Students who (at age 23) insist on tackling “bigger” problems than those of their local police department or FDA office probably don’t have a lot of respect for the day-to-day work of policemen or food inspectors. When those same students graduate and enter respectable jobs that need to be done but lack the heady glamour of their Ivory Tower training, it is easy to see why they may be unprepared for their jobs.


Fighting Grade Inflation


Lately, the world of higher ed has been abuzz with the news, reported by the Harvard Crimson, that the most common grade awarded at Harvard College is an A. ACTA has long been concerned with the issue of grade inflation, and over at our blog we offer some thoughts on how to fight it. The key, we write, is greater honesty and transparency on transcripts:

Mark Bauerlein suggests an even better solution: for each course listed on a transcript, print the average course grade next to the student’s grade. ACTA suggested just this policy in Measuring Up: The Problem of Grade Inflation and What Trustees Can Do. And some legislators in Texas have been pushing for an “Honest Transcript” bill that would mandate it at state universities.

Read more here.


The Burden of Proof


Zealous defenders of the higher-education establishment often argue that the case those of us who think that higher ed has been oversold make is weak and unpersuasive, consisting merely of some anecdotes and poorly researched studies. I think the case is far stronger than that, but where should the burden of proof lie, anyway? Should it be up to skeptics to prove that higher ed frequently doesn’t work, or up to its advocates to show that it does? In this new SeeThru post, I argue that the burden of proof rests on those who contend that higher ed is doing a good educational job, and that they have hardly even tried to do so.

How Much Are Degrees Worth?


In today’s Pope Center piece, Tom Burnett takes a look at the data that Virginia compiles on graduates of its public colleges and universities: what did they major in, are they working full-time, and how much are they earning? His general conclusion is that a large percentage of those students, far from making a great investment, have spent a lot of time and money to little purpose.



Do Animals Deserve Personhood?


Do Animals Deserve Personhood? That was the question asked at a conference held at Yale over the weekend. Featuring a collection of gender theorists, philosophers, and psychologists, the conference — entitled “Personhood Beyond the Human”– provided a forum for academics to ponder the age-old question: Is to moo to be a man?

“If at least some animals are psychological persons, isn’t it time to extend the legal protection of ‘human rights’ from our species to all beings with those characteristics?” the conference website reads.

What do you want to bet that every one of these Ph.D.s arguing for the legal personhood of dolphins and apes would bend over backwards to argue against such legal recognition for viable unborn humans subjected to partial-birth abortion?

Check out the full story at The College Fix.

Comparing Higher Education With a Drug Gang


That’s what Alexandre Alfonso does in this intriguing post.

Hat tip: Edububble

Who Needs a Core Curriculum? Not Students


We weren’t quite prepared for the reaction to the Pope Center’s recent proposal to revamp general education at UNC–Chapel Hill.

Background: There is no core curriculum at Chapel Hill. As their generation has been doing since pre-school, high-self-esteem students “construct” their own educations, reflecting their “natural curiosity” and “desire to learn.” Students at Chapel Hill can select from 4700 courses, including such gems as “Cowboys, Samurai, and Rebels in Film and Fiction” or “The Gardens, Shrines, and Temples of Japan,” rather than, say, “American History up to 1865.”

A number of students were offended by the idea that their elders might know better than they what they ought to learn. A member of the Class of 2015 wrote: “I have chosen my own path, I have done well, and it’s my education. I am ready to do whatever it takes to protect my intellectual freedom.”

In today’s Clarion Call article, Jay Schalin and Jenna Robinson (authors of the original report) respond: “But if students already know what they need to learn, then what is the point of a college? They could just go to the library or sit in front of a computer screen all day.” They give nine other responses to critics as well.



University of Nebraska Bans ‘Offensive Speech’


“We pledge to remove derogatory terms from our vocabulary.” So declared the student government of the University of Nebraska.

Andrew Desiderio reports on this latest attempt to implement sensitivity speech codes in his feature story today at The College Fix.

It’s going to be tough for these sensitive students when they get out into the real world, isn’t it?

Amanda Again, Alas


It seems unbelievable that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito are being retried for the murder they did not commit when they were students in Perugia, Italy, in 2007. The overturning of the original guilty verdict in 2011 righted the monstrous miscarriage of justice of the original guilty verdict of 2009, as much as it could be righted legally, anyway, but now the two are being subject to a retrial. Evidently, the parents of the murdered girl pushed for it, along with the prosecutors, and Italian law permits it. The parents want justice for their daughter, of course, but the injustice in this case is the fact that the real and only killer, Rudy Guede, is serving a sentence of a mere 16 years, for a vicious sexual assault in which he repeatedly stabbed poor Meredith with a knife about the neck so that she choked on her own blood and died with her eyes open, having fought mightily for her life. And while the killer serves 16 years, about a third of it already expired, the prosecution is demanding 30 years for Amanda and close to that for Raffaele. Simply unbelievable. So much went wrong with the investigation and prosecution and reporting of this crime, and so much of what went wrong can only be classified as irrational. The whole thing truly qualifies for that overused term, witch hunt, down to the imputation of sexual depravity to a pretty, innocent, and, at the time, badly confused young woman. We have to stand firm in the belief that justice will be done and that God is not mocked.

Propagandizing in a Mass Communications Course


We read in this Campus Reform piece about a professor in a course that’s supposed to be about mass communications who is fixated on the “institutional racism” of America.

Why that should ever come up in a communications course, much less repeatedly (as the complaining students say), is beyond me. But as we know, many professors think that their job is to act as “change agents.”

University Presidents’ Farewell Packages Hurt Students


Skyrocketing college tuition continues to put pressure on families struggling to make do in a sluggish economy. Recall the median family income is approximately $53,000 a year — less than the net price at some elite private colleges. So it is no surprise that the generous salaries of many college and university presidents have provoked some outrage.

But what about the money some presidents and top administrators make after stepping down? A recent story in the Boston Globe highlights the lavish farewell packages many university presidents walk away with. Take a look at the deal Jehuda Reinharz, former president of Brandeis University (my alma mater), got:

[Reinharz] received more than $600,000 in salary and benefits in 2011 . . . And that’s on top of the $800,000 Reinharz earned in his new job as president of the Mandel Foundation, a longtime Brandeis benefactor.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s Anne Neal offered her take on how these outrageous compensation packages hurt students in a letter to the Globe. She writes:

At many institutions, administrative spending is rising faster than instructional spending, in part because top administrators are so highly compensated. These misplaced priorities have a very real effect on students . . . .[W]hen colleges reduce administrative costs, they can hold down tuition without sacrificing quality.

Trustees have the responsibility to identify and curtail administrative costs. The families facing skyrocketing tuition have to make tough decisions about their finances. There is no reason college trustees and top administrators should not be doing the same thing.

Read the full letter here.

We Have Oversold Doctoral Degrees Too


I have been arguing for years that America has oversold higher education. In today’s Pope Center piece, Gary Jason of Cal State–Fullerton argues that one aspect of that is our “pointless proliferation of Ph.D.”

He contends that with better information on the career prospects for Ph.D. holders, the demand for that credential would start to decline. I suspect he’s correct. Look at what has happened to law-school applications in recent years as word has gotten around that just having a J.D. doesn’t ensure high-paying legal employment.

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation


American history is certainly not a strong portion of our nation’s (especially college students’) knowledge base.  With that in mind, while many are adding Thanksgiving night shopping to their plans — a topic for another rant — please also consider adding a reading from our first president:

New York, 3 October 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. 

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

Another Indictment of Low College Standards


Schools used to concentrate on reading and writing, but standards have slipped so badly that many college graduates now can’t communicate well enough to do jobs. Here is a CNBC piece on point, “Why Johnny Can’t Write, and Why Employers Are Mad.”

Americans living in, say 1963, would have been astounded to hear about college graduates who can’t do basic things that used to be mastered by kids in grade school. As my friend Steve Balch has put it, “We don’t so much have higher education, as merely longer education.”

Speech Codes Are Like Zombies


College speech codes keep getting struck down in court, but they come back to life. In this week’s Clarion Call, Greg Lukianoff and Robert Shibley of FIRE write about the battle they have to fight and refight against speech codes, and explain why college administrators continue to try placing restrictions on free speech.

Conservative Latino Student Called a ‘Traitor to His Race’


Leftist groups are smearing and threatening a conservative Latino student, after he attempted to organize a controversial event to bring attention to the issue of illegal immigration. Students at the University of Texas had planned to host a game called “Catch an Illegal Immigrant,” awarding $25 gift certificates for catching student-actors around campus wearing “illegal immigrant” signs. The event was ultimately canceled in response to widespread backlash on campus and in the media.

The student in question, Lorenzo Garcia, head of the UT chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas, admitted that the event had been in poor taste. But he defended the intention behind the event:  “I acknowledge that decision to include issuing $25 gift cards during the event was misguided and that the idea for the event was intentionally over-the-top in order to get attention for the subject,” he said. “It is a simple fact that illegal immigration is a concern in this country and that it is one we must face.”

The original event does strike me as callous and ill conceived. But it is far worse to hear of the threats Garcia is now receiving at the hands of the radical left. As reported on The College Fix yesterday morning, Garcia “has come under extreme fire,” and has received “death threats and accusations of being a ‘traitor to his race.’”

Down With Micro-Agressors Everywhere!


UCLA’s Graduate School of Education has sternly come out against micro-aggression, such as correcting grammar on student papers. One more bold stride for social justice! Read about it in this American Thinker piece by Thomas Lifson.

What Happens When a University Tries to Sell Unneeded Property?


North Carolina State is in that position. It owns a large tract of forest in eastern North Carolina, 120 miles from the campus in Raleigh. School officials want to sell the property and will apparently get to do so, but some students and professors are upset. Jesse Saffron explains the dispute in Monday’s Pope Center piece.

Fake Hate Crime Exposed at Vassar College


Another liberal college student has been caught perpetrating a series of fake hate crimes–this time at Vassar College.

It’s not like we haven’t seen this before.

Why do these phonies keep trying to pull the same stunt over and over? Not enough real hate out there to keep the sense of liberal grievance suitably primed, I suppose.

This time, it was a self-described transgendered student who was booted off campus in disgrace after being caught scrawling hate messages all over campus. The student was actually the leader of the school’s so-called “Bias Incident Report Team.”

More details here.


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