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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

More Gender-Difference Blogging



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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



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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.

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Oh, Boy



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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



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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?



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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.

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De Maistre Mixer



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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



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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?



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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?

Erica Jong Diplomacy



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Last year, Erica Jong decided to give her papers to Columbia. Here is an excerpt of the press release:

“The addition of Erica Jong’s papers to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library is yet another example of her unwavering dedication to imparting not only her gifts as a writer but also her wisdom and life experiences as a mentor and educator,” said Judith R. Shapiro, President of Barnard College. “We are proud that she is part of Barnard’s tradition of great writers, and even more proud that she has chosen to give back and actively influence future generations of novelists, poets, and essayists who will most certainly benefit from her frank, lively, and eloquent memoirs.”

And here is a recent specimen of Jong’s wisdom and life experience, a post at Huffington Post on Jeremiah Wright and on a talk she gave in Italy:

Wright seems utterly sincere to me. He strikes me as having a true spiritual calling. When he says, “America’s chickens have come home to roost,” I can’t fault his logic. Haven’t we been squandering hard earned taxpayer money on overseas adventures while we starve poor children? Haven’t we been supporting dictators while prating of democracy? Haven’t we been enriching profiteers at the expense of health care and education? You betcha.

A week ago I told my audience in Rome that in the last several years, I’ve been ashamed to be an American. A cheer went up from the amphitheater. It was such a relief, audience members later told me, to hear an American speak the truth for a change.

Guilt by Association?



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Let us now play the world’s smallest violin for Debbie Almontaser, the erstwhile principal of the Arabic-language public school in Brooklyn who resigned before the school opened last term.

A New York Times feature yesterday paints a gratuitously long, yet insubstantial, portrait of the supposed smear against her.

We learn that Almontaser has abiding friendships with Christians and Jews; that she spurned a religious Muslim organization’s involvement with the school and preferred the help of a secular Arab-American association; that she was unfairly associated with t-shirts that read, perplexingly, “NYC Intifada.”

And then, after having painted a portrait of Almontaser as a moderate, we learn: “She also gave $2,000 to Representative Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia.”

The Times explains, parenthetically, that “Ms. McKinney…has had a strong following among Arab-Americans in part because of her criticism of the Patriot Act.”

Anyone who knows of the fabled congressional career of Cynthia McKinney knows that this is not the fully story. The congresswoman also claimed that President Bush knew of 9/11 before it happened, and made numerous anti-Semitic comments while in and out of office. There are, moreover, people like Ron Paul who have an even higher profile in opposing the Patriot Act — yet one can search in vain for an Almontaser donation to him, or to Jeff Flake, or to other congressmen who have been more effective voices against the Patriot Act.

Anyways, an educator who gives thousands of dollars to Cynthia McKinney — where do these educators get thousands of dollars to donate to politicians anyways? — should raise eyebrows. And this is not, contrary the Times claim, “guilt by association” tactics. “Guilt by association” implies that you were tied, without any doing of your own, to something or someone you would likely find unsavory. (If the facts are correct — always that proviso with the Times — it may be said the way Almontaser was played on the “NYC Intifada” t-shirt issue was an unfair use of “guilt by association”). Yet, political contributions are associations embarked upon on a wholly voluntary basis. A nearly maxed-out donation to ex-Rep. McKinney should, as it did, raise questions.

Core Civic Questions



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How often do you find a former campus provost exhorting campuses to require their students to seriously study the character and foundations of American democracy? In an eloquent essay Thomas Lindsay makes this case to higher educators and frames six questions essential, for both newly arrived immigrants and native-born citiizens, to “becoming American.”

“American higher education,” he concludes, “has both the obligation and the privilege” to provide core civic education, thus protecting our liberty from being “swallowed whole by democratic conformism.”

More on Experimental Philosophy



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From reader Micah Tillman:

Thanks to Ms. de Russy and Mr. Schwarz for their posts on experimental philosophy. Philosophers in the West have traditionally felt threatened by the social and psychological sciences, since many people try to reduce philosophy to those sciences.

The phenomenon of experimental philosophy is, therefore . . . interesting (to put it mildly). One would expect a strong reaction against it. It will make most of us philosophical types feel threatened. We don’t want to lose our unique identity.

I’d first like to articulate my personal response to experimental philosophy (as a student and teacher of philosophy). Then I’d like to take issue with Dr. Knobe’s use of the phrase “leftist intuition.”

Keep reading this post . . .

ABA: No Business Dictating Diversity



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John and George, what caught my attention in Heriot’s article, which rightfully condemns the American Bar Association’s mandating of discrimination in law schools, was the following simple but crucial reminder: “The ABA is not a university, and its Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is not entitled to academic deference,” i.e., the organization has neither the standing nor right to be dictating the schools’ admission policies.

Attention Dartmouth Alumni



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ABA Accreditation Fuels Diversity Mania



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The Wall Street Journal featured a revealing article by law professor Gail Heriot. She discusses the travails of George Mason’s excellent law school with regard to accreditation by the American Bar Association. GMU has been thrashed for not meeting adequate minority quotas.

More evidence that accreditation doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about academic quality. Instead, it is used to push ideological agendas.

This would not be a problem at all if GMU (and other law schools) could just tell the ABA, “We don’t care what you think of us,” but so long as student eligibility for federal student aid is at stake, it can hardly do so. (Unless, of course, it finds a way to help needed students finance their education without any federal funds, as Hillsdale has done.)

We ought to cut the Gordian Knot and deregulate the legal profession, as I argued here.

ASMEA vs. MESA



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Congrats to the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, for its successful first conference. The group was formed by Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami to provide a balance to the left-wing nuttery of the Middle East Studies Association, which likes to pretend that there’s no such thing as Islamic radicalism, except perhaps for the variety that’s properly inspired by a wholly reasonable hatred of the United States. CHE has a report.

Lowering the Bar



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In the WSJ, Gail Heriot writes on how the American Bar Association forces law schools to admit less-than-qualified students for the sake of “diversity.”

Textbook Price Controls?



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Textbooks cost too much. A NYT editorial wants federal legislation. Is there no problem too small for government action?

Can Colleges Effectively Channel Facebook?



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CHE has an interesting article (subscription required) about the latest trend in alumni outreach–customized social networking sites:

Trying to emulate the popularity of Web sites like Facebook and MySpace, hundreds of college alumni associations have begun to offer their own online social networks, seeking to stake a claim on the computer screens of current and former students, especially young alumni.

But many of the sites have struggled to attract alumni and to keep them interacting with the devotion they show to their online profiles on other networks. That makes the sites less useful to colleges, which want to foster closer ties with alumni and keep tabs on their whereabouts for fund raising and other purposes.

“Social networking is definitely hot, and people want to know what to do,” says Andrew Shaindlin, executive director of the alumni association at the California Institute of Technology.

The question, he says, is, Do these exclusive networks fill a need for alumni?

On that last question, I’m not convinced that it does (at least for younger alumni).  My alma mater recently launched one of these sites, and while I’ve created a profile, I haven’t spent a lot of time on the site.  Almost all of my college friends are on Facebook, and its much easier to interact with them there.

When Law Students Attack



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Students at Northwestern Law School are upset at the administration’s choice of a speaker for this year’s graduation:  Jerry Springer.  The school points out that as a 1967 graduate, a former mayor of Cincinnati, and a star of television and opera, Springer should be able to offer valuable insights on law and government.  Students counter that, in the final analysis, he’s still Jerry Springer.

The controversy raises the question of what commencement speakers are good for.  Last year the outgoing president of George Washington University, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, announced that he himself would deliver GWU’s commencement address.  Students were furious.  The student newspaper complained:

The lack of an outside perspective gives GW the appearance of a bottom-tier institution uninterested in academic discovery or the enrichment of students. At an event that receives coverage by local and national media, the Commencement speaker makes a strong statement about the nature of the University and its ability to attract high-profile movers and shakers from academia, politics, business, science or even entertainment. . . .

Students feel cheated. While many may not be keen enough to appreciate the importance of a speaker not connected to the University, all realize that Trachtenberg is a speaker at Commencement each year, and that this year students will merely be receiving one speaker for the price of two. Additionally, plenty of confused students may be wondering why they paid a $100 graduation fee for such a lackluster event.

In the end, graduates were also treated to an address from Wolf Blitzer, who received an honorary degree, thus justifying the pricey Wolf tickets.

     Students are getting mighty picky, aren’t they?  At Columbia, my alma mater, the last three Class Day speakers have all come under criticism.  This year it’s Joel Klein, who as chancellor of New York City’s public schools brought about great improvements in the education of millions of children. That cuts no ice with the students, whose general reaction on hearing his name was, “Who?”  Last year it was John McCain, whose daughter was graduating; students worried that if they listened without protesting, people would assume they were Republicans.  The year before, it was the actor Matthew Fox, class of 1989, best known for his work on the television series “Lost.” The general sense among fastidious Columbians was that he wasn’t quite famous enough for students to endure the humiliation of having a TV actor speak at Class Day.

     All this amuses me, because in my day, more than a quarter-century ago, we would have considered ourselves wildly fortunate to get Al Molinaro from “Joanie Loves Chachi.”  Instead we heard a modestly successful business executive tell us that when things get too much for us, we should go fishing.   (“The purpose of a keynote Commencement speaker is to provide an outside voice that gives students their final bit of enlightenment before leaving the world of academia,“  wrote the GWU editorialist in 2007.) Choosing a commencement speaker is one of those occasions in life, like getting married, when you have to look in the mirror, size yourself up, and be brutally honest in answering the question:  Is this the best I can do?  In those days, Columbia was third-rate and we knew it.  Now it’s improved greatly and can afford to be much more selective in choosing speakers, though evidently not as selective as its students would like.

     (Truth be told, though, while Columbia has come up in the world, it still falls short of the top rung.  You can tell this from the way the press has treated Barack Obama’s sociological observations on Pennsylvania’s working class.  In the current issue of our print magazine, Fred Siegel writes:  “Perhaps his remarks about bitter Pennsylvanians’ clinging to their guns have finally made visible the real man and his Harvard hauteur.”  And Dean Barnett recently wrote in The Weekly Standard:  “Anyone who has ever walked by Harvard Yard has heard the kind of condescending comments that Obama offered in San Francisco.”  Obama got his bachelor’s degree from Columbia, but you never hear anyone say, “That guy went to Columbia–no wonder he’s such a snob!”).

     In this area, I think Cornell University has the right approach:  No honorary degrees and no commencement speaker except the university president.  Who came up with the idea that graduation ceremonies were made for celeb-spotting?  For most graduates, it’s something to wait through impatiently so you can go out and get drunk afterwards.  If you’re looking for somebody who will give a memorable speech, Jerry Springer is a much better bet than some judge or physicist, and if you’re expecting to impress people years later with the name of your commencement speaker, you are doomed to a lifetime of disillusionment.  On the other hand, though, perhaps the controversies are a hopeful sign:  If commencement speakers are the biggest thing that students can find to complain about, the world must be in pretty good shape.

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