Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Getting Crazy on Campus Again


Many colleges are back in session, and you know what that means – absurdness abounds.

And if the first week of school is any indication, 2014-15 promises to be another year in which political correctness, indoctrination and academic bias rules the day at most campuses.

Just consider that in the last week, The College Fix has reported that:

  • The first official hate-crime hoax of the semester has already occurred. A female student at the Virginia-based Sweet Briar College hung “White Only” and “Colored” signs on water fountains on her dorm. When she fessed up, she said she was trying to “make a point.” The college’s president was sympathetic, calling the stunt “well-intentioned” and “theoretically positive.”
  • A wacky freshman orientation at Vassar College suggested that “jokes” and “traditional gender roles” can lead to rape and murder, and that to ask a pregnant woman if she is having a boy or a girl is “violent.”
  • A “disorientation guide” put out by student radical activists at Columbia University describes capitalism as being “responsible for countless wars, endless poverty, and mass exploitation and oppression for the sake of profit” and a system that establishes and encourages “racist, sexist, classist and homophobic conditions.” (page 13 of the manifesto)

And it’s only Week One.

Tags: indoctrination

Add to Reading List: “Aspiring Adults Adrift”


In 2011, Richard Arum’s and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift revealed that many students go through four (or five or six) years of college without realizing any gains in learning or critical thinking skills. The book sparked a national debate about the value of college degrees and the role higher education should play in preparing students for jobs. Today, that book’s follow-up,  Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, was released by the University of Chicago Press. 

Aspiring Adults Adrift tracks many of the same individuals analyzed by Arum and Roksa in 2011. It highlights how many of those graduates are experiencing unemployment and underemployment woes, still living with and relying on parents, and delaying starting families. An Inside Higher Ed review of the book can be found here.

Arum and Roksa emphasize that colleges and universities are largely to blame for those graduates’ problems, as they have, over the years, adopted an approach that focuses more on building fancy amenities and enhancing students’ non-academic experiences than on improving educational standards and increasing coursework rigor. 


The Feminist Thought Police Are On the Job


Apparently, it is forbidden (in certain circles, such as NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show”) to say that college women should learn how not to drink too much, in order to fend off date rape. The former president of George Washington University said something to that effect and was reamed by comments and emails saying that he was blaming the victim.

An online petition tried to get him to apologize. One commenter said:  “10 out of 10 rapes are caused by rapists. Not survivors who were drinking too much, wearing ‘too little,’ or walking alone at night.”

Trachtenberg explained his position further–to the Washington Post–but where was he wrong? We are witnessing an explosion of victimology surrounding the issue of date and acquaintance rape at college. It’s called that less and less, however; now it’s sexual assault or just plain rape and it apparently doesn’t matter what the victim was doing or what the relationship was with the perpetrator before she was raped. It’s rape and it justifies spending millions of dollars to provide counseling and advice and sensitivity training. Meanwhile, the other party in the date rape may have his life changed by being expelled from school.

As Trachtenberg remarked after the surge of negative reaction, in today’s environment “Don’t drive drunk is okay. Don’t date drunk, not so much.”

The Thin Gruel of English Department Fads


I have been mystified by what has happened to English departments since I was an English major half a century ago, but I’m beginning to get the drift.

For one thing, English has split into two parts. “Composition” has emerged. As R.V. Young noted in a 2010 essay, composition is “a new research field requiring theorization and publication, requiring numerous and mutable theories, since everyone in higher education is now expected to have an ongoing research project. … Reading and writing are completely different skills not to be learned together, and literature must, therefore, be banished from the composition classroom.”

But even the treatment of literature has totally changed in English departments, several times in fact.

In a new Pope Center essay, Troy Camplin charts the history of the trends in studying literature. They have culminated in analysis based on warmed-over remnants of outmoded ideologies from other disciplines—Freudianism, Marxism, feminism, etc. (Marxists are rare in economics departments, and Freud is no longer very popular in psychology departments; feminism does not seem to have a disciplinary base.) Camplin contrasts that superficial eclecticism with the solid grounding required for a major such as biology, where knowledge of chemistry, physics, and math is a must.

He has some ideas for getting English back on track (making it more like biology).

My Aha! Moment


I was very surprised recently when a North Carolina State University student told me that he felt his online classes were actually more engaging than his on-campus ones.

Call me old-fashioned, but I didn’t see how that was possible.

So I challenged him to write a column for The College Fix defending his position. He did, and I’ve got to say it’s actually caused a bit of a paradigm shift in me regarding online education.

The NC State undergrad essentially explained all the ways in which he has been required to virtually interact in his online classes, citing forum posts, phone calls, video chats, interviews and surveys.

He also debunked common notions that professors are less available through online classes, or that students are more engaged in a course if they’re within four walls of a classroom.

He then cited several plusses of online education that have been valuable to him, most notably flexibility.

As I’ve watched over the years online education efforts grow more expansive with the advancement of technology and in the wake of the higher education bubble, I’ve been dubious of such efforts, concerned they were easy As or not a true replica of the classroom experience. Perhaps I’ve judged too harshly. 

While the extra-curricular “college experience” cannot be duplicated online, kids nowadays have grown up in front of computer screens, and for better or for worse, it comes naturally to them.

Done correctly, an online class can be as engaging as a brick-and-mortar one for some students.

Tags: online education , distance education , higher education bubble


There’s Assault and There’s Assault


UNC-Chapel Hill has just implemented a new policy for handling accusations of sexual assault. The announcement of that policy by Chancellor Carol Folt made front-page news in North Carolina today, just as details began to emerge about an actual assault on a UNC-Chapel Hill student.

That actual assault was not sexual and the victim was not female. A UNC-Chapel Hill walk-on football player, sophomore Jackson Boyer, was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion earlier this month.

It’s been called a “training-camp altercation,” an “alleged hazing,” and a “group assault.” The story first broke in a Yahoo sports column on August 26, although the incident apparently occurred on August 4. One day after it became public knowledge (but more than three weeks after it occurred) UNC coach Larry Fedora announced the suspension of four team players from UNC’s opening game this weekend.

And today the Durham Herald-Sun reported a tweet by Boyer’s older brother that said, “4 players isn’t even 25% of group that assaulted my brother, leaving him unconscious and badly concussed.” He also accused the university of “actively covering up both players involved and the extent of the violence.” According to a family friend, Boyer’s family is hiring an attorney, the newspaper said.

It is hardly worth saying that the fanfare over what the school calls its sexual violence policy seems inappropriate in comparison to the high-level silence greeting actual violence.

One-Upping Collegiate Bureaucracies


Students at a handful of universities have created web- and phone-based applications that are helping their peers navigate the often confusing process of course registration, as Ariel Kaminer reports in the New York Times. 

At schools such as Rutgers, Brown University, and UC-Berkeley, those applications are moving legacy registrar systems into the 21st century. For the lucky students accessing the new technology, the registration process has become automated, faster, and more customizable.

For example, if someone drops a high-demand course, a student with a particular application can receive a notification and register instantly. Other apps allow students to easily discover an interesting elective or see which courses their friends have signed up for. 

Kaminer points out that while some schools have embraced the innovations, not all universities have welcomed them, whether because of worries about complying with student privacy laws or concerns about potential harm to existing computer systems.

Harry R. Lewis, the director of undergraduate studies for Harvard’s computer science department, told Kaminer that “students are always more entrepreneurial and understand needs better than bureaucracies…since bureaucracies tend to have messages they want to spin, and priorities they have to set, [while] students just want stuff that is useful.” 

The New York Times Enters the Ratings Game


It probably had to happen eventually. The New York Times has decided to start ranking colleges but with its own left-liberal twist. It will rank schools on how economically diverse the student body is. Specifically (in the one official description so far) it will launch “a new rating of colleges and universities based on their ability to attract underprivileged kids.”

David Leonhardt (former economics columnist for the Times) will lead the project and will give some details on September 8 at a Times-sponsored conference on higher education.

The Chronicle on Higher Education reveals what is public so far about this ranking and suggests that it will be more like Washington Monthly’s ranking of colleges than U.S. News and World Report’s. The Washington Monthly, the magazine states on its website, “asks not what colleges can do for you, but what colleges are doing for the country.”

Have Some Madeira, My Dear


There is no evidence, just anecdote, that sexual assault and rape are the scourge of co-ed higher education. But that inconvenient omission has not slowed down the feminist juggernaut to force college campuses to adopt protocols laid down by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. As UNC chancellor Carol Folt exclaimed announcing the adoption of the new policy, the school is taking  ”a vital step in taking a wide-ranging approach to ensuring a safe and welcoming campus.” She did not mention that, if UNC had not formulated and implemented what the task force ordered, the school would be sanctioned under Title IX anti-discrimination laws. In other words, the activists and the White House employed extortion to have their way with UNC.

Speaking of having their way, male college students are characterized as brigands lying in wait behind dorms to attack young women for sexual pleasure. This seems odd, and points out one of the  many contradictions in the picture of sexual assault drawn up by the female cadres. Back when virginity was valued, a man forcing himself on a woman was serious enough to be classified a capital crime. Now, girls have their independent female sexuality and a total loss of inner direction. The relationship between the sexes is defined by a strange mixture of female preoccupation with freedom to strut their stuff and an anachronistic obsession with protecting the goods, damaged as they may be. And public schools have emphasized unisex and female aggression; girls know the score earlier and earlier, and boys see sex as a commonplace. 

Yet, young males are mystified as never before. So like before, they rely on alcohol to wear down female defenses. The old Limelighters’ song “Have Some Madeira My Dear” (It’s ever so much quicker than beer) applies today, but the sexual-assault task-force types have connived to implicate the magic elixir in their quest to blame men totally for any issue involving sex. The liberal diva Diane Rehm, host of a daily  love fest of the Left on the predictably biased National Public Radio, asked a guest pushing the establishment of the task force requirements if it was true that fraternity boys masked strong alcohol in sweet drinks. Rehm was shocked, and outraged that unsuspecting co-eds are tricked into losing their inhibitions by drinking a potion that they never knew could cause inebriation. Come on Diane, never had Purple Jesus?

Utopians in all their causes think (no, make that feel) the facts and lessons of  the  past do not exist. They honestly  are committed to codifying and regulating human behavior, now to include sexual behavior, the greatest social mystery of all. As occurred with the Sexual Assault Task Force, the only way they can succeed is to defy free will by force. Stalin tried it, so why not here?


What about Freedom of Contract?


A number of questions have arisen since the University of Illinois rescinded a job offer to Steven Salaita, formerly a professor of English at Virginia Tech.

After mean-spirited, even vicious tweets surfaced in which Salaita attacked Israel’s policies and people, the chancellor rescinded the agreement with Salaita. The agreement had reached the final stages and was awaiting the trustees’ approval (pretty much a rubber stamp these days). Salaita had resigned his other post.

On the Pope Center site George Leef lays out the issues and reports some of the surprising reactions. (Cary Nelson, former president of the American Association of University Professors, defended the university, for example.)

Leef’s major point is that freedom of contract is a right, just as is freedom of speech. He writes:

I am a fervent defender of the First Amendment, but I think that extending the prohibition against governmental infringement with freedom of speech to the point where it interferes with the contractual decisions of public colleges and universities is a mistake.

No Sex Please, We’re Canadian


The Canadian student newspaper at Western University, Ontario, has abjectly apologized for a satirical freshman issue that, it says, “appeared to promote excessive drinking, drug use and sexual advances on teaching assistants.”

One article, “So you want to date a teaching assistant?” was the target of most criticism, especially from the university’s Society of Graduate Students. “This article makes rape culture and sexual violence worse, not better, on campuses,” said the president of society, as quoted by Katherine Timpf (writing elsewhere on NRO). In addition, the London (Ontario) Abused Women’s Centre took offense.

So Western University scrapped the entire satirical part of the “Frosh” issue.

Considering the reaction, The Gazette will not distribute the Frosh Issue during orientation week. In addition, we will carry out a full retraction by removing the Frosh Issue from campus and selected articles from our website.

Frankly, how bad could it have been? The president of the University Students’ Council called it “an error in judgment for these topics [excessive drinking, drug use, and dating TAs]  to be treated with irreverence.”

Irreverence? Is that all it was? Where is FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) when Canada needs it?

It Needed to Be Said: Yale’s President on Free Expression


When Peter Salovey, Yale University’s President, welcomed the Class of 2018 this past Saturday, there was a veritable buffet of issues he could have addressed. From declining academic standards to mounting student debt, there is much to be said to the young minds about to plunge into the world of higher ed. But even as academe remakes itself, one central feature remains paramount: free and open expression as the core academic value. Salovey chose exceedingly well when he made a re-commitment to free expression the central message of his address.

Only in an environment of free expression can new ideas take hold. This was the point Salovey tried to drive home. While many schools are greeting their Class of 2018 with sensitivity training and molly-coddling, Salovey challenged the new Yale students to grow up a little and recognize that engaging the world of ideas requires a willingness to listen (even when you disagree). Here’s how he ended the speech:

Nonetheless, I recognize that all of us here, in different ways, might also like to live in a campus community where nothing provocative and hurtful is ever said to anyone. And that is the part that I cannot–nor should not–promise you. For if we are not willing to be shocked, then we may not be allowing ourselves to be open to life-changing ideas, ideas that rock our worlds. And isn’t the opportunity to engage with those very ideas–whether to embrace them or dispute them–the reason why you chose Yale?

Hearkening back to the long tradition of free expression at Yale, he quotes C. Vann Woodward’s seminal 1974 report on free expression: “[C. Vann Woodward] argues that if we make ‘the fostering of friendship, solidarity, harmony, civility, or mutual respect’ the ‘primary and dominant value’ then we risk ‘sacrificing [the university’s] central purpose,’ education and scholarship.”

The report is a fantastic document which, as Yale’s “Freedom of Expression” landing page implores students, is worth reading in full. Its stance is aggressive but on-point – without free expression, there is no Ivory Tower.

Tags: Free Speech , Higher Education

Oregon’s “Pay it Forward” Plan Can’t Work


Jason Delisle of the New America Foundation explains in this Forbes piece that no matter how good its intentions may be, Oregon’s politicians cannot change the laws of public finance. Whether they raise taxes or borrow more now to cover state higher ed costs until student repayments kick in, the idea is too costly. That isn’t the only reason why PIF is a bad concept, but it ought to suffice to torpedo further movement toward it.

Another of Those “Women are Underrepresented!” Pieces


One of the favorite leftist tropes is that the US has a serious problem in that women (and other groups, of course) are “underrepresented” in certain fields. In this Washington Post article,  Catherine Rampell frets that the employment stats at high tech companies are not fair, and arrives at the standard solution of having colleges lure more women into the right majors.

Would consumers who use tech products and services be better off if all the companies in the field (or any particular company, for that matter) had ideal employment statistics, perfectly mirroring society? I don’t think so. If people like Ms. Rampell operated behind a Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” so that they did not know anything about the composition of a firm’s workforce, would they be able to discern any difference between “equitable” ones and “inequitable” ones?

And it’s pure fantasy to believe that women who are not otherwise inclined to go into the academic fields that lead to employment at companies like Google can be lured in by university officials who want to polish their social justice haloes.


Faculty Life


Hats off to the Washington Post.

First, the not-so-good part. The Post just published a somewhat mindless article by a former writer, Colman McCarthy, now an employee of the Center for Teaching Peace. He teaches peace studies at several schools as an adjunct.

Unhappy about the low pay of adjuncts (the national median is $3,000 per course), McCarthy advocates that adjuncts be paid $15,000 per class. That would be great, if money grew on trees. His suggestion:

Start with cuts to presidential salaries, which are at all-time highs. Annual pay packages from $500,000 to more than $1 million are common.

I’m not opposed to cutting presidents’ salaries, but, frankly, how many adjuncts would that pay for? This is just rhetorical fluff.

At the bottom of the article, however, the Post links to related articles, including one by David C. Levy, a “career-long academic and former university chancellor” (at the New School). His 2012 column discusses the debate over why tuition continues to rise. He writes:

Overlooked in the debate are reforms for outmoded employment policies that overcompensate faculty for inefficient teaching schedules.

And he goes on to discuss “inefficient teaching schedules.” Back when faculty were poorly paid (early in the twentieth century) generous work weeks made sense, but things have changed.

Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.

Furthermore, while conceivably such teaching loads might be legitimate for top universities focused on research, they know no such limits:

Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions. For example, Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks. Faculty members are also expected to keep office hours for three hours a week.

Now, that article raises some important questions!


Yet Another Dubious “Affirmative Action” Study


The Chronicle of Higher Education has short summary today of yet another dubious “affirmative action” study.  This one involves “an experiment in which students in the fifth through eighth grades competed for cash prizes and were paid according to their relative performance on a national mathematics examination”; students who were considered “disadvantaged” were given prizes even though they did not do as well, and the study found that this policy narrowed achievement gaps.  The abstract of the study ways that the experiment “creates a microcosm of the college admissions market.”

Here’s the comment I posted:

For starters, the study does NOT really replicate higher ed admissions, because here we do not have a zero-sum game – that is, no one is disadvantaged by the advantage given to the preferred students. And it appears from the abstract that no attention is given to the costs of preferential treatment (divisiveness, resentment, stigmatization, mismatching, etc. etc. etc.); instead the focus is just on one possible benefit, namely creating more incentive for the preferred students (a benefit that has never been recognized as “compelling” by the Supreme Court, by the way). And it seems hard to believe that demanding less of the preferred students is not ultimately a bad message to send to them. Finally, in deciding which students to prefer, there’s no reason to choose based on race rather than some other, less problematic factor — like, say, economic disadvantage.

On the last point, indeed, while the Chronicle summary talks about “demographic groups,” the abstract of the summary itself does not, defining “disadvantage” instead as those “who on average have less mathematics training and practice.” 

Shed a Tear for Sleep-Deprived Teenagers


Do college freshmen arrive on campus expecting to be coddled the way they were back home? Many faculty would say so, but watch out—they will be even more coddled a few years hence.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has just recommended that middle and high schools not start classes until 8:30 am or later. In a news release the academy says:

Many studies have documented that the average adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy

And it goes on:

The reasons for teens’ lack of sleep are complex, and include homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology that can keep them up late on week nights.

What about staying out late just for fun? Yes, that’s part of the sleep-deprivation problem, too, but today’s teenagers just can’t help themselves.

. . . getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.—and who face a first-period class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier the next day.

Read more about it in the Washington Post blog Answer Sheet.

Now She’s Helping Ruin The Whole Nation


They say those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

That’s certainly the case with Michigan’s former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who ran her state’s economy into the ground – and is now teaching college students about job growth.

Yes, under the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” department comes word that the class Granholm is set to teach this fall at UC Berkeley is focused on “creating jobs through better government policies.”

This is the same woman who led the state as its beloved automotive industry crumbled, its once booming metropolis of Detroit staggered into bankruptcy, and its unemployment rates exceeded national averages.

Look – even she hightailed it out of Michigan after her 8-year tenure in 2011 ended, grabbing a public sector job at her alma mater.

Now she’s teaching the best and brightest how to create NEW government sector jobs focused on the left’s favorite subject – green energy regulations.

This just goes to show how public universities are often ground zero for what’s going so wrong with America.

Tags: Jennifer Granholm , UC Berkeley

A Candidate for Guiness Book of World Records?


In this Chronicle of Higher Education story, we read about Mustapha Marrouchi, professor of postcolonial literature at UNLV. His claim to fame? Plagiarism; lots of it over a span of several decades. He gets caught at it, apologizes, and then does it again.

With all the time that professors have for their research and writing, you might think that this fellow could at least come up with his own words.

Liberals (True Liberals, Not Statist Pseudo-liberals) Meet in Charlotte


In a recent meeting at Johnson & Wales University, a private school located in Charlotte, NC, classical liberal thinkers got together to discuss their projects and goals — an event meant to “bridge the academic and policy worlds.” In today’s Pope Center piece, Harry Painter writes about the gathering, which brought together quite a few people, mostly from the Carolinas.

Adam Smith was the main instigator. Really. I refer to economics professor Adam C. Smith of Johnson & Wales.

Painter explains that “The main goals of the conference were networking and informing classical liberal scholars about what their colleagues are doing and what resources may be available. Five professors shared stories and best practices of the classical liberal centers they have established or run on campus.” One audience member commented that the classical liberal tradition ought to be revived in disciplines other than economics, where it has the strongest presence currently. Excellent point, although I suspect that trying to bring classical liberal thinking into fields such as political science and philosophy will face the same problem as organ transplants — the body treats it as an invader and attacks.

The success of the conference bodes well for future gatherings, probably including students.


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