Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Ministry of Truth Update


In this discussion of how Department of Labor regulations apply to academia, it’s noted that the American Association for Affirmative Action has changed its name to the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity.

Incidentally, those regulations are unconstitutional, if any university or university employee (including of course faculty members) would like to challenge them.

Good Intentions Come with Costs


Due to a horrific crime some years ago, the federal government passed what is known as the Clery Act (named for a young woman raped and killed in her dorm room). The law requires universities to record and report the crimes on campus, including but not limited to violent crimes.

Needless to say, this law has had unintended consequences. Crimes are relatively rare on campus, and compiling this information is a chore that takes a lot of time.

The requirements are somewhat vague and the law has a long reach. Robert Whaples, an economics professor at Wake Forest University, wrote a post in the Independent Institute’s Beacon about having to take crime-reporting training and passing a test—simply because he is a club advisor. (Okay, it only took an hour and a half because he was able to get out of the in-person training and did it online. But he’ll probably have to take the test again next year, and he is just one among many.)

Did it accomplish anything? He wrote:

In my twenty-plus years as coach of the Wake Forest Quiz Bowl Club and as a professor, I cannot recall even once becoming aware of a crime that needed to be reported. If I had, I would have reported the crime.

So what does the law accomplish? It’s not clear that it accomplishes anything. In a Pope Center article, George Leef contends that this is another example of the overreaching that comes with federal laws that are enacted by emotion not reason.


Liberal Education Should Get Students to “Think Slow”


Daniel Kahneman’s intriguing book Thinking, Fast and Slow has many applications and in today’s Pope Center piece, St. Lawrence University economics professor Steve Horwitz sees a connection to higher education. Most students enter college with their slow-thinking faculties little developed. That is, they’re apt to rush to judgments about an unfamiliar idea without taking time to ponder what that unfamiliar idea really means and whether it could possibly be correct.

One example Horwitz gives is the concept of spontaneous order. Many students, first confronting such thinking, dismiss it as lacking in concern or compassion. If they slow down — which is what the professor should get them to do — they will understand that unplanned orders often work far better than do ones based on top-down controls that purportedly aim at accomplishing good objectives.

Several weeks ago, I reviewed a book arguing that higher education should have a leftist bias. Nope. The only bias it should have is in favor of slow, deliberate, logical thinking.

Professor Horwitz’s conclusion is right on the money: “The human brain is just as much a product of evolution as the rest of our bodies, and the job of good liberal educators is to help students understand our evolved reactions and fast thinking and give them the tools to slow that thinking down and recognize those biases, as well as acting to correct them.”

Today’s Sex Ed


What is the academic value of a student club that celebrates and engages in kinky sex?

That was one of many questions that rolled through my mind as I reported recently on how a University of Chicago-sanctioned student club called “Risk-Awareness Consensual Kink” received $200 from the student government to help fund field trips to Chicago’s “biggest dungeon.”

While these students are technically adults, we’re talking late teens and early 20s. How many among us can say we knew what we were doing at that age?

It’s often been said that the proliferation of Sex Week seminars and orgasm tutorials at our colleges is all about education, and the positive reinforcement of sexual identities and desires.

But the reality is these events influence young, developing and impressionable minds, telling them the if-it-feels-good-do-it mentality is totally fine, perfectly normal, and in fact healthy.

Administrators are complicit in this scheme, which peddles promiscuity and sexual experimentation as liberation and education. But ultimately they serve as behavior and lifestyle modification tools, and not for the better.

Back to the University of Chicago, the very same campus that offers on-campus abortions, gave students a chance to try out what it feels like to be sexually electrocuted and flogged last spring, and in 2013 screened porn films as part of its Sex Week observances.

A campus spokesman told me earlier this month that “the University of Chicago is committed to student health and safety. …” If health and safety at one of the nation’s elite colleges looks like that, then this world is truly upside down.

Why Don’t Others Get This?


It’s refreshing when someone spells out the facts about higher education so that they could not be clearer. This time it’s a blogger on, J. Maureen Henderson, writing about how many students are prepared for college.

ACT, the organization that competes with SAT, issues an annual report. Based on the latest, Henderson writes that only 39 percent of the students who took the ACT test this year did well enough to “be reasonably confident (non-academic factors notwithstanding) that they’ll succeed in their first year college classes and continue on in their education to earn a degree.”

Yet 86 percent of them plan to go to college (and only six percent of those expect to get a vocational degree).

The ACT report also gave some information about last year’s test-takers. While 87 percent intended to go to college; only 69 percent actually did. But given the student performance on ACT, Henderson points out that “a significant number of college freshmen showed up for their first day of classes last fall with dim prospects of making it through the next four years.”

Shouldn’t this report be resonating through the halls of the Department of Education bureaucracy? Shouldn’t this report give the “college for all” enthusiasts some pause?


Conundrums Regarding Preferences for “Hispanic” Students


Weak as the argument for preferences for black students is, it’s strong as steel compared with the argument that students who happen to have some “Hispanic” ancestry deserve special treatment by elite colleges and universities. Their ancestors weren’t enslaved; on the contrary, some were conquistadors who extended Spanish dominion over native peoples. Including “Hispanics” (or “Latina/o”) among the preferred groups makes no sense other than as a political ploy.

In this Discriminations post, John Rosenberg observes that giving preferred group status to “Hispanics” involves some conundrums. For example, some Brazilians trace their ancestry to Americans who fled the Confederacy after the end of the Civil War. Because Brazil is regarded as “Hispanic” (even though the language is Portuguese), if a young Brazilian of such lineage were to apply to one of our prestige universities, he or she would get the Hispanic preference.

Why don’t we just call the whole thing off?

Sex and College


The local NPR affiliate interviewed an incoming college freshman female student and her mother as they prepared for the opening of school. Instead of happy chattering about the new experience awaiting her, the student was concerned by the probability she would be sexually assaulted, or the victim of other varieties of violent crime. Are these genuine concerns or paranoid fears stirred up female activists and a hyper-active media?

Sadly, a little of both. The statistics say 25 percent of college females are sexually attacked, a statistic that requires a grain of salt tempering the statistics by deleting incidents reported  by females that follow-up  investigations reveal were exaggerated. Across the country males have had their lives negatively affected - or ruined – by girls who report consensual sexual liaisons as assault or rape to exact revenge, knowing that simply bringing a charge stains a man for life. Or cases arise out of remorse, covering up unladylike behavior with a patina of outrage. And, of course, the age-old role of alcohol is invoked, a double-edged message that conveys, “I was drunk and he took advantage of me.” (I am forced to add an old joke. What is the mating call of the Southern co-ed? “Ya’all, I’m so drunk”!)

No matter the actual facts in these cases. A police report that doesn’t corroborate an accusation is rarely the end of the matter. Instead, buoyed by righteous lessons taught in women’s studies courses, the alleged victim turns to the college. Now schools are burdened with acting as the justice system,  a role traditionally relegated to student courts. But the students dragooned into these roles discover that the truth does not matter when it comes to l’amour

Dissatisfied with the results in the nation’s system of justice and time-honored student-run courts,  female  activists appeal to the sisterhood in Congress, or local government lamenting the system is unfair and demanding more be done, especially prevention. The Feds get involved and have passed laws and regulations requiring colleges to implement “policies” and create costly infrastructure and awareness programs. The result is that going to college, formerly a joyful expectation, is fraught with anxiety. Another reason not to go at all.

Trustees and Academic Content: No Dilemma


It may be a matter of pouring old wine into new bottles, but the report on “Governance for a New Era” issued by the American Council for Trustees and Alumni does provide good advice for university trustees.

Will they take it? The evidence that trustees will respond is rather weak, especially to ACTA’s overarching message, which is: Trustees “must regularly assess the cost/value proposition of academic and non-academic programs in setting their goals.”

In other words, trustees are supposed to consider and actually define their mission and priorities and review the school’s educational content to see if those are being fulfilled.

Trustees should set the “educational strategy,” however much the faculty doesn’t like it. Now, it is true, the report says, that “faculty should always have the first word when it comes to the curriculum, and their expertise must have a central role in shaping policy on academic quality.” However, “faculty cannot be the last and determining voice regarding academic value, academic quality, and academic strategy.”

The report recommends that trustees:

  • Outline educational outcomes desired (such as their views on the required level of mathematical knowledge or whether students should know a foreign language)
  • Review the general education program (i.e., core curriculum) and its effectiveness in preparation for post-college life
  • Annually assess what programs have been dropped or added, along with the criteria that have been used to make those choices.

Those sound good to me, and we can hope.

National Higher Ed Leaders Call for Reforming University Governance


In a newly released survey, ACTA found that 89% of the public believes college is becoming unaffordable for the middle class. And over 90% believes that boards of trustees should take the lead in reforming higher education to lower costs and improve quality.

Governance for a New Era, the report of a project led by CUNY Board Chair and former president of Yale University Benno C. Schmidt, and signed by 22 national higher education leaders, couldn’t be timelier. Over the past several months, leading college and university faculty, trustees, and presidents met and discussed the unprecedented challenges facing America’s institutions of higher learning. The result is this new report, which clearly identifies trustees as fiduciaries, not cheerleaders and boosters, and urgently calls on them to take a more active role in the governance of their institutions than they have traditionally held.

Tomorrow, at 9:30 a.m., Benno Schmidt will lead a discussion of the report’s findings and recommendations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He will be joined by Tom McMillan, University of Maryland Regent and former U.S. Congressman; Richard DeMillo, Distinguished Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and author of From Abelard to Apple; and John Engler, former Governor of Michigan and President of the Business Roundtable. You can find the details here.

“We are concerned that Government is rapidly approaching a tipping point for the student loan system”


That title could certainly apply to the U.S. but instead it’s from a report in the U.K., where higher ed suffers from most of the problems we find here. As we read in this Freeman piece by British writer Emma Elliott Freire, the idea of requiring colleges to have some “skin in the game” is also surfacing over there.

A Well-Reasoned Piece on the Salaita Affair


Via PrawfsBlawg, Professor Steven Lubet’s recent Chicago Tribune op-ed on the case.


In Case You Don’t Know What a “Passout Page” Is....


Twitter has many uses that might not occur to people who went to college long ago and don’t have much familiarity with such social media. In the latest Pope Center piece, Harry Painter (who is a recent grad) explores some of the innovative uses of Twitter that college students have devised. It seems that we have another “invisible hand” phenomenon here. As Harry writes, “While this is probably not their intention, people who expose their friends on the Internet may unwittingly be encouraging moderation. Especially those who know that they cannot tolerate alcohol will want to avoid being the next online sensation at their college.”

“Post” Pabulum Depression


Here is a long — painfully, 876-words long — call for “Increasing College Diversity” on Huffington Post.  It’s quite unremarkable, the usual pabulum, and not at all worth reading. 

I post it only to note that at no point does the author argue that “diversity” will yield educational benefits for white and Asian students by exposing them to random conversations with students having a different melanin content from themselves.  Even that is not itself noteworthy, since most defenses of “diversity” likewise fail in this regard.  But it is worth noting that even those who defend the use of racial and ethnic preferences don’t seem to think much of the only legal defense the Supreme Court has recognized for such discrimination.

Is Mitch Daniels the New College President Model?


When Mitch Daniels went from Governor of Indiana to president of Purdue University, I wondered if he would remain true to his reputation as a no-nonsense guy who cared about efficiency rather than being popular. It would have been easy to just take the reins and then coast along, making a few minor changes but doing nothing of much importance. Now that Daniels has been at Purdue for more than a year and a half, it seems that he is remaining true to his reputation. Rich Vedder writes about Daniels in his latest SeeThru.Edu piece.

While big-spending college presidents who devoted most of their time to fundraising and trying to enhance the image of their schools were the rage for the last three or four decades, Vedder argues that the new model of a successful leader will be much more like Daniels than, oh, Gordon Gee.

A Student Who’s a Good Example of Mike Munger’s point


A recent Pope Center article by Duke professor Michael Munger made the point that college education most fails liberal students because professors rarely challenge them to confront the possibility that their convictions might be in error. The letter below, written by GMU professor Don Boudreaux to a college junior supports Munger’s argument very well. The student, who fancies himself well informed, resorts to pointless invective in his lame rejoinder to Boudreaux’s point regarding the current college fad over “sustainability.”

16 August 2014
Mr. Joshua Holman
Mr. Holman:
Upset by my “Notable & Quotable” in today’s Wall Street Journal, you ask if I can “really be so clueless to not know the commonsense meaning of sustainability.”  You then baselessly accuse me of being “paid by the Kochs to emit word pollution” to “block the work of the many activists struggling to save our planet from over use, exploitation and destruction.”
Here’s a quiz: Who wrote the following? “It is very hard to be against sustainability.  In fact, the less you know about it, the better it sounds.  That is true of lots of ideas.  The questions that come to be connected with sustainable development or sustainable growth or just sustainability are genuine and deeply felt and very complex.  The combination of deep feeling and complexity breeds buzzwords, and sustainability has certainly become a buzzword.”
a) me
b) Ronald Reagan
c) George Will
d) John Stossel
e) Milton Friedman
f) Robert Solow
The correct answer is “f,” Robert Solow* – a distinctly Progressive Nobel laureate economist at M.I.T. who nevertheless, by your logic, must have been paid by “corporate polluters” to “discredit the sustainability movement.”
You describe yourself as an “informed and involved college junior.”  I don’t doubt that you’re involved.  But I beg you – sincerely – to consider the possibility that your information is not as full and free of error as you now suppose it to be.  Reality cannot be grasped, and it certainly cannot be improved, with slogans.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics

College Debt and Home Buying


Last week the Washington Post reported on a study by Goldman Sachs about the effect of college loans on home buying. The study found debt to be a significant deterrent: Among millennials (in this study, people aged 25 to 34 in 2010), having a student loan of $50,000 or more reduces a person’s chances of buying a home.

The homeownership rate for people who carry more than that is estimated to be 8 percentage points lower than it is for college graduates with less than $50,000 in student debt, according to the analysis, which is based on the Federal Reserve’s 2010 Survey of Consumer Finance.

The study also found  that if graduates pay 10 percent or more of their income on student loans, their rate of homeownership is about 22 percentage points lower than others in the cohort.

The good news is that only 6.6 percent of people that age had more than $50,000 in debt. But that was four years ago and it does not appear to include those who graduated from high school only!

Law Professor Calls Out “The Law School Scam”


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

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

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

Can Group Work be Useful in College?


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


The Latest Excuse for Limiting Free Speech on Campus


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

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

Postmodernism Invades the Courts


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

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

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

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

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


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