Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

University Offers Class Devoted to Study of Miley Cyrus


Move over Plato and Aristotle–a new intellectual paradigm has dawned. “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” is the latest vigorous course offering at Skidmore College. “You can already see such a complex narrative of how people talk about her unbridled sexuality,” says the professor offering the newly launched full-credit course.

Full story here.

100% Liberal


There has been not one single conservative commencement speaker among the top 30 universities in the past two years.



The thing is, these universities are not even trying to look fair anymore. This is unapologetic liberal bias laid bare for all to see.


Putting a Price Tag on College


A curious article appeared on Bloomberg View a few days ago. Stephen Mihm asked the question, “Why are Americans so obsessed with putting a price tag on the value of a college education?”

He goes back to the turn of the previous century when college was for a tiny minority–those who entered the professions or were elite to begin with–and when business executives derided the idea that college prepared anyone for a job. “Except a skinned eel or a boiled lobster, few things are worse prepared for the struggle of life than the average graduate,” wrote one late-nineteenth-century pundit.

In fact, the goal of college was to “counteract the overweening mercantilism of the time and to lift society out of the mire of interests and gains,” said another.

Promoting education on the grounds of earnings began in 1913, when Northwestern University claimed that the lifetime value of a college education was $25,000. And then a Boston University dean reported that a college education was worth $72,000.

Interesting history, but, of course, it’s not the answer to Mihm’s question. While the practical value of college may have always been there in the background, today’s obsession is easily explained. The cost of higher education has gone beyond anything ever imagined until recent decades.  If you  pay for it and don’t get a good job you can be in hock for life.

Speaking Truth to Power


Now that disinvitation season is over, we are into the budget season. At least that’s the case in North Carolina as the governor and the legislature negotiate over state appropriations. We probably didn’t win a lot of friends at the University of North Carolina with the latest Pope Center article, “How UNC Can Shrink Its Budget,” by Jenna Ashley Robinson.

Jenna points out that recent  reductions eliminated 537 positions–but those were vacant! As for real people, seven out of the 16 campuses in the system didn’t cut any jobs at all and the system administration cut one. Yet administrators vastly outnumber faculty. At UNC-Chapel Hill (the flagship), the ratio is almost 5 to 1 and the school has more employees than students. Robinson recommends common-sense reductions such as cutting the number of administrators, requiring faculty to teach more, eliminating remediation, and reducing duplication.

The governor would like to see a cut of $49 million, but the Senate budget would increase the UNC budget, not decrease it. Taxpayers are likely to lose this round.

Surprise! Disinvitation Incidents are Up on College Campuses


A new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) confirms what anyone following the news has known for a long time now: protests against controversial speakers coming to college campuses have become more frequent and more successful over the past several years.

“Disinvitation Report 2014: A Disturbing 15-Year Trend” examines “disinvitation efforts at public and private American institutions from the year 2000 to the present.” Data was collected from a number of sources, including news accounts and case submissions to FIRE and other organizations.

Over at ACTA’s blog, the Forum, we discuss some of the report’s findings. Of particular note is the correlation FIRE found between the restrictiveness of an institution’s free speech policies and the frequency of disinvitation incidents. College is often a time of immersive education, and it turns out students really do absorb the values around them. If the academy itself demonstrates that free speech is subservient to political correctness, then students will get the message. That’s why, in Free to Teach, Free to Learn, ACTA calls upon trustees to establish comprehensive policies to foster academic freedom and intellectual diversity.


“The NEW Postsecondary Sustainability Award!”


As a regular reader of Department of Education announcements, I’ve come to see the department as a kind of profligate, demented Santa Claus, dispensing awards and grants for all kinds of things, such as hip-hop arts education, pre-K training, and “green schools.”  Yesterday, the department’s “Green Strides” newsletter excitedly announced that awards for “green schools” would be expanded to postsecondary institutions. 

Each state will now be able to add to its traditional list of nominees one postsecondary institution “for exemplary achievement in all three Pillars.”  These “Pillars” include Reduced Environmental Impact and Cost, Improved Health and Wellness, and Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education. The newsletter explained, “For this award, state selection committees are particularly encouraged to document how the nominees’ sustainability work has reduced college costs, increased completion rates, led to employment, and ensured robust civic skills among graduates, and to make an effort to consider diverse types of institutions.”  I fail to see how encouraging composting on college campuses will increase “completion rates,” lead to employment, or ensure “robust civic skills.”  One thing is for certain, though: improved writing skills do not seem to be in the mix of lofty, earth-changing goals–as evidenced by the grammatically disruptive, “to make an effort to consider diverse types of institutions.”

What’s a Professor to Do?!


Suppose you were a college math professor and discovered that most of the students enrolled in your class had trouble with arithmetic. That would present quite a problem.

Many English professors have pretty much the same problem: many of the students enrolled in their classes are very weak in writing ability and hardly ever read books. That’s the difficulty facing SUNY-Oswego professor Thomas Bertonneau. In his latest Pope Center piece, he writes, “Today’s students have read few books. What they have read is typically the topical, published-yesterday fiction that the hucksters in the scholastic book market sell to the middle schools and high schools as ‘edgy,’ ‘with it’ or ‘out-of-the-headlines’ portrayals of teenage anxiety.”

How do you connect a course on literary criticism to students who have virtually no idea what literature is? Bertonneau has struggled with that problem for years and in the piece he explains what has has found that works. When he does get through to students, he finds that they’re “grateful to step outside of heavily politicized discourses to encounter literature on its own terms.”

The Wrong Kind of Accountability


In his second term, President Obama has properly pushed for more accountability in higher education. But his administration has long had a misguided focus on singling out for-profit schools for particular opprobrium. This is most apparent in the administration’s push for stricter “gainful employment” regulations, from which traditional, non-profit degree programs would be shielded.

In its fight against these new rules, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities commissioned a study of the impact these regs would have on students enrolled in for-profit programs. What they found ought to make policymakers pause. According to Inside Higher Ed:

Because of gainful employment, the study found, more than 2 million students at for-profits would lose access to federal aid during the next decade. … And the report found a potential high end of as many as 7.5 million students losing aid.

For-profit education providers often serve students from underprivileged backgrounds. If the programs in which these students are enrolled are blacklisted, many will be unable to find a qualifying program to which they can reasonably transfer. In an effort to protect the vulnerable from unscrupulous providers, new “gainful employment” rules could end up putting any sort of higher education out of reach for those who need it most.

This is just more evidence that the kind of accountability higher ed needs won’t come from singling out for-profits for extra top-down regulation. What we need is across the board transparency requirements for all types of schools—public and private, nonprofit and for-profit. Armed with knowledge, students looking at all types on institutions will then be able to evaluate what programs best suit their needs. Institutions will shrink and suffer—or grow and succeed—based on the decisions of those who matter most: the students they are supposed to serve.

Ed Yoder: Too Little Too Late


Ed Yoder defending the KKK? The now retired Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post  columnist – and  member in good standing of the liberal establishment – penned a letter to the editor published in the Raleigh News & Observer weighing in on the side of William L. Saunders, a 19th century University of North Carolina history scholar credited with founding the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina.

The controversy was instigated by radical professors, impressionable students, and outside “activists” demanding the building named for Saunders at UNC-Chapel Hill be changed with the intent to airbrush him off the rolls of university history for his racist transgressions.  

The UNC trustees are investigating the complaints, patiently refraining from saying what most of the public really thinks: that everyone is fed up with cadres of noisy campus radicals re-arranging the historical furniture based on shrill 21st century politically correct sensibilities applied to 19th century social reality.

Conservatives have been silent on the issue for fear of being labeled racists. Thus the voice of liberal journalist Yoder, who has retired to Chapel Hill, resonates. Could it be the old liberal establishment is breaking with the new radicals who fulminate in their name? Could be, but it is too little too late.

Yoder writes: “If the petitioners were closer students of history, they would be familiar with the way history was manipulated in the 20th century.” Yet, during his career, Yoder, with access to the bully pulpit of editorial pages nationally, stood by silently as history was mangled and manipulated by campus radical professors into victim-centered mush.

Not a peep from Yoder as black studies, women’s studies, gay studies and the like replaced the traditional liberal arts curriculum. Had he and his cohorts in the mainstream media been vigilant, the unbalanced attack on Saunders would be laughable, not tragic.

Yoder draws on a book he wrote on Hugo Black, the U. S. Supreme Court justice noted for defense of liberty, who was a member of the Klan: “Once this anti-historical crusade gains a head of steam, should those books not also be burned?”.

 But Ed, the head of steam passed by three decades ago. Where were you?

Creative Destruction About to Collide with the Legal Profession


Actually, it has been colliding for some time and the results are already showing — fewer jobs for new lawyers, less interest in going to law school. In this excellent City Journal article, Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis argues that technology’s great disruption is just getting started.

Computers can do much of the legal research infinitely faster and more thoroughly than any human could. Moore’s Law will wipe out lots of legal jobs.

McGinnis thinks the great disruption will have good effects, most importantly that lawyers will lose clout.

Mere College Graduates Can Be Teachers?


The Indiana State Board of Education is proposing a teaching license that would allow college graduates with good grades and work experience to become classroom teachers.  According to the Board:

“Candidates would need to hold a bachelor’s degree with a B-average in the content area they want to teach, pass a content test and have work experience in the subject they want to teach. The teacher also would need to begin training on instructional methods by the first month they enter a classroom.”

Imagine that–teachers who know their subjects as opposed to pedagogical fads.  Sounds great, unless you are in the Indiana State Teachers Association.  Members feel that the new license “cheapens the profession”:

“To allow someone to simply pass a test and demonstrate knowledge of a particular content area in no way qualifies them to be teaching children in a classroom.”

I can think of numerous punch lines here.  How about – given the proliferation of high stakes testing in K-12 education, having considerable skill in passing tests is the perfect preparation for modern teachers. 

Insert more punch lines below if you like.

Divestment: A Hollow, Feel-Good Gesture from the Campus Left


Duke University economics and public policy professor Michael Munger has a wonderfully entertaining and often hilarious blog titled Kids Prefer Cheese. In a recent post, he discusses the “pointlessness” of some universities’ decisions to divest their endowments of controversial stocks–stocks tied to industries labeled by campus stakeholders as reprehensible or, in the case of Stanford University, creators of “substantial social injury.” (Earlier this month, Stanford announced that it will divest from stocks directly associated with the coal mining industry because that industry, according to the university, contributes to global warming.)

Munger points to a May 9 New York Times op-ed in which economist Ivo Welch wrote, “Even if Stanford divested itself fully of all its stocks, both fossil and nonfossil, it would probably take the market less than an hour to absorb the shares. It would not lead the executives of the affected companies to engage in soul-searching, much less in changes in operations.” 

For some campus constituencies, the facts surrounding a particularly reviled industry or the effectiveness of divestments don’t matter. What matters is symbolism, good intentions, and self-congratulatory protest. Munger writes:

The problem that I see is that “protest” in the U.S., especially by U.S. college students, has been relegated to a kind of extra-curricular activity. It’s fine that it’s pointless, because it’s like an internship. The whole object of the exercise is the improvement of the protester, not the effectiveness of the protest.

That quote reminds me of many Occupy Wall Street protesters, the pretend anti-war movement of the early 2000s (which was largely just an anti-George W. Bush movement), and others who have, over the years, railed against things like sweatshops and free trade while living a parentally and governmentally subsidized middle-class existence. When it becomes chic to protest, don’t expect such spoiled dissidents to be persuaded by facts, logic, or basic economics.

The Flip Side of the Tragedy of the Commons


You’ve no doubt read much about the tragedy of the commons, which involves waste because common ownership leads to overuse. Nobody can say “no.”

It turns out that there is a flip side to that problem, known as the tragedy of the anti-commons. That occurs when it’s impossible for the owners to get to “yes” and therefore property is underused. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Jane Shaw explores the ramifications of the anti-commons problem in higher education. Because colleges and universities have so many “owners” (not in the usual sense, but in the “stakeholder” sense of control over decisions), it is difficult for them to make decisions. Put another way, it’s easy for campus groups, especially the faculty, to veto anything they don’t like.

The anti-commons problem is apt, she argues, to hinder college leaders as they try to make quick adjustments to changing circumstances in the future. Whether some schools survive or not might depend on their ability to overcome the anti-commons problem.

The Effort at Rehabilitating Mike Nifong Has Been Smashed to Atoms


William Cohan’s recent book that purports to show how the Duke lacrosse case should have led to conviction for the students and cheers for District Attorney Mike Nifong has just been dealt a staggering blow. As Radley Balko explains here, a judge in North Carolina has just reversed one of Nifong’s convictions under circumstances showing clear and blatant prosecutorial misconduct.

If I were Cohan, I’d call off the book tour right now and find someplace to hide.

Unlikely Allies


The Chronicle of Higher Education this week published its annual “Special Report:  Diversity in Academe,” and I’m doing my best to read through it.  

I’ve noticed, however, at least three pieces so far that offer more or less direct support for getting rid of racial and ethnic preferences (of course, probably they all provide indirect support for it, one way or another).  

There’s an excerpt from Sheryll Cashin’s new book, Place Not Race, which argues (along lines similar to Richard Kahlenberg’s over the years) that preferences should be based on socioeconomic  status rather than skin color. There is also a Latina student who doesn’t like being labeled “underprivileged” just because of her ethnicity.

And there is an article by a mixed-white-and-Asian academic who has decided he will now check the “white” box instead of the “Asian” box, because Asians in his department are no longer considered “underrepresented” and are, in fact, probably now considered to have met their quota. Now, this professor is, I suspect, not yet at the point where he will be tithing to the Center for Equal Opportunity, but the realization that some nonwhites are getting discriminated against in the name of “diversity” has certainly got him thinking.  (Silliest line in his piece:  “A white colleague remarked that no one seems to complain that we have too many white faculty members when we add to their numbers.”  Uh huh.)

One other thing:  As I’ve often noted, just because it is, alas, legal to use racial and ethnic preferences in choosing students does not mean it is legal to use racial and ethnic preferences in selecting faculty. The fact is, the applicable statutes are different, and the federal courts have never recognized (and some have rejected) the notion of a “diversity” defense for employment discrimination.

So, So, So Sensitive


You’ve undoubtedly heard of the latest liberal buzz phrase on campus: “trigger warnings.”

The idea is that you ought to warn sensitive students that they are about to hear words that could make them uncomfortable in the classroom–words that could “trigger” discomfort.

In this morning’s feature story for The College Fix, Andrew Desiderio reports on the latest expert recommendations on the use of trigger warnings.

At Oberlin College, for instance, professors were warned against the dangers of traumatizing students when discussing topics such as “racism, colonialism, and sexism.”

That probably eliminates a third of the Western literary canon. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – too much racism. Heart of Darkness – too much colonialism. The Scarlet Letter – sexist.

Many leading educators today appear determined to wrap all of today’s college students in a giant snuggly bubble of self-esteem rather than to have them read anything uncomfortable, provocative, or politically incorrect.

Click here for the full story.

Facebook: The Marxist Utopia Come True


After 40 years of stealth attacks, the migration of radical philosophy from college campuses into society is manifest: politically correct speech codes; denigration of Western values cloaked beneath the seemingly sensible sobriquet Multiculturalism; quotas masquerading as the allegedly worthy an   inarguable establishment of affirmative action; emotional victimization replacing generally accepted historical facts; the concept that personal perspective trumps reality.

The thread that ties this cultural coup d’etat is fundamental Marxism, the political virus the West thought was stamped out with the victory over the USSR in the Cold War. Yet, Marxists and socialists on US campuses didn’t get the memo. Or, in predictable modus operandi in the halls of academe, have ignored the real politic of the real world. Why not? Professors have been free to do as they please for centuries. Not the taxpayers and legislatures nor governing bodies and administrators exercise any control over curriculum or professorial propaganda in the classroom. The lunatics do indeed run the academic asylum.

The radical scholars, now a large majority after decades of self-selection, ignored the real world  and intensified their allegiance to the dominant manifestos of  Marxism – even in light of the implosion of the philosophy’s most successful iteration: the Soviet Union. As the sane world sighed in relief that  the Cold War between communist tyranny and free Western democracies was over after 70 dangerous years,  the professorial class  continued the struggle for world socialism because it suited their theoretical mindset, even in the face of complete failure in practice. The classless society looked good on paper when Marx called for it, and it sounds good today in academic jargon.

So the question begs, while we know the societal evils caused by the radical scholars, what particularly does unrepentant campus Marxism  as a philosophy contribute to the world’s over-arching  self regard? Actually, you  see it or hear it hourly via Facebook and the related Internet phenomena that promote the quotidian activities  of the nobodies over the somebodies. On Facebook, Marxism prevails, the intimate details of the unimportant people of the earth are ennobled, even if nothing of importance is noted. In this flawed world, someone on the fringe of society gains more sway than someone who made a valuable contribution.  As in the utopian Marxian/Communist paradise on earth, everyone is equal on Facebook, despite their lack of accomplishment.

History, as the Marxist theory on campus manifests, is not about The Greats – the kings, queens, generals, statesman, explorers, engineers, scientists philosophers, artists, writers and swashbucklers – it’s about the common man pulling together in common pursuit of the State. Witnessing authors and television presenters grasping for a story line in history relying on peasants and workers dramatizes the process to eliminate the individual and elevate the collective in our society today.

Gone are the heroes. In their place come the newly empowered insignificants. You can see them on reality television, or stars in sitcoms and dramas and films, websites and chat rooms. Of course, the bona fide  better known are covered in the media, but usually they are self-motivated celebrities seeking attention. If a really  accomplished person gains attention,  the current societal urge is to bring them down for being better than the Lumpenproletariat, for defying the goal of a classless society.

The professors have inflicted more damage than you thought. Eight thousand years of Western society, and its grand history of individual accomplishment, is,  to coin a phrase, relegated to the dustbin of history. 

The Vanishing STEM Crisis


The idea that the nation may not be experiencing a crisis of STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) has emerged. Since federal aid, university and industry hopes, and students’ education plans all depend on the opposing idea—that there is a crisis—the debate is going to be a heated one.

The Pope Center first aired this revolutionary idea two years ago, and this week George Leef discusses the latest findings, especially Michael Teitelbaum’s book Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent. Leef writes:

Far from “falling behind,” Teitelbaum shows that the U.S. has a glut of people with STEM education. After surveying the best research, he states that America “produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”

But this goes up against a great deal of conventional wisdom. One educator has already labeled Leef’s anti-crisis viewpoint “rubbish.”

It’s time for genuine debate on this issue.

Liberal Professor Makes Fun of ‘Trigger Warnings’ in Chronicle!


News Flash: NYU university professor with a sense of humor! Maybe Jonathan Zimmerman, who teaches history and education, at New York University is an old-style liberal.  I think so because he makes fun of the faux sensitivities on today’s campus, most recently evidenced in the call for “trigger warnings” for potentially traumatizing classroom material.  Zimmerman offers his own sample syllabus for Introduction to U.S. History in the Chronicle of Higher Education. There is a dig at President George W. Bush, but also “the Clinton years,” which he warns students were pretty “gross.”

Are They Really Worth All That Money?


As we read in this Edububble piece, most of the highly-paid public employees in Maryland are university employees. Lots of them make over $300K. The highest paid non-university employee makes only $283K.

Are those administrators and profs really worth that much — or could it be that the higher education establishment is particularly good at scooping up tax dollars?


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