Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher 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.


British Students Insist on Being Taught Junk Economics


Students at some universities in Britain recently staged a protest to insist that their economics professors stop teaching free-market theories, and a professor backed them with calls to just teach about Marx and Keynes — stuff that’s about “the real world.”

In this Freeman article last week, SUNY professor Sandy Ikeda gives that idea a sound thrashing.

Does the Accreditation System Do Any Good?


Accreditation, a soporific subject long ignored, has been getting quite a lot of attention lately. Jay Schalin writes about the barrage of criticism that the accrediting system has taken, even from quarters that are generally friendly to the higher-ed establishment, in a Pope Center piece last week.

Accreditation has turned into one of those “the emperor is wearing no clothes” cases: it has a completely undeserved reputation for ensuring quality in the schools that get the stamp of approval when in fact it does no such thing. It is a very inefficient way of keeping students from wasting federal college subsidies on diploma mills, but it gives the accreditors a great deal of leverage over colleges, leverage that is often abused in pursuit of leftist fads.

It is time to decouple institutional eligibility for federal funds from accreditation. If accreditation has any useful role to play, let it make that case to institutions free to say “no thanks.”

Janet Napolitano Gets Going at University of California


The new president of the University of California system, Janet Napolitano, has hit the ground running — with diversity! Peter Wood gives us the unhappy details here.

Here is his conclusion:

It would be a rich irony if our former deporter-in-chief managed to reinvent herself as California’s Ms. Diversity.  Napolitano, however, is seemingly unhindered by old commitments.  When it comes to basic principles, she has a versatility that would strike Niccolo Machiavelli dumb with admiration.

More Support for Banning Racial Preferences


I’m not sure whether the authors of this new study intended that support or not, but it does indeed bolster two of the main points made by critics of racial preferences: First, that they have a significant impact on who gets admitted; and, second, that universities will not stop using them unless they are required to do so in no uncertain terms by a law or a court ruling. Thus, the amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court recently by Pacific Legal Foundation in Fisher v. University of Texas cited studies by the Center for Equal Opportunity to show that the amount of weight given to race had not been diminished by the Grutter and Gratz decisions in 2003 — that, in fact, there was evidence of more discrimination now than ever, and that the amount of discrimination was dramatic.​

Can the College Board Be Objective?


I wish I knew the answer to the question in the title. The College Board has been around so long, and it has been the source of the exams that, years ago, provided a way for smart but low-income students to prove their worth that it has a pretty good image. Yet, like other organizations in the higher-education field, it has its interests to protect. And George Leef argues that it is outdoing itself in its latest study, Education Pays: The Benefits of Higher Education for Individuals and Society. His article “College Board Hearts College Bubble” notes some points left out of the report. 

One reason for the supposed “earnings premium” is that “credential inflation has spread over the employment landscape just like kudzu over a field.” Not only is the college diploma less valuable than it used to be (and many rosy statistics inevitably reflect the past) but credential inflation has squeezed high-school graduates out of jobs they could otherwise have had. George writes: “The main reason why college appears to confer a big earnings premium is not that graduates are so productive, but rather that fewer and fewer good career paths remain open to people who don’t have college credentials.”

George discusses plenty of other points left out of the report.

One of the most irritating parts of the paper is that it doesn’t cite any of the critics of “college for all,” so someone reading the report can’t easily read the sources that the College Board report dismisses as “anecdotal.” And, finally, the report throws in what I consider red herrings — college students exercise more, smoke less, and are less often on public assistance, etc. As George says, for the most part those are correlations not causation. And, “Tellingly, the authors overlook the possibility that college might cause some students to adopt bad behaviors they might otherwise not have, such as heavy drinking and use of drugs.”

Getting Unprepared Students Through College


Eileen Toplansky, who teaches at two colleges in New Jersey, has a revealing article on the American Thinker entitled “Dysfunctional Literacy.

It is worth reading for the light it sheds on the tactics that many colleges employ to maximize the number of weak and disengaged students who complete their degrees. After all, they “have a lot riding on improved retention.” Certainly — they need the money whether or not the students learn much.

Toplansky writes, “The vocabulary base of many of my students ranges between the fifth and seventh grade reading level. The dictionary is a foreign object. Yet, incessantly, instructors are told to engage in peer-review; that is, students grade and evaluate other students’ work.” Why not? That probably makes the students feel good about themselves, while relieving the instructors of some onerous work.


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Racially-Charged Remarks


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan dismissed growing protests over the federal government’s Common Core curriculum, attributing pushback against the curriculum to disgruntled “white suburban moms” whose children aren’t “as brilliant as they thought they were.”

Duncan, formerly CEO of the Chicago Public School system, knows plenty about underperforming students because he’s been responsible for so many of them during his career. For example, according to a 2012 report, only one out of five eighth graders in the Chicago public-school system can read at grade level.

But I guess, according to Arne Duncan, if you aren’t a “white suburban mom” you probably won’t be concerned about a statistic like that.

I wonder: Does Secretary Duncan care more about concerns of “black urban moms”? Or does he dismiss the opinions of all parents equally, regardless of skin color?

Higher Education’s Spontaneous Order


In today’s Pope Center piece, Troy Camplin argues that it’s impossible to reform education. That’s because education (at all levels) is a spontaneous order and no one can reform that kind of order– from the top down, anyway. Much as many people want an education system that teaches students how to write well, for example, it’s not possible to demand that the system suddenly do that. Most students write poorly because, Camplin explains, the notions about teaching writing that dominate throughout the education system today have been spreading since 1972 and are, sadly, part of the order. Change can only come from the bottom up by persuading people to change their beliefs and that is easier said than done.

New Obamacare Ads Depict Women as Ditsy and Dumb


Liberals love to tell us how devoted they are to women’s equality. Why is it then that we always find them engaging in the most demeaning kinds of political propaganda, aimed at women? (Remember “Life of Julia” anyone?)

Case in point: the appalling new ad campaign to promote Obamacare in Colorado.

Annica Benning reports this morning for The College Fix:

Obamacare advertisements released this week feature the phrase “got insurance?” along with photos of young women excitedly clutching birth control pills with attractive men standing nearby.

In various versions of the ad, the women’s thoughts are spelled out something like this:Let’s Get Physical. OMG he’s hot! Let’s hope he’s as easy to get as this birth control. My health insurance covers the pill, which means all I have to worry about is getting him between the covers.”

…These degrading and exploitative ads portray women as giddy, sex-starved and desperate, whose biggest wish is that some hot guy will be “easy to get.”

…The real message is that women are now not only fully accessible to men, but easy access, thanks to Obamacare, and the promise of sex without consequences. What a fantastic sentiment to pass along to our daughters.

Indeed, what a sentiment. Liberals are reaching out to young women with a message so bereft of intelligence and sophistication — it’s impossible to see it as anything less than an insult to women.

As dumbed down grammatically (“I got insurance” and “”) as it is intellectually, the Obamacare ads reveal what a low estimate of intelligence the left has for young women.

The Obama administration and its supporters should be aware that there are millions of American women who want affordable health insurance that works and doesn’t rob them of choices.

What they didn’t want is a broken down wreck of a law, sold with lies that you could keep your insurance but that in fact has led to the cancellation of millions of people’s insurance policies and produced a non-functional $700 million website supported by a bunch of ads that limit a woman’s horizons to a goofy grin over a pack of pills and the desperate hope that some guy will be easy to get “between the covers.”

Safe to say you won’t hear a peep of protest form the liberal/feminist establishment in this country. For them, a Democrat can do no wrong. On the other hand, in the last 24 hours I’ve come across numerous razor-sharp young conservative women like Annica Benning who say just how insulting they find these “OMG, he’s hot!” Obamacare ads. So which point of view would you say truly represents women’s empowerment in this case?

Click here for Benning’s full article.


Walk (out) of Shame


Growing up seems to be out of fashion on campus today. When confronted with ideas that don’t mirror their own, students at elite schools figuratively place their hands over their ears and shout at the top of their lungs to drown out the offending words, over and over, “I can’t hear you.”

One example is the recent treatment Brown students gave New York police commissioner Ray Kelly: they shouted him down until he left the stage. A less publicized but equally egregious incident occurred at Duke a couple of weeks ago. In this week’s Clarion Call, Jane Shaw discusses how students protested controversial sociologist Charles Murray by turning their backs and walking out of the auditorium just as he began to speak. Roughly half the crowd participated in the childish demonstration.

Perhaps even worse, reading comprehension also appears to be passé at Duke. Shaw shows how the students who sounded the ignoble retreat badly misinterpreted Murray’s work as they vilified him.

Texas Legislature Should Stop Targeting Wallace Hall


College and university trustees aren’t simply charged with being cheerleaders for their institutions’ administrations. They are fiduciaries with not only the right, but also the obligation, to ask questions and exercise oversight.

But the story that has unfolded over the past couple of months regarding University of Texas regent Wallace Hall illustrates that there are powerful forces ready to overreact whenever they smell the slightest trace of accountability.

Hall is currently facing impeachment at the hands of the Texas legislature. While he has certainly made some mistakes, the questions he has asked are appropriate and well within bounds for a university trustee. ACTA president Anne Neal comes to his defense in the Houston Chronicle:

University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall may not be a perfect trustee, but his work on behalf of the people of Texas deserves support — not impeachment.

Impeachment is a rare sanction reserved usually for elected officials who have engaged in serious malfeasance. It is not a club to wield when there are policy differences or to intimidate appointed officials when, in good faith, they are doing their job. The legislature has determined to target Hall, and the public should say “enough.”

Read the complete article here.

The Libertarian View


“There’s a debate currently raging about the value of education, which is filled with people of our generation trying to tell people 20 years younger what they ought to do,” write Sarah Skwire and Steve Horwitz on the “Bleeding Heart Libertarians” blog. They give a light-hearted sketch of the debate, which they consider to be tripartite: 1) drop out of college and become an entrepreneur; 2) get your degree to signal your abilities; and 3) study liberal arts because it’s good for you. But since they are libertarians they conclude that young people can do what they want. “Now get off our lawn.”

Edifice Complex?


Did you know that college construction is in a “lull”? That’s the case at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where (according to the campus newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel) only $331.6 million worth of building is going on. That’s only ten projects; things haven’t been as bad since 1994, when only six projects were underway. Meanwhile, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, there’s a plan to build a $91 million recreation center for students, the most expensive building ever on that campus, reports Jesse Saffron of the Pope Center. That’s running into some controversy, though, since each student is paying $435 a year in fees for that building alone. At least it’s not as expensive as North Carolina State University’s recent Talley Student Center, which came in at around $120 million. But then, NC State has 30,750 students and UNC Greensboro has only 16,938.

The striking thing about these projects is that, for the most part, they are paid for by student fees. The North Carolina legislature, showing admirable restraint, hasn’t authorized state appropriations for major university construction (some rehab, however) since fiscal year 2007–08. The fact that students have to pay for these buildings for years to come hasn’t halted construction — but at least it has created a “lull.”

He’s Fed Up


 Dr. Assad Meymandi is an extremely erudite psychiatrist, scholar, and philanthropist in North Carolina. and he’s fed up with higher education.

The basic question is: Are our universities citadels of knowledge or a huge stage for entertainment? America’s higher education seems to be held hostage to sports, athletic programs, and entertainment. The new east addition to UNC’s Kenan Stadium costs $70 million, adding thousands of seats, luxury boxes, and plush athletic training and tutoring facilities, while the infrastructure of the science laboratories is eroding and in ill repair. I never understood a system that rewards a coach with as much as five million dollars a year income, fifteen times the chancellor’s salary, and rewards the science professors, those who deliver the end product of a university, namely, scientific research and knowledge, with a comparative pittance. Lord knows I have tried to understand this diabolic system but have failed. I fear America’s higher education is on the wrong track.

It’s not just sports, though. He’s upset about the fundamental lack of knowledge of today’s students, and the implications for freedom in the United States.

We have replaced studies in chemistry with healthy cooking and trigonometry with understanding mortgages. A student will be more likely to read Harry Potter than anything by Thomas Jefferson. Most disturbing is that our young college students are better versed in a peculiar guilt for their forefathers’ misdeeds than in the proud history of the West’s pre-eminent society. That guilt will further compromise the basic understanding of what is sacred about our nation and the United States Constitution.

Read more at “The Sad State of Higher Education in America.

From Each According to His Earnings


Proposals that would make the repayment of student loans depend on the subsequent income those students earn have been much discussed lately. Oregon has put forth a vague plan along those lines and recently Brookings published a paper advocating that loan payments should depend on the income of the individuals. In this week’s Clarion Call, I argue that this is not a good idea. It would encourage more marginal students to borrow for college when our need is to discourage those who are not likely to benefit from college — at least costly programs that require considerable debt.


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