Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Re: Race vs. Ethnicity


We’re going in circles a bit here — we disagree only on the definition of “race,” not on anything of substance.

Just a few quick loose ends.

First, I don’t think it’s consistent to say that race “is only identifiable insofar as other people perceive it,” yet ethnicity can be “immutable.” This is only true if you define race as “whatever people perceive race to be,” and de-link it from the necessity that people of a race must be of “the same stock” (as per Merriam-Webster).

Also, on levels of specification — this is why I like Sailer’s definition. The level of specificity needed depends not only on where one is in the world, but on context of the discussion. If a very specific tribe is susceptible to a certain disease, it’s useful to look at race at that level. If we’re making broad generalizations about people from various continents, that level works.

Is race a vague concept? Sure. Can we “socially construct” different ways of classifying people, and of naming those classifications? Of course. But under any usable definition of race, such classifications are rooted in common ancestry, which is genetic in nature — thus, it is false to say DNA is “not integral” to the concept of race.

Re: Race vs. Ethnicity


Since a person’s race is only identifiable insofar as other people perceive it, that perception must be tied up intimately with what one categorizes as a “race” to begin with. This is why “race” is a separate term from “ethnicity,” which is more immutable.

Obviously a person’s skin color does not change on the way from Africa to America. But his “race” certainly does. To pick up on Robert’s example: Kenyans are nearly all what Americans would call “black”—that is a single, very large racial category in America. But to say that Kenyans would identify all other Kenyans to be of the same “black” race is, should you ever go there and try it out, an argument that will find little traction. And I am not referring to ethnic divides, either; some Kenyans are perceived by each other as darker and some lighter (even if they are not, to my eyes, lighter or darker) frequently depending on where they are from. But this distinction that is important to Kenyans is obliterated when a Kenyan moves to a more heterogeneous America.

Race can mean, per the definition Robert provides, that one is from the same “tribe,” but it can also mean one is from the same “nation,” and the level of specificity in that categorization entirely depends on where you are in the world. This is the whole point of the “social construction of race.” It is impossible to separate one’s race from another’s perception of racial difference.

I agree with Robert that the claim that ethnicity is not genetic is bogus. I’m not sure how they could think otherwise now that DNA tests have so effectively located African-Americans’ often highly localized African ancestries. (Ethnicity can still be socially constructed, however, insofar as it is a category people put themselves and others into in human society. For instance, if someone were to claim he were “Bantu,” he may be correct but simply imprecise, since Bantu contains with it many other, more specific ethnicities.)


Re: Genetic Racial Differences


Robert VerBruggen and Carol Iannone make excellent points. VerBruggen observes that the racial essentialism embraced by Jeremiah Wright’s gallery of academic quacks is at odds with the “race as social construct” conceit that dominates the politicized university. Hey, I never said that academia was consistent when it comes to the revered trinity of race, class, and gender.

Even as admissions officers calibrate the SAT scores of fanatically achieving Asian and white applicants to a degree of difference that only an electron microscope could pick up, the admissions bureaucracy announces that SATs are worthless — when it comes to evaluating blacks and Hispanics. Even as rape bureaucrats accuse male students of committing sexual assault on a scale that would render Rwanda a picnic, the sex bureaucrats are handing out advice on sex toys and S&M. Even as academics rail against alleged inequites of the free market, college tuitions surge higher at rates many times that of inflation, deans and professors graciously accept their six-figure salaries, and the college fund-raising machine furiously seeks donations from alumni on the ground that multi-million-dollar (or even billion-dollar) endowments leave the college penurious.

So, yes, in general, the evidence for racial genetic differences is wholly taboo on campuses, even in scientific laboratories — where any research into the matter must be done very quietly, if at all. But that doesn’t mean that if a black education professor comes up with a bogus neurological theory to justify black academic problems, she won’t be given a pass. As Carol Iannone points out, condescension toward black extremism is the rule of the day among white campus liberals.

That same condescension is at work in the press coverage of Wright’s diatribes. While the media couldn’t dodge Wright’s 9/11 and AIDS fulminations, they have remained mum about his education apologetics and other loony ideas about genetically based black and white differences — including preferences regarding syncopation. The New York Times’s carefully buried blurb on Wright’s Detroit speech this Monday, before the pile of manure finally combusted, merely noted tactfully that Mr. Wright had argued that “black people speak differently, learn differently and like different types of music than whites do … but similar differences exist within races as well.”

Wright may have phrased Afrocentric education theories with bracing directness, but they are on a continuum with the pedagogical practices that education schools promote today. These include the idea that teachers should not transmit knowledge to their students; that students should not be expected to sit quietly in class and listen; that students should not learn mathematics through abstract concepts, but rather through “concrete” objects; and that education must be driven above all by multicultural sensitivities. Many of these ideas were developed to further rationalize the test-score gap.

My guess is, the education content of Wright’s speeches will continue to be off limits, as the press allows Obama’s patent lies about his knowledge of Wright’s standard ravings to go unchallenged. It’s more than a shame. Any enterprising reporter would seize on this opening to ask Obama about his own educational philosophy. Here’s a question just for starters: In light of your former pastor’s views on the essential intellectual differences between blacks and whites, do you therefore conclude that affirmative action remains necessary in tax-payer-funded education? Or, consistent with your claim to be a “post-racial” uniter, do you support Ward Connerly’s initiatives to end racial preferences in education?

Re: Race vs. Ethnicity


One other quick point — those who argue that “race isn’t genetic/race is a social construct” typically are not meaning that “race, as opposed to ethnicity, is not genetic.” Rather, they mean that there aren’t discernible genetic differences between human populations, regardless of whether you call such groups races or ethnicities. They often cite the discredited argument of Richard Lewontin to this effect.

UPDATE: Here are a sociology professor’s lecture notes to illustrate my point. Ancestral heritage is an “artificial” category, and both race and ethnicity are social constructs:

  • Race = a social construct that artificially divides people into distinct groups based on characteristics such as physical appearance (particularly skin color), ancestral heritage, cultural affiliation, cultural history, ethnic classification , and the social, economic and political needs of a society at a given period of time.
  • Ethnicity = a social construct which divides people into smaller social groups based on a shared sense of group membership, values, behavioral patterns, language, political and economic interests, history, and geography. (Ex. Haitian, chinese, puerto-rican, cherokee, french, etc.)

Re: Race vs. Ethnicity


That’s true — race is a social construct if you define it as a social construct. But it’s rather odd to say that a child of two Kenyan immigrants is of a different race than his parents, or that someone’s race changes when he moves from place to place. “The importance of one’s race,” or even the perception of one’s race (if one is half-African and half-European, is that black, white, or mixed?) might change, but race itself does not.

Merriam-Webster defines race as “a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock.” Steve Sailer calls it “an extremely extended family that inbreeds to some degree.” Both of these strike me as much-more-usable definitions, and both are rooted to some degree in genetics, not social constructs.


Re: Race vs. Ethnicity


Robert, the argument to which you allude is the classic divide between “race” and “ethnicity.” And as counterintuitive as it sounds, it is not wrong to say that one’s DNA is “not integral to race.”

I could show you two people from the same ethnic group whose skin color is quite different, even while their coincidence of DNA is greater than that of one of them and a person who looks more similar racially, but is from another ethnic group.

For instance, removed from their geographic context and thrust into a true “melting pot” of cultures, one might closely identify, on a racial basis, a Pashtun with a Castillian Spaniard from Malaga, more than would that Spaniard be racially identified with his countryman from Santander.

And as nauseating as the term “social construction” is, I think it is beyond question that the importance of one’s race, insofar as it is important at all, really is largely determined by the society in which one lives. This, as I’ve understood it, is the crux of the argument when one claims that “race is a social construction” — it does not literally mean the color of your skin, but how that color is socially perceived. Black in Africa does not mean the same as black in the United States, as any African living in the U.S. will tell you.

Faust to Address ROTC at Harvard


The good comes with the bad at the ROTC commissioning ceremony at Harvard. 

University President Drew Faust is attending the commissioning of new officers, unlike Derek Bok, the interim president last year and former leader of the left-wing group Common Cause. This is a good step, but apparently Faust intends to intone a message against discrimination by speaking about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

To receive a lecture about inclusiveness from the head of a university with a long-time ban on ROTC — cadets make the trek to MIT in the early morning hours to train — is rather absurd. And though she’s more than welcome to bring it up, I’m quite sure most of Harvard ROTC cadets personally oppose the policy. In any case, one wonders why Faust would raise the issue to a group of 20-year-olds who have utterly no control over this congressionally instituted policy. Perhaps she should visit Capitol Hill?

As Joseph Kristol ’09 (yes, that Kristol) is quoted as saying in The Crimson piece, “If it’s going to be political, I think everyone would be happier having someone else speak.”

More on Left vs. Right Brain


Robert, let me add another point to your post on Reverend Wright’s “instruction” before the NAACP about white “left-brain analytical” cognition as opposed to black “right-brain creative” cognition: Whites would be pulverized as racists for raising the issue publicly.

Note John McWhorter’s sharp insights about this:

The ironic thing about these dashiki-era pronouncements is that the separatist ideology means claims about black people that whites would be burned in effigy for even hinting at…

Goodness — just imagine, say, Diane Ravitch at a podium saying what the Reverend Wright came up with. The idea of black kids as having a genetically distinct learning “style” only makes sense — sort of — if one is reacting to whites of all walks regularly dismissing black kids as innately stupid. That is, if one is mentally in 1966 when such whites were still around and in their primes.

Re: Genetic Racial Differences


Basically, Jeremiah Wright is advancing the case for segregation in education, and he is practically justifying the segregation of the past, when he says that black children have different learning styles and cannot observe the decorum of a quiet classroom.

Mac Donald outlines the academic sources of Wright’s demented and racially obsessed views, but it is worthwhile to emphasize that these harmful ideas were advanced in an academy full of white liberals who indulged and coddled black extremism. The more extreme the ideas, the keener the insult to society at large and the more satisfying to the tenured radicals. This is also why Obama has come this far without having to confront what Wright is really all about. Because no friendly white fellow Democrat ever said to him, “This is an outrage and you should distance yourself from it ASAP.”

But even-more-reasonable people helped create this state of affairs. Nathan Glazer wrote a book proclaiming “we are all multiculturalists now,” conceding that many falsehoods would be taught in the schools under the guise of multiculturalism, but that we would have to tolerate it because we have failed to integrate blacks successfully into our society. (Whether this failure arose from society’s unwillingness to integrate blacks or from sheer inability to do so, he would not say. Nor did he consider that the black successes attained through multiculturalism might in the long run be worse for society than continuing to muddle through with single standards, honest principles, and a curriculum based on valid scholarship.)

Recently President Bush honored Al Sharpton with an invitation to the White House for a celebration of Black History Month, thus whitewashing a racial hustler and arsonist, an inciter of violence that resulted in the deaths of several people, a purveyor of a hoax that smeared the reputations of innocent men and falsely intensified the experience of black victimization, and more.
Such gestures by well-meaning people are intended to show respect and a spirit of inclusivity and generosity toward the black experience and to help assuage the anger and resentment many blacks feel. On the contrary, these gestures only affirm black extremists in the rightness of what they are doing and whets their appetite for more concessions, while telling more moderate blacks that they are fools and patsies to play by the rules that white society no longer has the courage to uphold.

The Academy and Genetic Racial Differences


In a recent controversial speech, Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, asserted that blacks and whites behave and learn differently due to genetics. Over at City Journal, Heather Mac Donald summarizes his ideas and says they’re an example of how “academia’s follies can enter the public world in harmful ways.”

Here’s her summary:

[Wright's ideas] form part of the tragic academic project of justifying self-defeating underclass behavior as “authentically black.” . . . Blacks . . . cannot sit still in class or learn from quiet study, and they have difficulty learning from “objects”—books, for example—but instead learn from “subjects,” such as rap lyrics on the radio. These differences are neurological, according to [an academic Wright cites] and Wright: whites use what Wright referred to as the “left-wing, logical, and analytical” side of their brains, whereas blacks use their “right brain,” which is “creative and intuitive.”

Overall, Mac Donald is half-right. It’s true that academia promotes the idea that bad behavior is OK when blacks exhibit it. However, overwhelmingly, academics are scared to death of the notion that there are any genetic differences between blacks and whites, much less differences so severe that they could render blacks unable to sit still — academics usually make excuses based on black culture and history, not DNA. Wright can find a few professors to cite, but they are far from representative.

In fact, in a college sociology class, I was taught outright that “race isn’t genetic” and is instead a “social construct.” My school’s daily newspaper headlined an article “DNA tracing company finds genes not integral to race,” even though that company actually found that by looking at a person’s DNA, it could determine not only whether they’re black, but which African tribe they had descended from. This type of thinking is common in the academy.

I suppose that, covering such a controversial topic, I should give my own view. As I’ve stated, it’s clear enough that some genes are more common in some races than in others, and that by looking at someone’s DNA, a scientist can determine ancestry pretty accurately. However, it’s not at all clear what the genes that differ do, and to what degree they explain the various gaps that exist between the races. Genetic racial differences, even if they turn out to be significant, are definitely not so severe as Wright makes them out to be. Not even close.

What’s a College Degree Really Worth?


Several weeks ago, Charles Miller complained publicly about the way the higher-education establishment (and specifically the College Board) hypes college attendance by proclaiming that having a degree will make a huge difference in lifetime earnings. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I commend Miller for taking that stance and provide additional evidence that for many young people, the time and money devoted to getting a BA is poorly invested.

Miller Time


Six years ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education named a journalism scholarship after my friend David W. Miller, who was killed by a drunk driver. The latest recipient is Sam Laird of UC-Santa Cruz. Sounds like he’s in good spirits despite recent travails:

After graduating he worked at a summer camp and at a restaurant, among other jobs, before he landed an internship at a bilingual newspaper in Quito, Ecuador.

Interviewed by e-mail from Montevideo, Uruguay, Mr. Laird said the job in Ecuador, at the Quito City Paper, seemed to have enough potential that he decided to “roll the dice” and bought only a one-way ticket from California.

“But as it turned out,” he said, “I got to Quito on January 7, and by January 20 the paper was bankrupt.”

So, like any good journalist, he tried to turn the mishap to his own advantage. He traveled around Ecuador, writing for an online travel guide. “South America is quite cheap,” he found, “if you’re smart about it.” Then he used his savings to continue on to Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and now Uruguay.

More Gender-Difference Blogging


The Chronicle’s Wired Campus blog has an interview with a sociologist who studied college students’ Internet abilities. She lists “women” in “demographic groups [that] are less Web-savvy.” She tested Web-savviness through things like “understanding of such terms as BCC (blind copy on e-mail), podcasting, and phishing.”

That surprises me. I’d expect men to be better at computers in general, but the Web is more about communication, where women tend to excel. Maybe men just pick up on the more technological/abstract-conceptual things, like BCC? It would help to see the exact test given.

Islamist Rag Makes Campus Debut


The hardline-Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir recently launched its first magazine in Sydney to be distributed on university campuses. The plan for the publication, Idialogue, has terrorism experts concerned about the potential infiltration of universities by radical groups seeking recruits.

“It is precisely the tactic that Hizb ut-Tahrir used in the UK when they wanted to establish a jihadi network,” said Carl Ungerer, director of the national security project at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is not only targaeting Australia. The use of a magazine, Ungerer points out, is part of a global trend employed a “dissemination device,” as well as a revenue-raising tool.

Oh, Boy


The Chronicle makes much of the fact that the National Academy of Sciences elected 16 women this year, as opposed to nine last year.

One, with numbers this small, it’s not unusual to see significant variations, so this is not evidence of a “significant reversal” — just normal statistical bouncing. Two, given that men and women perform differently in the sciences, it’s hard to tell whether a higher percentage of electees even should, by merit, be women.

But three, and most important, it’s troubling that NAS is “trying to do better to identify qualified candidates who are women and members of minority groups underrepresented in science” — it has already sacrificed its objectivity to political correctness quite enough. After the jump is a (newly polished) commentary I wrote back when the organization released an absurd report on women in science (see the Becker-Posner blog for more comments):

Keep reading this post . . .

Why We Really Need Student Evaluations


It makes investigative blog posts like this possible. See also this story in The Dartmouth, which is a funny name for a newspaper — isn’t it kind of like The Google? The Dartmouth what?

Thanks to a reader for the tip.

Where Has All the Money Gone?


The Center for College Affordability and Productivity has a new study showing that North Carolina’s higher-education system is costing taxpayers a bundle. At the same time, among other negative findings, the report shows that many campuses are spending only 20 to 40 percent of their revenue on instruction.

Author Richard Vedder concludes that North Carolina’s colleges are neglecting their core mission, “actually teaching students,” and questions the nature of the vast spending having that does not reach the classroom.

Similar reports on higher education spending in all states are needed, as well as analyses of campuses’ spending priorities.

De Maistre Mixer


If you’ve ever wanted to present an academic paper on the “altar and throne” conservatism of Joseph de Maistre — and who has not? — there are rarely better opportunities to do so than at Cambridge’s Fifth International Colloquium on the thinker. 

Abstracts for the December 5-6 conference are due on May 1. E-mail me for the full “call for papers” announcement if interested.

Minerva in Academe


In a recent speech before research-university presidents, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates outlined plans to greatly expand Pentagon-supported research in the social sciences and humanities, in order to better inform public policy.

As cited in Inside Higher Ed, Gates gave the following examples of such research projects, which he collectively labeled “Minerva Consortia”:

  • Chinese military and technology studies … China publishes much information about its own military … only in China. [What’s needed is] the creation of “a real — or virtual — archive of documents” created by universities.
  • Iraqi and terrorist perspectives … there is much research to be done on materials captured in recent years … many documents “contain strategic, ideological, and practical considerations … of great interest to scholars.”
  • Religious studies. “Eventual success in the conflict against jihadist extremism will depend [largely] on the overall ideological climate within the world of Islam. Understanding [this is a] significant intellectual challenge … It has been a long time since religious issues have had to be addressed in a strategic context. A research program along these lines could be an important contribution to the intellectual foundation on which we base a national strategy.”
  • New disciplines. Game theory and Kremlinology came out of Cold War research and suggested that other fields may need to be created now … “The government and the Department of Defense need to engage additional intellectual disciplines – such as history, anthropology, sociology, and evolutionary psychology.”

The university presidents reportedly warmed to Gates’s outreach, while some scholars were wary that Pentagon support could compromise their research. A professor at George Mason University, Hugh Gusterson, went farther, fretting about why the Pentagon is in the research business at all. “Why,” he asked, “is the Pentagon taking so much of our discursive space?”

Gates promises that the Minerva projects will hew strictly to “openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity.” But would the controlling powers in the humanities and social sciences — those, in my view, primarily responsible for the treacherous treatment of military recruiters on campuses — respond in kind? What confidence can one have — or should Gates have — that that this leftist monopoly can advance the kind of knowledge this nation needs to confront jihad extremism, ethnic conflict, and the other new, complex threats that he cites?

Cut-Throat Sorority at Hofstra?


A Hofstra University freshman, Tina Courtney Holt, says she has been verbally and physically attacked by vengeful sorority girls, who shoved her head into a wall and threatened to “slit her throat” and “kill” her when she decided not to join their group. Holt, calling Phi Epsilon “a cult,” alleges she was subjected to abusive hazing that involved sitting for seven hours in the same position with other pledges. The sorority initiation ritual, she claims, includes being branded in the groin area with a hot fork. According to the New York Post, Holt informed the police about the alleged attack, but no arrest was made. Hofstra states it will investigate and comment.

If Holt’s complaints prove true, they join the growing roster of incidents of violence and savagery on many campuses. These cases augur ill for society, which cannot survive without a common understanding and acceptance of the value of non-violence and harmonious social interaction, as well as swift and proportionate curbs on violence. Have ethical relativism and twisted postmodern teachings about the use of power reached such a fever pitch on campuses that young women feel free to hound and abuse each other?


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