Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Anti-Affirmative Action Lawsuits


Roger Clegg reports on the Corner that Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) has filed two lawsuits charging Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill with discrimination. The SFFA is a membership organization composed of “highly qualified students” who were rejected in favor of less qualified students due to affirmative action policies. The organization will hold a press conference today.

The Failure of Liberal Compassion


As the aphorism goes, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Over at the Federalist, D.C. McAllister shows how that road was paved at UNC-Chapel Hill. She takes on the do-gooders in the African and Afro-American Studies Department who engaged in academic fraud to “protect” athletes from low-income neighborhoods, tough family environments, and weak K-12 schools. 

“At the core of this scandal is the failure of liberal compassion in which struggling students are treated with disrespect under the guise of sympathy by giving them academic freebies instead of challenging them to succeed on their own merit,” she writes. “Anyone…who put hope in the lies and deception of liberal compassion should feel a deep and abiding guilt for robbing people of their dignity, disrespecting them by not believing in their ability to succeed, enslaving them to the lying schemes of sympathetic benefactors, and for stealing their self-respect in order to bolster others’ pathetic egos.” 

McAllister has the right message, but the people who need to absorb it won’t. Most people have an unyielding belief in the rightness of their views, and they are even more obdurate when they believe that their beliefs are morally supreme. 


Introducing Homosexuality-based Affirmative Action


The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania, reports that admissions officials are actively trying to guess who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or “ally” based on their applications.

Or as my colleague Greg Piper at The College Fix notes: UPenn is practicing gaydar in reading student applications. And although it’s unclear what exactly admissions officers consider “gay” and how that affects applicants’ chances, apparently they are pretty good at it.

“Since 2010 when the tracking of LGBTQ applicants started, the Office of Admissions has seen huge growth in the number of LGBTQ or ally applicants, plus a 152 percent jump in those admitted and 270 percent jump in accepted applicants who ultimately matriculate,” The Daily Pennsylvanian reports.

Tags: affirmative action , homosexuality

The Crazy Word That’s Verboten at Smith College


The left’s lexicon of words deemed too hurtful to be repeated has reached a new level of ludicrousness.

The word “crazy” was redacted and replaced with “ableist slur” in the school’s newspaper and in a transcript of a panel event at the school on the subject of – wait for it – free speech.

It doesn’t get much crazier than this.

In response to this madness and other idiocy as a result of the Smith panel discussion, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s co-founder and chairman Harvey Silverglate wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “on campuses across the country, hostility toward unpopular ideas has become so irrational that many students, and some faculty members, now openly oppose freedom of speech.”

“The hypersensitive consider the mere discussion of the topic of censorship to be potentially traumatic,” he continued. “Those who try to protect academic freedom and the ability of the academy to discuss the world as it is are swimming against the current. In such an atmosphere, liberal-arts education can’t survive.”

This country was founded in part on the ideal of freedom of speech; it’s the First Amendment for crying out loud. And yet there are colleges out there that charge tens of thousands of dollars annually (in Smith’s case - $44,450) to foster this notion among students that hurt feelings trump free speech. This ideology does not prepare students for the real world, in which life is not fair and feelings are often hurt.

When will the madness end?

Tags: Smith College , Free Speech

Killing the Liberal Arts


Last weekend, FIRE’s Harvey Silverglate penned a must-read article in the Wall Street Journal.

In it, he tells the story of an event at Smith College gone ironically awry. In the modern academy, even progressive, feminist, ACLU members aren’t safe from ad hominem attacks by the mob.

The panel started innocuously enough with [panelist and lawyer] Ms. [Wendy] Kaminer criticizing the proliferation of campus speech codes that restrict supposedly offensive language. She urged the audience to defend the free exchange of ideas over parochial notions of “civility.” In response to a question about teaching materials that contain “hate speech,” she raised the example of Mark Twain ’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” arguing that students should take it as a whole. The student member of the panel, Jaime Estrada, resisted that notion, saying, “But it has the n-word, and some people are sensitive to that.”

Ms. Kaminer responded: “Well let’s talk about n-words. Let’s talk about the growing lexicon of words that can only be known by their initials. I mean, when I say, ‘n-word’ or when Jaime says ‘n-word,’ what word do you all hear in your head? You hear the word … ”

And then Ms. Kaminer crossed the Rubicon of political correctness and uttered the forbidden word, observing that having uttered it, “nothing horrible happened.” … There’s an important difference, she pointed out, between hurling an epithet and uttering a forbidden word during an academic discussion of our attitudes toward language and law.


The contretemps prompted articles in the newspapers of Smith College and neighboring Mount Holyoke College, condemning Ms. Kaminer’s remarks as examples of institutionalized racism. Smith president Ms. McCartney was criticized for not immediately denouncing Ms. Kaminer. In a Sept. 29 letter responding to the Smith community, she apologized to students and faculty who were “hurt” and made to feel “unsafe” by Ms. Kaminer’s comments in defense of free speech.

Was Ms. Kaminer being deliberately provocative? Surely. In the world of education that is not always a bad thing. Was daring to pronounce the ugly and offending word imprudent? Perhaps—but is that really the issue? The rush to denounce and attack her ought to make those concerned about free expression awfully queasy. Stop and contemplate for a moment what humankind’s legacy of literature and art would look like if everyone whose comfort level was violated could suppress the offending words and works. 

Speaking on an American university campus has become harder than walking on eggshells. The hypersensitivity that has gripped our colleges simply cannot coexist with the fearless, unrelenting, occasionally uncomfortable debates that ought to characterize the experience of higher education. For at the end of the day, we must always remember that while civility is a laudable virtue, free speech is a fundamental right, and education that stays within everyone’s comfort zone is hardly worth the name.


Thumbs Down on the “Gainful Employment” Rule


In today’s Wall Street Journal, Steve Gunderson, president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (the group that would be decimated — or worse — by the Education Department’s proposed rule) has an article arguing that the “gainful employment” regulation would be damaging and is motivated by the leftist animosity toward making a profit in education.

I don’t like the rule either. Not only is it unfair, but more importantly it doesn’t provide any remedy for the problem that gives rise to the angst over student debt repayment. The rule is worse than the proverbial band-aid on a machete wound; it’s more like a band-aid on someone with a brain tumor. Here’s my letter:

Steve Gunderson is right (“Making ‘Profit’ a Dirty Word in Higher Education”) that the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rule makes no sense. Suppose that it were implemented and as a result many of the for-profit postsecondary schools that offer job training programs had to close because their graduates don’t earn enough to cover their student loan debts. Those students would then go to other schools where the training is no different and find themselves in similar circumstances after graduation, thus putting those schools in jeopardy under the rule.

The essence of the problem has nothing to do with the for-profit schools; it has everything to do with the fact that the Obama administration and particularly Obamacare has wrecked the job market for young people looking for full-time jobs. As long as the federal drag on full-time employment remains, we will continue to have a great surplus of young people — with and without college credentials — who can’t get a good start in a career.

Federal policy dangles lots of easy money in front of all high school graduates, encouraging them to enroll in college and worry about the costs later. That policy combined with the government’s impediments to a robust labor market inevitably causes the problem so many young people face, whether they went to a for-profit school or non-profit school: too little income and too much debt.

George Leef
Director of Research
John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy
Raleigh, NC

Let’s Play “Are You Smarter Than a College Student?”


Q: Who won the Civil War? 

A: Uh…

Q: Who is the Vice President of the United States?

A: Uh…

Q: Which country did the U.S. gain its independence from? 

A: Uh…

Well, to be fair, those were difficult questions. Let’s switch it up. 

Q: What show did Snookie first appear on?

A: Jersey Shore


Q: Who is Brad Pitt married to?

A: Angelina Jolie

Correct again, contestant! You are college material. 

“Academic Slums”


The truth is beginning to take hold: the scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill is about corruption of its academic administration, not merely its athletic program.

In a Raleigh News & Observer article, a UNC business professor (and business man) castigates those who dismiss the problem as mere athletics:

Maybe I am missing something, but where was the athletic scandal? Were teams shaving points? Were tennis players intentionally making bad line calls? Were soccer players taking performance-enhancing drugs? Were athletes competing on the field who were academically ineligible?

He argues that business-like governance is needed at the school and, in fact, praises UNC for making the dean of UNC’s business school, James Dean, its provost.

Going further, economist and syndicated columnist Walter Williams writes that universities like UNC benefit by creating “academic slums, where weak students can ‘succeed.’”

Athletics departments benefit from the millions of dollars the student-athletes earn for them, but in addition, the whole university thrives, except for the students who were accepted even though they can’t do the academic work.

Stronger academic departments benefit because they do not have to compromise their standards and bear the burden of having to deal with weak students. Then there’s that feather in the diversity hat upon which university administrators are fixated.

The story is different for the students who aren’t ready for college. “How cruel is it for UNC to admit students who have little chance of academically competing on the same basis as its other students?” Williams asks.

Pretty cruel.

“Let the Sunshine In”


That’s the title of a short piece I did today for Minding the Campus, urging the new Congress to pass a bill that requires federally-funded universities (a) to report whether they use racial preferences in admissions, and (b) if so, how those preferences comport with the Supreme Court’s constraints on them.  Let those who support racial preferences explain why they should be kept secret from taxpayers and why the federal government needn’t know if their use is consistent with federal law. 

College Prerequisites Are...Racist?


A junior mathematics major at UNC-Chapel Hill recently wrote an op-ed for the flagship’s paper, the Daily Tar Heel. In it, he writes, “Due to racist prerequisites, some students of color or low socioeconomic status are excluded from pursuing certain majors.” He then singles out College Algebra for being a prejudicial barrier to entry to STEM fields, and suggests that the university should enhance academic tutoring and mentorship for black students.

The student partially blames the public K-12 system for leaving students ill-prepared for the rigors of a strenuous college degree program, and of course he’s right to do so. But his idea for turning college into a remediation warehouse is misguided.

He continues: “Any student graduating from an accredited North Carolina high school should be able to complete any course of study that results in a degree.” Any student? Any course?

First, it should not be the task of universities to make up for the academic negligence that takes place at the K-12 level. Second, not even all top high school students should be “able to complete any course of study that results in a degree.” Bright literary-minded students may not perform as well in a statistics course as bright math-inclined students. Individuals have different skill sets and proclivities. And being able to “complete any course” does not mean being able to “excel in any course.” 

The op-ed writer appears to have fallen for two unfounded and oft-repeated assumptions: that merely being cycled through college degree programs is in the best interest of low-achieving students, and that greater production of STEM graduates is in and of itself a worthwhile goal. 

Two Very Different Views of College


Back in October, Harvard’s president Drew Faust penned an article for USA Today in which she dished out a heaping plate full of smiley face cliches about higher education: more money, healthier lifestyles, greater civic engagement, and of course, the way college “opens minds and worlds in ways that defy measurement.”

True for some, but for a great many young Americans, the college experience is nothing like that. For contrast, I suggest reading Eileen Toplansky’s Nov. 8 American Thinker article “I Did Not Come to College to Read.” Toplansky, who teaches English at Union County College in New Jersey, finds little of that mind opening going on. “What more instructors are faced with is a classroom of bored students who would rather stare into space than actually tackle the lesson at hand. And remember that for financial aid purposes, ‘D’ and ‘D-’ are passing grades.”

The college environment hardly consists of deep thinking about academic disciplines and mankind’s problems. Instead, students are bombarded with rhetoric on the panoply of leftist causes. Faculty members have to concentrate on how to get students who don’t want to do assignments to make some effort.

Higher education? It’s barely education at all.

Many Law Schools Lined Up Like Dominoes Ready to Fall


In this recent post on his TaxProf blog, David Caron links to a piece by Cleveland State’s David Barnhizer, which contains distressing news for a lot of law schools: they could go belly up.

Law schools are good evidence for my argument that we have oversold higher education. For many years, people kept hearing that law school was a good “investment” that would pay off even if you didn’t land a lucrative job in the legal profession. And now we have a surfeit of them, with many highly-paid professors and deans nervously hoping that other schools will fail and they’ll survive.

But if you think about law school the way the higher ed establishment types usually do, it’s hard to see any problem. After all, on average lawyers earn way more than do people without college degrees, and quite a lot more than most people with them. Therefore, doesn’t it follow that we need more law school graduates? Based on the argument we usually hear from the establishment, it would seem that we should be opening more law schools and enrolling more students to fill the apparent demand.

“The Forgotten American Dream”


In the middle of the 20th century, some sociologists and economists began to speculate on what society would look like in a post-capitalistic world - a world that had become so wealthy that the big “problems” of the day would revolve around how to distribute wealth and what to do with “free time,” i.e., leisure. Technological progress would remove the burden of workday drudgery, leaving mankind free to engage in nobler endeavors. But which leisurely pursuits would be pursued? This newfound interest set in motion the creation of leisure studies departments. 

University of Iowa professor Bejamin Hunnicutt has become a prominent defender of the field. He recently gained attention with the 2013 release of Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream, a book that argues that the American Dream has “been reduced to economic growth and confined by government budgets,” and that our lives would be enriched by working less. Earlier this year, in an article on Politico, he asked, “Why Do Republicans Want Us to Work All the Time?” He was responding to conservatives who had pointed out that one of Obamacare’s detrimental effects will be cuts to Americans’ work weeks. For Hunnicutt, of course, that unintended effect is a desirable one. 

George Leef, in today’s Pope Center feature, looks closely at the leisure studies field, and upends its defenders’ basic assumptions. The inescapable problem of scarcity is completely ignored by leisure studies scholars, according to Leef. The Marxist utopia envisioned by many academics disregards the fact that “goods and services only appear when individuals work to produce them.” Also, argues Leef, individuals have different preferences for leisure, and those preferences are revealed by how much time they spend working. “Some poor people prefer to allocate more time to leisure while some rich people choose to be workaholics. People have different values,” he writes. 

Also overlooked by leisure studies academics is that free market capitalism provides workers with more leisure, without any coercion from central planners or regulators. As our standards of living progress and as the division of labor becomes ever more expansive, our options – including how we choose to spend our free time  - multiply. As Leef points out, “Only in American universities – fulsomely supported through people’s work – could [leisure] become the grounds for a field of study.” 

The UNC Saga Continues


Kenneth Wainstein’s report on the 18-year reign of “paper classes” at UNC-Chapel Hill was designed to end the scandal once and for all. But that’s not happening.

For one thing, the NCAA has re-opened its investigation of UNC-Chapel Hill. In that light, it might be of more than cursory interest that the NCAA has just punished the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. The university “lacked control over, and failed to monitor, its athletics program” for five years, says the NCAA. Because it did not “properly certify the eligibility of 40 student-athletes,” the university will be punished by vacating all basketball and men’s ice-hockey wins with the ineligible players, reducing points for women’s skiing and swimming competitions, banning post-season play this year, reducing scholarships, and a fine of $30,000.

That seems to set a high bar for punishing UNC for its severe academic fraud, which took place for 18 years involving 3,100 students (about half of whom were athletes).

We’ll see. Meanwhile, Michael McAdoo, the former UNC-Chapel Hill football player whose badly flawed student paper launched the search for academic fraud in 2011, is suing the school. His class-action suit, filed in federal court, says that the university deprived him of a “legitimate education” because it focused entirely on keeping athletes eligible to play. 

Intellectual Diversity and Law Schools


The Federalist Society last Saturday sponsored a symposium at Yale Law School that discussed “Achieving Intellectual Diversity” on law school faculties.  It was a sequel of sorts to an earlier symposium that it had sponsored at Harvard Law School.  Saturday’s event began with opening remarks by Yale Law School’s dean, Robert Post, and two others, followed by three panels:  “What Can Law Schools Do To Encourage Intellectual Diversity?,” “What Can Intellectual Diversity Do for the Practice of Law?,” and “What Can Intellectual Diversity Do for Legal Scholarship?”

A video will be available of this valuable event, and I’ll be sure to share that link with Phi Beta Cons when I get it, but in the meantime here is what I, as a participant on the second panel, had to say.

Board Games


Higher education’s three-part governance is broken, and the fundamental problem isn’t hard to find. Faculty and administrations behave as expected, both aggressively pursuing their interests. Boards of governance, on the other hand, are missing in inaction. There was a time in the early 19th century when they were the universities, exercising an iron grip on classroom content. While liberalizing was necessary at that time, today academia suffers from the opposite problem. Instead of using their considerable power to make sure that academia maintains some balance, governing boards have been effectively neutralized by their own weakness.  

Without strong boards that bring common sense from the outside world into the insular Ivory Tower, academia races headlong into the mission-creeping aggrandizement favored by administrators or into the People’s Republics demanded by the highly vocal leftist faculty.

In this See Thru Edu post, I discuss one reason why otherwise conservative Trustees, Regents, Governors, Visitors—the ones from whom reform is expected—are so ineffective: because they see higher education’s problems not as situations to be addressed, but as “costs’ to be borne in the pursuit of other goals, as if academia was the business world.

Also on See Thru Edu, Hamilton College history professor Bob Paquette took a no-holds-barred look at his own school’s governing board. He describes a new breed of college trustee as “financiers from Wall Street and executives from left-leaning non-profits,” with an “accommodationist, rent-seeking, internationalist mindset largely compatible with the left-leaning culture so visible in, say, the bowels of the State Department or the EPA.” 

Judging B-School Applicants


Over the last ten years, the percentage of Asia-Pacific students taking the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) – the business school entrance exam – has doubled. Today, 44 percent of GMAT-takers come from countries such as India, Korea, and China (only 36 percent are from America). And, as this Wall Street Journal article indicates, those students are crushing their American competition. They’re far outpacing Americans, particularly on the quantitative section of the test. Many B-school admissions officers say that a score on the quantitative section is the best predictor of success in an MBA program. 

One result of these disparities is that Americans’ percentile rankings have dropped, even though their raw scores have remained constant in recent years. With Asia-Pacific students applying to and attending American business schools in large numbers, some schools complained to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which administers the GMAT. As the WSJ put it, schools “don’t want to become factories for high-scoring test-takers from abroad.”

The schools were unsatisfied with the global rankings, which made it harder to determine American applicants’ relative scores. Their thinking: a test-taker from Georgia may be in the 74th percentile globally, but how does he or she compare to other Southerners? To other Americans? Other males/females? And so, in September, GMAC announced new “benchmarking tools” that will allow B-school admissions officers to compare applicants without relying solely on global percentile rankings.

From the B-schools’ perspective, boosting enrollment from abroad is a goal to be balanced with another interest: enhancing ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic “diversity.” In this instance, however, I’m in agreement with one B-school admissions officer (who chose to remain anonymous) interviewed by the WSJ. The officer argued that the focus should be on improving math instruction at the K-12 level, not creating a “different [admission] standard for U.S. students.” 

False Sexual Misconduct Claim Derailed Former Yale QB’s Dreams


In case you missed it, an op-ed published Nov. 3 in the Boston Globe by former Yale University quarterback Patrick Witt is making the rounds. In it, Witt details how his promising NFL career and an opportunity at a Rhodes Scholarship were completely derailed by a baseless “informal complaint” lodged against him and adjudicated by the then-newly-created Yale University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.

If ever there was a quintessential example of how “jerrybuilt, due-process challenged​“ campus sexual assault tribunals wield far too much power, and how mere claims are held sacrosanct by administrators to the detriment of the young men who stand accused, it’s this one.

“I would say more about what the accusation itself entailed if indeed I had such information,” Witt writes. “Under the informal complaint process, specific accusations are not disclosed to the accused, no fact-finding takes place, and no record is taken of the alleged misconduct. For the committee to issue an informal complaint, an accuser need only bring an accusation that, if substantiated, would constitute a violation of university policy concerning sexual misconduct. The informal ‘process’ begins and ends at the point of accusation; the truth of the claim is immaterial.”

As Greg Piper on The College Fix points out, Witt “goes on to state that Yale pretty much lied to him about the consequences of this ‘informal complaint’ – Witt’s post-graduation job offer was rescinded and his potential Rhodes Scholarship became untenable following an ‘anonymous tip.’”

“I cannot begin to describe how exasperatingly difficult it has been to try to explain to people what an informal complaint is and how there was never any evidence — nor any effort made to discover evidence — to substantiate the claim made by my accuser,” Witt writes. “My summer employer and the NFL certainly couldn’t understand it, and the media flat out didn’t care — the words ‘informal complaint’ were all that was needed to establish my guilt in their eyes.”

How many more Patrick Witts need to have their lives ruined before there’s an end to this madness? There are currently at least 44 lawsuits filed against universities across this nation alleging due process and other violations in adjudicating sexual assault claims.

Witt is now attending Harvard Law School. I have a feeling I know what type of legal battles he might want to tackle first.



Tags: Patrick Witt , sexual misconduct claim

The Surprising Story Behind UCLA’s Diversity Mandate


That UCLA is on the verge of approving a new policy to require students to take some sort of diversity course to graduate is not surprising. Many universities foist such extraneous indoctrination on students.

What is surprising is the large and vocal contingent of professors who bravely called out the requirement for what it is – an unnecessary and biased burden, financial and otherwise, on students and the school. Or as one astute scholar labeled it: “Ideological puffery.”

The faculty vote to approve the requirement didn’t exactly sail through. It was 332 to 303. What’s more, this effort has been raised at least twice before in the last decade and both times it failed.

There is a strong contingent of conservative, libertarian and practical professors at UCLA who are willing to stand up for common sense. They were outvoted this time. But it’s refreshing to see they put up a good fight at all, and were able to convince a large number of their peers to vote “no” as well.” 

Tags: UCLA , diversity mandate

Causing the College Credentials Craze


While a few die-hards in the higher ed establishment keep saying that we must put more and more young Americans through college because the labor force needs more brainpower, it’s well established that much of the demand for people who’ve graduated from college is just screening. There are so many people who have degrees that nothing is lost by screening out all of the presumably less capable people who don’t. How we got on that track is the topic of a piece I have posted on Forbes.

Quite a bit of the blame, although not all, should go to the Supreme Court for its 1971 Griggs v. Duke Power decision. That case, which mangled the meaning of the 1964 Civil Rights Act so as to let the zealots at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have their way, turned ability testing into a legal minefield for employers by importing the “disparate impact” notion into the law. As a result, companies started turning toward college credentials as a proxy for ability, a way of screening out lower ability workers that wouldn’t cause any legal trouble.

We probably would have had something of a higher ed bubble just from the way the government has subsidized it and pushed the notion that more education is always worth it, but Griggs helped inflate the bubble too.

Here’s a question I would like to know the answer to: has anyone ever challenged a company’s college requirement on the same logic as prevailed in Griggs?



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