Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Johns Hopkins Works With Army on Biodefense


Up to five Johns Hopkins biotechnology graduate students will be employed under the Army’s Student Career Experience Program at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, at Fort Detrick. “It’s a good way to build new talent and get them interested in this field,” said a USAMRIID spokeswoman. “There’s still relatively few places you can work with some of these diseases.”

Yes, and strengthening the field strengthens our defense in the event of attack with biological weapons.

Academics Going Virtual


A recent conference at Case Western Reserve University looked at the pros and cons of academic blogs, which now number in the thousands. The participants also explored how 3-D virtual worlds, like Second Life, will influence academe. Some professors are wary of this new model for fear, in the words of one commentator, “that we’re not needed anymore.”

Oh my!


The Reform that Wasn’t


The curricular reform that has been slogging along at Harvard, bereft of vision, is finally inching towards an unexciting conclusion. 

The first courses being proposed under the new regime include one by Louis Menand — all-too-hip English prof, curricular reformer, and contributor to the New Yorker — called “Humanities 10: An Introductory Humanities Colloquium.”

Now, at least on the face of things, this is precisely the type of thing one thinks of with reference to “general” education. And, yet, in spite of numbering it “10” and calling it “general,” it will in fact be a limited-enrolment class for which the permission of the instructor is required to take it. From my experience, many students would like to take this type of course, and many of those will not be able to. 

How should a student hope to fulfil his “general education” requirement?

From The Crimson:

Menand said that his personal vision of Gen Ed includes the availability of “plenty of attractive ways to fulfill requirements.” He urged the Gen Ed committee to “open the floodgates” and “not be too rigid about approving new courses.” 

As I said, Gen Ed at Harvard is a vision-less enterprise.

The News(eum) is in


I’ve been here in D.C. for a few days, and I used my Sunday to visit the new Newseum with some friends.

I cannot possibly improve on Andrew Ferguson’s impressions of the same, except to amplify them.

The museum’s modus operandi is a conflation of the freedoms of the First Amendment and the current state of journalism, as if its status quo is this freedom embodied. There is little self-criticism, lots of self-trumpeting, and an abundance of insipid “interactive” and multimedia features.

Among these are screens throughout the museum detailing the various sponsors of the museum — Gannett, the Tribune, News Corp — and explaining why they thought it was a worthwhile project. The short version of the museum that will spare you the $20 (!) admission price: Journalists’ bosses spend $571 million to build a giant museum extolling their employees’ public virtue on the most prime piece of undeveloped D.C. real estate. Conflict of interest, anyone?

Scrutinizing the ‘Residence Life’ Movement


The battle of the authoritarian and dogmatic “Residence Life” program at the University of Delaware has brought about a much-needed scrutiny of the entire movement. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I take a look at this disturbing phenomenon.

Student-affairs and residence-life departments at many colleges and universities have been growing apace over the last ten years or so, staffed largely with graduates in soft disciplines such as education and sociology. Their heads have been stuffed with leftist notions about the world, and the best employment they can land is in the downy nest of higher education. They have no qualms about force-feeding the students over whom they have dominion dogmas about identity politics, environmentalism, and other messianic ideas.

Res life is already rooted in at many schools, and pulling it out will be like trying to eradicate kudzu that has overgrown a field.


Re: Academics’ Political Donations


Another interesting aspect of Jay P. Greene’s post on the topic is that significantly more of these donations have gone to Obama relative to Clinton.

No surprise here. But the extent of the one-sidedness is confounding.

University of Toledo Suspends Woman for Views on Gays


The University of Toledo has suspended its associate vice president of human resources for writing a column asserting that (A) homosexuality is completely a choice, and (B) the fact that homosexuals earn above-average incomes means there is no discrimination against them.

Both points are idiotic enough, but the college freely admits it fired her simply for expressing the wrong view:

Matt Lockwood, University of Toledo’s director of public relations, confirmed that Dixon “was placed on paid administrative leave because of that column,” and referred Cybercast News Service to a statement issued May 4 by Lloyd Jacobs, the university’s president.

In it, Jacobs said that Dixon’s comments “do not accord with the values of the University of Toledo,” and that he felt it was “necessary, therefore, for me to repudiate much of her writing.”

Jacobs also placed the university on record as supporting two pending domestic partner bills in the Ohio Legislature: Senate Bill 305 and House Bill 502.

John Lott points out that in print, she didn’t even identify herself as employed by the school, much less say she wrote on behalf of the school. I’d add that this is not a school publication but a local paper — one could argue that advancing such views on campus could conflict with her human-resources job.

On a side note, why is a public university “on record” supporting controversial legislation?

Intellectual Diversity, the Wrong Way


University of Colorado at Boulder chancellor Bud Peterson is concerned about intellectual diversity on campus. That’s a good thing. He’s trying to do something about it — also a good thing. But devils lie in details, and Peterson’s effort to endow a chair for the nation’s first professor of conservative thought and policy may do more to exacerbate than to resolve the issue at hand.

The two-year rotating position would involve teaching one course each semester, giving speeches throughout the state, and helping with research and courses in the department closest to the appointee’s area of expertise. Names are already being floated for the position; they include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, columnist George Will, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, and 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow. And therein lies the problem.

Conservative thought is a legitimate area of scholarly inquiry, and it would be entirely reasonable for any university to hire a specialist in that field. But there is a difference between hiring a specialist and hiring a practitioner; experts need not be advocates, and not all advocates are experts. Individuals of all political persuasions should be eligible for this job, and Peterson says they are — but the fact that those being named as possible candidates are all practicing conservatives should give us pause.

Universities should never hire faculty members on the basis of their beliefs. They should always make hiring decisions on the basis of candidates’ professional qualifications.

Academia and Elitism


First we had Hillary Clinton asserting that economists wouldn’t know how a gas-tax holiday would work, uh, economically. Now the stupidity goes bipartisan with Rep. Duncan musing on abstinence education:

The Zogby poll that’s been mentioned showed by a more than 2-1 margin that parents … prefer the abstinence approach, and it seems rather elitist to me for people who maybe have degrees in this field to feel that they, because they’ve studied it, somehow know better than the parents what is best for … their children.

Academics really need to start standing up to this kind of ignorance — if your full-time job is to study something, you have special knowledge of it, and it’s absurd for politicians to dismiss that knowledge out-of-hand. As Eugene Volokh writes:

People thinking that because they’ve studied a subject … they know better than those who just have intuition, casual observation, and anecdote? How elitist! …

Look, if you want to challenge the reliability of various studies, by all means please do that. … Likewise, if you want to make an argument based on pure morality or democratic theory about what should be done and shouldn’t, that’s fine.

And as for the underlying issue, the ideal situation would be for public schools to leave sex ed to parents, who can tailor their messages to fit their kids’ penchants for risk-taking. As Reason’s Kerry Howley summarized the available studies:

Kids are not as malleable as supporters of comprehensive sex ed policies make them out to be. The available evidence suggests that abstinence-only programs have no impact whatsoever. Kids might as well spend the 40 minutes staring at a brick wall. It’s a waste of class time and money. … there is no solid evidence that “comprehensive” sex ed — the relevant alternative — has any impact on sexual behavior either.

A Hero at San Diego State University


Today, in The American Spectator, Clinton W. Taylor praises the president of San Diego State University for doing something about his campus’s drug problem, rather than insulating students from their behavior:

This wasn’t a few neo-hippie tokers mellowing out in an off-campus garret. The DEA discovered organized drug sales operating out of seven fraternities; in some of them, “most” of the fraternity members were aware of the ongoing sales. There was a major health and security problem at SDSU. It’s a little difficult to study to become, say, a federal law enforcement officer when you’re coked to the gills and baked out of your gourd, text-messaging your suppliers and customers, while your frathouse maintains a small arsenal to protect its stash, and co-eds are OD’ing in the basements.

There are plenty of villains in this story but one hero stands out — a college president who had the rare good judgment to do something about it. Though encomiums in The American Spectator probably don’t help a college president’s esteem among his colleagues, SDSU’s president Stephen Weber deserves a good word for doing the right thing and allowing the DEA to investigate the problem.

Mark Bauerlein’s New Book


PBC contributor Mark Bauerlein has a new book entitled The Dumbest Generation, and today’s Wall Street Journal has a review.

I’m looking forward to reading it.

Bernard Lewis on Middle Eastern Scholarship


Bernard Lewis recently gave a fine talk to the newly formed Americans for the Study of the Middle East and Africa. Lewis named political correctness and multiculturalism among the obstacles to genuine scholarship on the Middle East, inasmuch as they forbid honest discussion of the nature of Islam. The present-day restrictions on discussion about Islam, Lewis stated, are unparalleled in the Western world since the 18th century and in some places long before that.

He might have added to PC and MC the universalist ideology promoted by the Bush administration which insists that all mankind desires Western-style freedom and self-government, and that all are right now capable of it. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, for example, in consultation with unnamed Muslim leaders and scholars, have issued Orwellian reports telling government employees to emphasize that Islam and democracy are not only fully compatible, but mutually strengthening.

But the very reports that give this directive are also directing thought and proscribing words — “jihad” and “mujahedeen” are to be avoided since they might suggest the idea that warfare to advance the faith has a religious basis in Islam, something our government evidently wants to believe, or wants us to believe, is untrue. Talk about Willful Blindness, as Andrew McCarthy’s new book is titled. Far from democracy being strengthened by Islam, we are surrendering our principles in order to accommodate it. Another of the proscribed words is “liberty,” because that can suggest American hegemony.

The Education-Industrial-Political Racket


Hmmm…In recent years the National Education Association ranked fourth among all entities contributing to national campaigns.

Hmmm…Candidates prattle on about throwing more money at the current educational status quo.

Meanwhile, the U.S. now lags behind Poland in international test results. And Finland, Sweden, and Canada are making educational strides because they’ve adopted strong systems of school choice.

How this losing proposition came about cannot be revisited enough. According to Paul Peterson:

Around 1970 or thereabouts, the educational-industrial complex was hammered into place: School boards gave teachers collective bargaining rights. State governments assumed greater responsibility for financing the schools. The courts instructed schools on the civil liberties of their students. Regulations multiplied. America gained a federal Department of Education. And state and federal dollars poured into the system.

Will any presidential candidate take on the education-industrial complex? Hope springs eternal, despite the monetary quid pro quo locked in place.

Separating Wheaton from the Chaff


Bill McGurn of the WSJ defends Wheaton’s decision to dismiss a professor who is divorcing his wife:

Wheaton’s ways are not my ways. Yet there is something refreshing about an institution willing to stand up for its convictions rather than trim its sails to the prevailing winds.

Head of Canada’s ‘First Family of Terror’ Radicalized at University of Ottawa


Thirty years ago, an Egyptian immigrant named Ahmed Khadr, who would become the head of Canada’s foremost “family of terror,” was a peace-abiding master’s student in engineering at the University of Ottawa. But, as the Ottawa Citizen comments, Khadr became radicalized at the university:

Khadr joined the Muslim Students Association which had been founded, in part, by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group opposed to Egypt’s secular government. Exposure to the group would be a galvanizing experience for Khadr, according to an important new book [Guantanamo's Child, which explores the case of Khadr's second youngest son, Omar] by Toronto Star national security reporter Michelle Shephard … [who] writes … “The Muslim Student Association opened his eyes to the politics of Islam and by the time he graduated, he was a proponent of Sharia Law.”

So began the Khadrs’ epic family journey into the world’s darkest circles of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

I relay this story, lest we forget that university radicalism can have horrific consequences.

Sampson’s Freedom to Read


Back in November, the Affirmative Action Office of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis found Keith John Sampson guilty of racial harassment for reading an anti-Klan history. Sampson describes his ordeal here.

In an email, Harvey Silverglate, Executive Director of FIRE, notes further:

Sampson would have been within his rights even if the book he was reading was racist. The fact that the book was anti-racist simply adds absurdity to what otherwise would have been merely outrageous.

Out-of-control campus educrats need to be reined in.

Harvard as Hedge Fund?


Jim Manzi makes the case over on The Corner.

Here’s his main point:

When tax-advantaged non-profits start to accumulate billions of dollars of cash through investment gains, and the insiders seem to be doing very well, it creates legitimate pressure for some legal changes. There is a broad range of alternatives: capital gains taxes on investment income, directly taxing the endowment, placing limitations on employee compensation, and forcing the distribution of a fixed percentage of the endowment are all obvious choices. Sanctimonious talk about “the mission of the university” is not likely to stop this; unfortunately, giving lots of money to Democratic politicians very well might.

Interviews With Prof Suing Students


The Dartmouth Review conducted two interviews with Prof. Priya Venkatesan after news broke here that she was threatening to sue seven students from her Writing 5 classes. Venkatesan, who now teaches at Northwestern University, appears still intent on suing the college.

Venkatesan’s remarks are, to put it kindly, convoluted and incoherent. They make one wonder how in the world she was hired in the first place – to teach writing, no less.

Affirmative Action in Arizona


Here is an update on the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative.

An Inconvenient Professor


It looks like Hamilton College is trying to punish a conservative professor by refusing to give him a raise, according to The Continental, a student publication.


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