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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Christian Professor Denied Promotion



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University of North Carolina-Wilmington associate professor of criminology, Mike Adams, has been fighting for promotion to full professor for years–an effort he says has been thwarted by opponents of his outspoken Christian faith and political conservatism.

It’s been quite an odyssey for Dr. Adams. David French summarized the case almost seven years ago, here on Phi Beta Cons:

When Mike received tenure, he was a secular, liberal professor — with an absolutely unblemished record of professional achievement and an unbroken path to promotion.  After he became Christian and conservative, the university and department officials investigated his private e-mails, conducted a lengthy (and ludicrous) felony investigation against him, warned him against attending department meetings, changed promotion standards, applied different standards for different individuals, and — ultimately — denied him a promotion. 

Here we are almost seven years later, and Dr. Adams lawsuit against UNC-Wilmington, alleging discrimination, is expected to conclude today.

How slowly doth the wheels justice turn.

Student-reporter Ben Smith writes about the impending end of this long legal battle in his feature story today at The College Fix.

Stating the Obvious about SATs



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A leading attack on the SAT is the claim that it can’t be a legitimate test because high SAT scores are closely correlated with family income—even with neighborhoods carrying certain zip codes. So the SAT is just a measure of family success, and thus unfair to those brought up without so many advantages.

Earlier this month on Real Clear Politics, Robert VerBruggen stated what should be obvious: “[R]icher kids, fairly or unfairly, actually do have higher academic capabilities.” If the goal is to find and measure academic aptitude, the well-off are always going to score higher, on average.

Why? (Apparently we need to spell this out.) The people who live in affluent neighborhoods are usually high achievers—otherwise, most of them would not be there. As Robert points out, those achievers tend to pass on to their children the factors behind their success, whether through their genes, by setting an example, or by providing benefits that lead to academic preparation.

Of course, there are smart and motivated young people in adverse circumstances—families in poverty, welfare, or struggling to get by. By the nature of their environment, however, they inevitably represent a smaller portion of their neighborhood. Their zip codes would never correlate with high-scoring SAT test-takers.

Because this undeniable reality looks bad to liberals, the nation is engaging in a debate over whether to make the SAT more “fair” (i.e., easier) or to throw it out altogether in favor of “holistic” assessment. The hunt is on to find those students who 1) don’t do well on such tests, but 2) have sufficient aptitude for college, and 3) don’t live in the affluent districts. It’s not an easy task and certainly it isn’t “fair” to those who are academically prepared but surrounded by others who are, too.  

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Ghosts of Soviet Collapse Haunt UNC



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The collapse of the USSR and the unraveling of UNC-Chapel Hill share some common characteristics.

In both cases, few saw it coming. One moment the Soviet Union was gesturing menacingly; the next thing you knew, the highest profile communist nation in the world had imploded.

As for UNC, the school was swaggering and confident two years ago. Today, the nation’s oldest public university is staggering, beset with a host of problems, including criminal charges against a department head and the initiation of an expensive internal investigation. (Here is my interview with Holden Thorp that recounts the early stages of the UNC debacle.)

The USSR and UNC share another key similarity: Both operated behind a wall of secrecy. As the Soviets rattled sabers and played the global geo-political game with verve, the closed and decaying society within its borders was cloaked from public view. At UNC, what went on within its walls was protected from scrutiny by muscular public relations and a conspiracy of silence.

The press has made tiny inroads, but alumni, concerned about the disintegration of the school, are shut out of their own alma mater by the association director who has ignored old boys and girls who asked for a forum to air the problems they sense are tarnishing their degrees.

While Russia has never been an open society, UNC has. Academic freedom flourished at the school for nearly 200 years before it was the victim of its own Bolshevik Revolution, led by radical scholars in the late 1970s. Their goal was to destroy the Western tradition in the university in retribution for its racism, chauvinism and imperialism - a manifesto eerily similar to Soviet “active measures” disinformation against democratic Western nations.

At UNC, the traditional liberal arts curriculum was marginalized and eventually evaporated. Traditionalist professors found themselves ostracized and slandered. Administrators cowered and did nothing, fearing that the radical scholars would demonize them too. Today, applicants who do not toe the party line need not apply.  

As in the USSR, the campus purges were not televised, to borrow from jazz singer Gil Scott-Heron. Nor are the inner workings of the present-day apparat in Chapel Hill. But the public is realizing the campus is an impenetrable redoubt, contemptuous of outside criticism. The UNC samizdat, like Soviet Russia’s, has been revealed as a carefully tended myth, portending that it too will be consigned to the dustbin of history.  

 

Is Michael Bloomberg Persona Non Grata at Harvard?



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Another day, another college, another effort to protest a commencement speaker.

The Harvard Crimson reports that some students have expressed opposition to Harvard’s selection of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg as this year’s commencement speaker. At issue is Bloomberg’s vigorous support for stop-and-frisk policing policies.

Harvard College Black Men’s Forum President Rodriguez S. Roberts ’15 also raised questions about the selection of the former mayor.

“Harvard’s bringing him to deliver the commencement address could be taken as either an endorsement of this policy or as simple ignorance thereof,” Roberts wrote in an email. “To be honest, I’m not quite sure which is worse,” he said.

Mr. Roberts’ statement is, of course, utter tripe. Inviting a prominent public figure to speak at a graduation ceremony, even offering him an honorary degree, in no way indicates an endorsement of every policy with which that figure is associated. The invitation to Mayor Bloomberg is no more an endorsement of stop-and-frisk than it is an endorsement of banning large, sugary drinks. And it goes without saying that it is highly unlikely Mayor Bloomberg will touch on contentious political issues in his talk.

This is just the latest installment in what FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff calls “disinvitation season,” that lovely springtime ritual in which misguided students and professors express their vigorous opposition to hearing from anyone who holds views or pursues policies with which they disagree. It is bad enough when those ostensibly dedicated to academic freedom and the pursuit of truth shut their ears to anyone expressing an opposing idea. It is even worse to blacklist an individual because of his politics.

To its credit, Harvard is showing no signs that it will disinvite Bloomberg. We hope Harvard stands its ground and teaches its students a lesson in open-mindedness, tolerance, and academic freedom.

Humanities Report Misses Mark



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The alarming statistic that only 7.6% of college graduates in 2010 majored in the humanities, or that Harvard’s percentage of liberal arts degree holders has plummeted from 36% to 20% , served as a tocsin to muster a committee of  54 luminaries under the banner of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences to “study” the crisis. (Click here for Jane Shaw’s insightful description of the committee’s work.)
 
Their battle plan, code-named “The Heart of the Matter,” appears to be all heart and no matter. At least that is the impression gleaned from attending one of the dog and pony shows featuring committee members traveling the college circuit to enlist academic support. Their goal is to deploy “Master” teachers to “stem” the tide, pun intended, against the tsunami washing over the academy by the explosion of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
 
One such event, hosted by North Carolina State University, featured committee members General Karl W. Eikenberry, former ambassador to Afghanistan (2009-11), and co-chair of the Heart of the Matter quango Richard Brodhead, president of Duke University – the same Richard Brodhead who abandoned the values of his humanities background and sense of justice in condemning his own students at Duke by supporting the word of a “sex worker” who claimed lacrosse team members sexually assaulted her.

The question hangs in the air: Why choose as co-chair of a humanities rescue mission a man who committed treason against the very values the humanities teach?

General Eikenberry alluded to boots on the ground applications of the values of the liberal arts. And panelist Tom Ross, president of the UNC system, cited how his own liberal arts degree was useful in succeeding in three areas of his professional life he could not have predicted he would pursue. Panel member David Price, a former professor of political science, and today a US Congressman, personified the “let’s throw money at the problem” sensibilities of government involvement, demonstrating how Congress and blue ribbon committees like Heart of the Matter become so obsessed with star names and big budgets they fail to drill down and define or solve the problem.
 
Of course, the humanities and the traditional liberal arts are essential elements of a proper college education. But the Heart of the Matter committee did not confront the real problem: Even if a magic wand were waved, and all undergraduates were forced to take required courses in the liberal arts, their content would not be recognizable to those who passed through the curriculum 40 years ago.

In their successful campaign to discredit Western values and achievements — deemed to have succeeded via racism, chauvinism, imperialism and exploitation of the environment — out went the traditional liberal arts core curriculum, and in came a myriad of faux courses predicated on elevating the identity of the allegedly exploited, including Women’s, Black, Gay, Transsexual and Environmental Studies and their kin. The disguise for this subornation of an entire culture is Multiculturalism, one of those weasel words that cloaks the goal of undermining western culture with the inarguable position that students must study many other societies before learning about their own.
 
The devious codicil is that no culture is superior to another, meaning ours is not ranked high anymore due to its sins. In the radical myth dominant on campus, the poetry of New Guinea is on the same par as Byron; Matisse is equal in quality to urban graffiti. Self-esteem trumps achievement and social equity is valued over individual accomplishment.  Consequently, a liberal arts degree today is more ideological agitprop than a sound background in our own culture.

The Heart of the Matter is not whether or not the humanities should be supported, but rather what can be done to regain their academic value and efficacy.

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This is One Way of Dealing With Those Who Disagree With You



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A philosophy professor in Britain contends that scientists who continue spreading doubt about climate change should be jailed for criminal negligence. Read about it here.

If you did a survey of American college students and asked if they agree that “denialists” should be punished in some way or silenced, I wonder what percentage would agree. My guess would be about 40 percent.

A New Schedule for “What Will They Learn?”



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Starting this year, ACTA’s What Will They Learn?™ study will release on a new schedule that allows us to provide real-time data on the curricula of nearly 1,100 institutions. In the past we have released all of the school profiles together in a single report. But starting this week we will release our school profiles one at a time, as soon as the data is available. As always, we’ll be looking for the presence of robust requirements in writing, literature, U.S. history or government, foreign language, economics, math, and science, and we’ll be sharing schools’ grades over social media. We will also publish a comprehensive guide in the fall, as we have done in the past.

Please forgive the shameless plug—and keep your eyes on Twitter!

Mike Rowe Explains to Scouts Why College is Oversold



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Mike Rowe, of “dirty jobs” fame, explains to Boy Scouts in this video why college is oversold. He says that the worst advice he ever received was from a counselor in high school who told him to go to a four year university and get a degree so he could “work smart, not hard.”

Hat tip: Pat Peterson

The Bad Old Days in Academe Weren’t So Bad



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If you believe the rhetoric from academic leftists, today’s academy is much better than it used to be, because more “voices” are heard and no groups are “marginalized.”

One person who does not agree is Professor Paul Gottfried, who as a student had many radically leftist professors, including the famous Herbert Marcuse. While those professors held to ideas Gottfried disagreed with, he could nevertheless carry on rational debates with them. They didn’t brush off his arguments by impugning his motives or calling him names. Today’s faculty, he observes, is much less willing to engage in debate, much less interested in arguments, and much more inclined to brush aside dissent with cheap dodges.

Professor Gottfried explains his view on the intellectual degradation of the faculty in today’s Pope Center piece.

My Thoughts on the “Improved” SAT



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Do the changes announced on March 5 make the test better? If you mean better at evaluating academic ability, no; if you mean better at appeasing social justice zealots, perhaps. That’s the argument I make in this new Forbes article.

 

Lesbian Professor Experiences Radical Conversion to Christ



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In today’s feature story at The College Fix, Samantha Watkins reports on the remarkable story of Dr. Rosario Butterfield–a former radical lesbian, leftist professor whose life was changed after she embraced the living Christ:

In a talk for the Family Research Council last summer, Butterfield launched into her autobiography by mentioning her Catholic upbringing, and said it wasn’t until college that her lesbian tendencies formed, that an “undercurrent of longing inserted itself in intense friendships with women.”

“In my late 20s, enhanced by feministic philosophy and lesbian and gay political advocacy, my homosocial preference morphed into homosexuality,” Butterfield said.

“That shift was subtle, not startling,” she said. “My lesbian identity and my love for my LGBT community developed in sync with my lesbian sexual practice.”

The scholar acknowledged that she felt lesbianism was her “true self,” that life “finally came together for me and made sense.”

Years later, she set out to attack Christianity and began research on a project entitled, “Religious Right and their politics of hatred.” But something entirely unexpected happened as she began to study the Bible. She started to believe what she was reading. What happened next is one of the most radical conversion stories I’ve ever read.

Click here for the full story.

Trash Those Slides



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PowerPoint makes good teachers bad and bad teachers worse.  Yet, it’s so pervasive that I often wonder if I’m alone in my distaste.  Thankfully, I’m not.  Kudos to Rebecca Schuman, education columnist for Slate.com, for this witty slide show – about why most slide shows need to find the digital version of the circular file.

How many of you are looking away from PPT slides to read this post?  

Waste of Taxpayer Money at Elizabeth City State



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Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) is a HBCU struggling to justify its existence in the University of North Carolina system. It won’t help that the school has such ineffective oversight of long-distance calls that it paid for about $140,000 worth of calls to Senegal over a period of 43 months. The  Raleigh News & Observer has the story.

Evidently, state taxpayers shouldn’t have had to cover this expense, but federal taxpayers should. The money, we learn was supposed to have come “from federal funds aimed at creating textbooks for students in Senegal.”

Why on earth does the federal government need to create such textbooks? Paraphrasing James Madison, “I cannot lay my finger upon the passage in Article I, Section 8 that gives Congress authority to spend money for textbooks at all, much less in foreign nations.”

I would hazard a guess that the phone calls are just the tip of the iceberg of waste.

Mary Grabar Writes About “Food Studies”



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College catalogues keep expanding, mostly with a variety of courses denominated as “studies.”  Those courses are usually created by professors who want to fill part of their teaching “load” with something crafted to allow them to talk about topics they’re interested in, often with an overlay of progressive politics. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Mary Grabar examines the proliferation of courses on “food studies.” One might, of course, study nutrition or food safety scientifically, but that’s old stuff. Food studies is largely a “social justice” project with food as the reason for claiming that the world is unfair.

Reasons to Worry About Upcoming SAT Changes



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The higher ed world is abuzz with talk about the College Board’s most recent overhaul of the SAT. The changes that have been announced contain some good news. For example, every exam will now include a reading passage from one of the nation’s founding documents or from important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Given the historical illiteracy of our generation, this is certainly reason to celebrate.

But many of the other changes coming to the SAT are cause for concern. As ACTA noted in our statement on the matter:

An announcement by the College Board that it will end the SAT’s longstanding focus on challenging vocabulary, eliminate the required writing test and water down the math standard suggests that the changes are designed to make students look prepared, when they aren’t.

These concerns have been echoed by many, including Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post and Rich Lowry right here at NRO.

Sadly, the College Board has a history of lowering standards in order to make students look more prepared than they really are. And we ought not to underestimate the harm this can cause. Harry Stille has documented the billions of dollars spent on under-prepared students who end up dropping out. This doesn’t just hurt the finances of institutions and taxpayers, it hurts the students who end up taking on massive debt but leave school without a degree.

Standardized tests are hardly perfect tools. But they are important ones. Ultimately, if we want to make sure every student gets the high quality education he or she deserves, then we need to stop lowering standards and start raising them.

University Offers Lectures on ‘Queering Christianity’



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In today’s feature story for The College Fix, Alexandra Desanctis reports on a new program at the University of Kansas:

“There is nothing wrong with being queer and Christian.”

That’s the premise behind “Queering Christianity,” the overarching Ecumenical Campus Ministries’ Faith Forum topic broached during a series of events at the University of Kansas throughout this school year.

“This Faith Forum has been an important opportunity for me and many others to learn what a Christianity that is accepting of all God’s children might look like in today’s world,” said senior Sean Weston, co-coordinator for Faith Forum, in an interview with The College Fix.

Events this semester included: “Do I Trust God Enough? A transgender woman’s journey of faith,” a speech given by Stephanie Mott, founder and executive director of the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project.

KU graduate student Garrett Fugate also recently gave a talk titled “A Queer Search for God: ‘Otherness’ as a way to find God, a Muslim perspective.”

Last September, the series kicked off with “Crossing Boundaries and Breaking Rules: Queerness as Christian Practice,” described on the university’s website as an exploration of “what it means to follow Jesus by challenging all kinds of social expectations.”

“Christian faith is often seen as against anybody who is not straight or who doesn’t conform to strict roles in society,” the event description states. “We will be hearing stories from people who have realized in their faith journeys that there is nothing wrong with being queer and Christian.”

Click here to read the full story.

Prager U: Why Capitalism Works



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“The genius of capitalism is that it channels self-interest into altruism.”

In the newest Prager University course, renowned social critic George Gilder critiques the idea that capitalism is a selfish economic system.  In these days of “you didn’t build that” and income inequality debates, this is a message that many need to hear.

 

 

(Best-selling author, columnist, and nationally syndicated radio host Dennis Prager created Prager University to counter the indoctrination, drivel, and apathy that pervades today’s college campuses.  With 5-minute, professionally produced videos from experts in economics, history, political science, and religion, PragerU offers big ideas on big topics, 5 minutes at a time.)

The Battle of the Budget



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It’s time for the Battle of the Budget in North Carolina — the budget for the UNC System, that is. To no one’s surprise, system president Tom Ross and his allies want a substantial increase in funds (4.6 percent). At about the same time, a new lobbying group that intends to pry as much money as possible for the system out of the General Assembly has been formed. But Governor McCrory’s budget director, Art Pope, as declared the requested increase to be unrealistic.

In today’s Pope Center piece, Jenna Robinson and Jay Schalin discuss the issues involved and deal unsympathetically with the claim that educational quality will fall unless the universities get all the money they want.

College Students Embrace Digital Currency



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Bitcoin (BTC), the digital currency and electronic payment system that allows users to conduct economic activity anonymously while circumventing traditional banking systems (and the governments that regulate them), has in the course of five years morphed from a tech geek fantasy into an increasingly mainstream phenomenon.

Ideologically motivated supporters view the currency as the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist alternative to top-down central banking, inflationism, and bureaucratic encroachment, while investment/finance types have been drawn-in by the currency’s rising velocity (BTC-related transactions reached an average of about 70,000 per day in recent months) and potential market value. Skeptics, however, question whether BTC is actually money. Has it really become a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account? And some doubters are wary of rapid price fluctuations and potential fraudulence that could turn away risk-averse individuals and businesses. Others argue that financial and tax regulators will eventually crack down on the currency, thereby sullying its attractive features.

At any rate, college students have become wildly enthusiastic about BTC. Bitcoin “clubs” have cropped up at a number of campuses, including the University of Michigan, Pennsylvania State University, and Ohio State University. These student groups are motivated to help more businesses adopt the currency and to support philanthropic causes. For example, one Ohio State student founded BitQuick, a BTC exchange site, and has assisted a local barbershop in accepting the digital currency. Other students have created BTC-based startups that specialize in crowdfunding altruistic initiatives (one Penn State freshman is working to fund a clean water project).

Last month, the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, received 14.5 bitcoins (in fiat currency terms roughly $10,000) from a 2007 alumnus. The university claims that it is the first higher education institution in the United States to receive a BTC donation. In another implicit show of support for the digital currency, the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote a letter to the student and faculty community expressing concern for a group of students embroiled in a legal battle with New Jersey regulators who claim the students’ startup, Tidbit, violates consumer protection laws.

While I’m skeptical of BTC but not digital currency generally (I tend to view BTC as the MySpace of online currency; other, better alternatives will probably appear in the coming years), it is refreshing to see students and even college officials express interest and support for this cutting-edge technology and to aid in the market’s discovery process. And who knows, maybe other universities will begin to emulate the University of Puget Sound and develop innovative ways to boost funding via BTC or spinoff digital currencies.

One thing is certain, though: college students aren’t wasting any time. A group of BTC supporters is working to organize a national collegiate cryptocurrency conference scheduled for April 2015. For those students, Bitcoin is to monetary systems what radio and internet were/are to communication systems. This is an exciting new frontier attracting some of the brightest and youngest entrepreneurial minds. Students want a piece of the action. 

That Feeble Rationale for Racial Preferences



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On The Corner this morning, Roger Clegg posted his thoughts on a WSJ article on California universities that are “straining to restore diversity.” Why the strain? Because, said an official, students aren’t getting “the level of diversity they need in order to learn about other culture and communities.” So we are supposed to believe that in a highly “diverse” state where young people grow up surrounded by evidence that people who are “different” are able to succeed, unless the top universities engage in racial preferences so as to marginally raise the percentage of students whose ancestry puts them in an “underrepresented” category, the state won’t have future leaders who will be able to properly relate to many of the citizens.

Roger finds that argument unpersuasive, to put it mildly.  So do I. An individual might go to a perfectly “diverse” college and graduate with a head full of absurd ideas about public policy — Obama for example. Or an individual might go to an all-white, all-black, all-Catholic or other superficially undiverse college and yet graduate not only with “appreciation” for other cultures and communities, but also, and far more importantly, a good sense for public policy ideas that would enable all people to have the greatest chance for success.

California’s current leadership has saturated in diversity and managed to make a gigantic mess of the state.

It’s time for America to stop obsessing about race and “diversity.”

 

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