Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Nabokov’s Last Work to be Published


Dmitri Nabokov is clearly very much like his father, dispatching vague, all-caps e-mails to enquiring minds and in general being a half-pugnacious, half-endearing jokester. That is certainly the impression one gets from the brief interview with Dmitri in the NYT’s Week in Review.

His father was probably the best novelist of the 20th century, and the hard core of Nabokov’s readers have followed with interest the winding and much-speculated-upon fate of Laura, his final, unfinished work.

Vladimir apparently instructed his wife and Dmitri to burn his unfinished work. They did not. And now it appears, after three decades of vacillating, that Laura is bound for publication.

It’s unclear how complete the work is — as the interview notes, Nabokov famously wrote on index cards and “dealt” himself novels by rearranging their order. However, it has been known for some time that the novel concerns an academic who is downtrodden at the indiscretions of his much younger flame — typical characters at least — who decides to will himself out of existence. Nabokov himself described it to his son — or so the Times interview has it — as one of his three most important novels.

To say nothing of the ethics of disobeying a genius’s dying command to his son, I am, for purely selfish reasons, thrilled to see that Laura is being published, however fragmentary it may be.

Shouted Down at Smith


If you give a speech called “The Born Gay Hoax” at a college like Smith, the all-women’s school in central Massachusetts, you can expect that you will not receive a positive reaction. 

And, indeed, that proved to be true for Ryan Sorba, an invited speaker of the Smith College Republicans who was interrupted about 10 minutes into his talk when activists climbed through windows, banged pots and pans, stood in front of the podium, and at last forced the event to a halt.

You can see it all here.Uniformed police officers stand by doing nothing, and then, the crowning moment: an administrator tells Sorba he has to leave for his own safety! 

The following day, college president Carol Christ sent a mass e-mail telling people not to shout down speakers, even while announcing a College-sponsored event that would “stand in contrast” to Sorba’s views — you know, the views no one heard because he was shouted down. 

Absurd. One doesn’t have to agree with Sorba’s views — I personally find them dubious — to think this behavior is completely out of line.

The good news is that it seems in recent years more and more schools are making students face consequences for disruptive antics. 


Ayers Rises


Here is a story on an academic recently in the news for his ties to Barack Obama:

William Ayers, the unrepentant former SDS Weather Underground bomber of the 1960s, was recently elected by the American Education Research Association (AERA) as vice president and head of its division of curriculum studies.

Re: Horowitz Cartoon


More from David Horowitz:

Professor Mayer is mistaken both as regards my complaint about the cartoon and about the Mohammed cartoons themselves. I have not asked for any punishment for expression of religious hatred by the MSA. They have the right to say whatever they want, however reprehensible the sentiment. However, the university is not obligated to provide them with the bulletin board space in the Student Union on which they displayed their bigotry, or to underwrite the expense of printing up the flyers to spread their hatred around campus. Professor Mayer is also mistaken — or just being scholastic — in saying there are no university regulations against religious and ethnic hatred. Just imagine if that poster had been to protest an African American speaker and if the cartoon was of a noose. Does he think the university would take a neutral attitude? Would he protest in the name of free speech if it didn’t?

Finally, he misunderstands the nature of the Mohammed cartoons. They were not attacks on Islam, but attacks on a perverse interpretation of Islam that uses the sayings of the Prophet to justify terrorist attacks.

Which U.S. Scholars Soft-Pedaled Counter-Terrorist Vocab?


Answer: We don’t know. And why? Because, as Steven Emerson objects, the Department of Homeland Security is refusing to identify which “leading” academics and others recently met with Secretary Michael Chertoff to codify “a softer approach to government lexicon about terrorists and their ideological motivations.” Nor is DHS identifying the organizational affiliations of these scholars and other advisers.

Emerson concludes:

So America, after serving for more than two centuries [as] the sanctuary for huddled masses yearning to breathe free, is being asked to minimize liberty [of expression] against fanatics bent on a global religious state. The [academics' and others' recommendations to Chertoff don't] offer examples to show where Islam and secular democracy have reinforced each other, or explain how Shariah law, the imposition of religion into state affairs, is “fully compatible” with secular democracy.

Who are the scholars telling us how or how not to speak of terrorism? With what political forces have they sided? Why is the DHS silent about this?


UD Faculty Must Step Up


I’ve noted how the University of Delaware is hiding the machinations of the officials who run its suspended, Orwellian dorm program, which seems headed for reinstatement.

In a latest development FIRE’s Adam Kissel writes an open letter to the UD faculty:

the 2008-2009 Residence Life Program Plan … is unworthy of the University of Delaware for its unrelenting inculcation of a highly specific political agenda … this kind of “education” has no place in a residential program …

I am not an academic outsider … I would be ashamed if faculty members would give up their educational prerogatives to the unrefined intellectual forays of residential staff who have nothing like the education and teaching abilities of the regular faculty.

Kissel’s letter is soon to be posted at FIRE’s site. (Update: It’s up.)

Show Me the Data


The Chronicle has an interesting piece today about how some states are keeping more data on students:

The most celebrated example is Florida, which began in 2001 to assemble a “data warehouse” that allows officials to track a person’s progress from kindergarten through graduate school and beyond, including postcollege wages and employment, military service, incarceration, and receipt of public assistance.

Many researchers say that Florida’s system, along with somewhat less ambitious education databases in Texas, Washington, and roughly a dozen other states, is a vital tool for assessing schools and colleges and helping them to improve.

True enough. Florida “takes elaborate steps to ‘de-identify’ its information before handing it to outside researchers,” and other states should, too.

Of course, a database this size would allow for some serious analysis of affirmative action. Any wagers as to whether that’ll happen?

Re: Horowitz Cartoon


Kenneth R. Mayer responds:

I don’t know that I want to get into an argument with someone who buys ink by the megabyte, but Horowitz is just flat wrong on this. There is nothing in the student code of conduct about religious bigotry. I don’t know how the mere expression of an idea — and I’ll agree that it is offensive — can constitute religious bigotry subject to discipline. Horowitz has been quite vigorous on this question in other contexts. It was the MSA that insisted that the Mohammed cartoons constituted such bigotry.  Several years before that, some students wanted the Badger Herald sanctioned  for running Horowitz’s anti-reparations ad. The cases are exactly the same.

Hard to believe he wants to start down this road.

Anti-Jihad U.


As part of its counterinsurgency effort, the U.S. military is running two schools for suspected insurgents, mostly aged 18 to 29, in Iraq, in order to identify and facilitate the release of non-jihadis as well as to de-radicalize and rehabilitate other detainees. Many thousands of detainees, writes Judith Miller, are being taught reading, writing, and vocational skills, and some are even learning to play chess. So successful are these programs that detainees have begun to volunteer for the classes.

A most valuable observation about this effort is how it works to defeat violent Islamic extremism. Movingly, Miller quotes a school sheik-counselor:

After Iraqis here learn how to read and write, they can read the Koran themselves for the first time … I’ve seen detainees break down and cry when they realize that the conduct they thought was sanctioned by God is actually a sin.

Maybe U.S. campuses have something to learn from “Anti-Jihad U.”

Death of Hamilton


In The New Criterion, Bob Paquette tells the sad tale of how Hamilton College made it impossible for its own professors to form the Alexander Hamilton Center:

the story of the rise, fall, and rebirth of the AHC as the independent Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) should serve as a cautionary tale for those seeking to sanitize the dark precincts and arcane corridors of the academy. Most trustees understand them dimly. They spend little time on campus. They visit perhaps three or four times a year. They have tight schedules and shepherded experiences that leave little room for information-gathering on their own. Detachment and arrogance tend not to breed discriminating judgment. Since successful businessmen predominate on most boards, crises tend to become a managerial problem resolved by thickening layers of the bureaucracy and by resort to public relations departments with little platoons of information managers who, along with some trustees, sincerely believe that image is reality.

Last year, I wrote about the controversy here.

Life in Washington


More WSJ:

Congratulations! You and your fellow taxpayers will soon be the proud owners of a multibillion-dollar portfolio of student loans. And a leading Member of Congress promises that this pretty bundle of debt comes to you with no cost and no risk. President Bush apparently agrees.

Life at Dartmouth



Often it seems as though American higher education exists only to provide gag material for the outside world. The latest spectacle is an Ivy League professor threatening to sue her students because, she claims, their “anti-intellectualism” violated her civil rights.

Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of “French narrative theory” that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will “name names.”

‘Wake Up,’ UC, ‘and Smell the Hummus!’


Two terrorists-turned-critics-of-Islam recently urged a University of Colorado audience of 1,000 to “Wake up and smell the hummus.” Walid Shoebat and Kamal Saleem, whose remarks were titled “Why We Want to Kill You,” recounted their terrorist experiences and criticized weaknesses in American terrorist policy. “Wake up, wake up,’” Saleem said. “We have a saying that goes, ‘Wake up and smell the hummus. If you don’t, you’ll be smelling it for a long time.’” The two warned that Americans don’t understand the resolve of Islamic fundamentalists nor the violent aspects of the religion.

All too rare, such first-hand testimony on PC campuses.

ResLife: Now You See It, Now You Don’t


The criticism of residential-life programs aimed at imposing all manner of leftist dogma on students is heating up. Here from Adam Kissel at FIRE is the latest development regarding the the University of Delaware’s apparent intent to reinstate the infamous ResLife that appeared to be suspended but is now rearing its head anew. Campus administrators have now taken to hiding matters relating to Res Life. Specifically:

Following the attention given by the Delaware Association of Scholars to the University of Delaware Residence Life position called “Graduate Assistant for Diversity Initiatives,” the university has removed the job description from its website.

But FIRE, ever at the ready, preserved a copy here.

Want to get a whiff of the incredibly intrusive character of Res Life machinations? Check out the position’s responsibilities under the rubric “Resource Development”:

Keep reading this post . . .

Horowitz on the MSA Cartoon


David Horowitz has responded by e-mail to Prof. Kenneth Mayer’s comments on the anti-Semitic cartoon distributed by the Muslim Students Association at the University of Wisconsin. Mayer equated the re-printing of the Danish cartoons critical of Mohammad with the anti-Semitic cartoon. Horowitz ripostes: “The difference between the two cartoons is that the university has rules against religious bigotry. The Mohammed cartoons were nothing of the sort.”

Coatsworth of ‘Hitler, Too’ Fame Named Columbia Dean


John Coatsworth has just been appointed dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. The editors of the New York Sun, with good reason, are appalled. They lambaste those responsible for this appointment and summarize Coatsworth’s activism “on the far-out fringe” as follows:

The persons whose judgment is really called into question here is not just Mr. Coatsworth but the president and trustees of Columbia, who have now elevated to a deanship an Israel-hating apologist for the Communists who is on record as being willing to welcome Hitler to campus. They announced the decision just in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The university leadership could learn a thing or two from David Feith, who edits the student newspaper, the Current. In an editorial, he recommends that Columbia honor some of the world’s bravest dissidents with honorary degrees — especially in the year of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the campus. Dean Coatsworth, what say you of this idea?

Northwestern ‘Clarifies’ the Wright Controversy


More from the statement by Alan K. Cubbage, Northwestern University vice president for university relations, regarding the university’s decision to withdraw an invitation to the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright to receive an honorary degree:

May 1, 2008
Earlier this academic year, acting on the recommendation of faculty committees, Northwestern University extended an invitation to the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former senior minister of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, to receive an honorary Doctorate of Sacred Theology at Northwestern’s Commencement in June. Commencement at Northwestern is a time of celebration of the accomplishments of Northwestern’s graduating students and their families. In light of the controversy around Dr. Wright and to ensure that the celebratory character of Commencement not be affected, the University has withdrawn its invitation to Dr. Wright.

Dr. Wright was quoted as saying that his invitation to receive an honorary degree was withdrawn by Northwestern President Henry Bienen because Dr. Wright “wasn’t patriotic enough.” If Dr. Wright was quoted accurately, that statement is not true. In his conversation and correspondence with Dr. Wright in March, President Bienen never characterized Dr. Wright’s views or made a judgment about them. The letter said, “In light of the controversy surrounding statements made by you that have recently been publicized, the celebratory character of Northwestern’s commencement would be affected by our conferring of this honorary degree. Thus I am withdrawing the offer of an honorary degree previously extended to you.”

Lone G.O.P. Ranger


Recent figures show the Democrats hauling in $16,093 in donations from those who identify themselves as employed at Brooklyn College. There was but one Republican donor, Professor Mitchell Langbert.

And the educational establishment pronounces with a straight face that there is no political imbalance on campuses!

Re: Ignored Questions


Roger is absolutely right. I just wanted to add that there’s a perfectly good argument against the SAT, and it has nothing to do with race.

In fact, in terms of determining merit, the SAT is generous to minorities. Were the SAT unfair, its scores would underpredict minority college GPAs — in other words, the racist test would say they’d only get a 3.0, but actually they’d get a 3.5. But actually, the opposite happens: There is “a tendency for the SAT to overpredict, not underpredict, the college performance of African Americans. On average, it indicates they will do better than they actually do.”

The case against the SAT, as made by Charles Murray, is that relative to other measures (including the SAT II), it’s just not that good for figuring out how students will do in college — regardless of what race the students are.

The As-Usual Ignored Questions


There’s a long article in The Chronicle of Higher Education today about two studies showing that the allegedly “excessive weight” given SAT scores by the admission offices of elite colleges is “complicat[ing] their pursuit of diversity,” meaning the admission of more blacks and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics. The solution: Give less weight to SAT scores.

First of all: This is not exactly news. Everyone knows that these groups perform less well on the SAT, and so people who want schools to get their numbers right have been complaining about their using the SAT for years. The twist is that, despite all this politically correct pressure, the reliance on the SAT may actually be increasing.

Anyhow, there are two obvious questions posed here, one of which is completely unaddressed by the article, and the other only in briefest passing. (1) If the SAT helps colleges select the most qualified students, isn’t it problematic for them to stop using it? And (2) specifically, isn’t it racial discrimination if schools choose selection criteria, not simply on the basis of which ones select the best students, but also on the basis of which ones yield a particular racial and ethnic mix?

All the article says with regard to the first question is that, according to one of the studies, “shifting to admissions policies based on class rank would not hurt graduation rates.” But there are graduates and there are graduates. The answer to the second question — the one that is not addressed at all — is, “Yes.” If the shoe were on the other foot, and schools decided to ratchet up their reliance on class rank because it would help keep down the number of Asians and Jews, wouldn’t that be discrimination? Oh, wait, the shoe is on that foot.


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