Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Are Cheap Degrees a Problem for Government?


In an essay in the current Chronicle Review, Alan Contreras argues that government should step in to deal with what he perceives to be the problem that educational credentials are all called “degrees,” but certainly don’t all represent the same degree of learning. He says, “let us label them accurately so that consumers, educators, and employers will know exactly what they are.”

I can’t agree that this calls for governent action, or is even much of a problem.

If skill and knowledge really matters to an employer, it can and assuredly will make sure that it looks past the credential to assess the individual’s actual capabilities. If skill and knowledge acquired in formal education don’t really matter – and there are plenty of mundane jobs where the college-degree requirement is simply a screening device – then it might actually be a good thing that competent people can readily and inexpensively acquire the paper credentials to get a shot at job opportunities they’d otherwise be unable to pursue.

Furthermore, I don’t think there is any way of saying “what exactly they are.” There can be a world of difference in the skills and knowledge of two graduates of the same school. One student bears down hard to master difficult academic fields and another coasts through on a raft of easy courses, learning little or nothing. The only way of telling those degree apart is to carefully evaluate the people behind them. I submit that for the most part, decision-makers are pretty good at doing so.

Speaking of sunshine . . .


Per Candace’s post yesterday, any higher-ed sunshine act – whether federal or state – should include a requirement that schools disclose (A) whether they use racial and ethnic admission preferences and, if so, (B) how the school ensures that such preferences meet the limits the Supreme Court has placed on them. The Center for Equal Opportunity has drafted model legislation like this, Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) has introduced such a bill, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has endorsed the approach.


Making Law School More Practical


An Inside Higher Ed story today informs us that Washington & Lee Law School is trying to make the third year more practical by having more “experiential” learning.

A better idea, although not from the standpoint of law schools, would be to allow students to take the bar exam after their second year. The experiential learning they’d get in actual law offices would be better than anything they’d get in school.

If someone is ready to take the bar exam (or thinks so, at least) after any period of study, formal or informal, he ought to be allowed to do so.

Dershowitz Fizzles on Spitzer


I have repeatedly sung the praises here of Alan Dershowitz, a law professor at Harvard, for taking what is, relative to the standards of today’s hopelessly wobbly academe, a courageous and informed stand on Islamic terrorism.

But on the federal complaint linking New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to a high-priced, nationally structured prostitution ring, Dershowitz goes wobbly indeed, commenting to the New York Times, “Men go to prostitutes – big deal, that’s not a story in most parts of the world.”

So much for any moral understanding that Spitzer has betrayed the public trust, that sexual behavior, especially on the part of high public figures, can have ramifications far beyond mere individual “choice” and gratification.

But Dershowitz also expressed surprise that Spitzer had previously prosecuted a prostitution ring. “I always thought he was somebody who would come down on crimes with real victims,” he said, adding:

Keep reading this post . . .

Well-Heeled Student-Pawns in Iran


In the wake of Israel’s recent strikes on Gaza, an Iranian student group, the Justice Seeking Students Group, announced that it is offering rewards amounting to a million dollars for the “execution” of certains Israeli military leaders.



The source of the reward booty is unclear. Looks like pro-Ahmadinejad activists are just raking in their fair share of student “activity” fees.


Prof Who Nixed Dialogue with Vet Gets Grant for...Dialoguing


The U.S. Department of State has awarded a half-million-dollar grant to University of Delaware political scientist Muqtedar Khan, who last fall objected to serving on a panel with a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces. A UD press release says the purpose of the grant is “to initiate a dialogue on religion and politics between key members of religious and community organizations in the Middle East and the United States.”

Winfield Myers views this grant as “part of a larger pattern of coddling Islamists within the bureaucracies of the State Department and Pentagon.” Troubling, very troubling.

Athletic Scholarships and Gender


Steve Sailer crunches some numbers.

I found this fascinating, but then again I’m a math nerd:

Over a million boys each year play high school football, and $367 million in college football scholarships are consumed, so the “expected value” of being a high school football player is $358 in college athletic scholarships. In contrast, only $22 [million] in women’s golf scholarships are awarded each year, but only 54,000 girls play high school golf, so the expected value of being a girl golfer in high school is $413. . . . In contrast, the expected value of being on the boy’s high school golf team is only $140.

He provides a whole chart of different sports, showing overwhelmingly that women get more scholarship money than men do. Quite logically, he suggests this is due to Title IX: When men and women don’t play sports at exactly the same rate, it’s presumed to be the fault of “discrimination,” so schools have to bribe female athletes to keep their ratios PC.

However, there are some factors that could complicate this. For example, if a higher proportion of men in a given sport don’t go to college, they can’t get athletic scholarships, so this will drive down the “expected value” even though it’s not due to Title IX bribery. It’s still striking, though, that men’s football – the stereotypical who-cares-if-they’re-good-students-let’s-get-them-to-our-school sport – ranks so poorly, though, behind ice hockey and fencing even for males.

AFT Takes Dim View of Campus Sunshine Bills


The American Federation of Teachers is quaking at the growing concern in state legislatures about one-sidedness and intolerance on campuses. In its latest alert to its members, the huge union attacks, but as usual fails to meaningfully respond to, the reformers leading the charge against classroom bias:

The count in mid-February, according to the Free Exchange on Campus Legislation Tracker, was 10 bills introduced or carried over from the prior legislative session in these states: Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

The bills take two forms. One is so-called Academic Bill of Rights legislation to ensure “balance” in the classroom, for campus speakers, in the grading of students, and in the hiring, promoting and firing of faculty members. This model is the brainchild of David Horowitz . . .

The other form . . . seeks to ensure “intellectual diversity” in the classroom and on campus. Its language comes from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).This year, the intellectual diversity bills also go by the name of “sunshine acts,” requiring extensive and expensive annual reports to the legislature and postings on institutional Web sites.

That the AFT is worried is an auspicious sign. Well does it know that sunshine in academe will cause the unions’ undue political and financial control of campuses to wither.

This Won’t Make Me Popular with the NC State Bar


In today’s Raleigh News & Observer, I have an op-ed piece in which I follow up on the recent Pope Center study arguing in favor of reducing barriers to entry into the legal profession.

There is no good reason why law school should have to last three years, or any particular length of time. Free competition in preparation for a legal career would be far more efficient than the one-size-fits-all approach that most states have at the behest of their bar associations.

In fact, a good argument can be made that the legal profession should not be subject to licensing at all. (Those who do any legal work, no matter how simple and no matter if they do it well, are subject to prosecution under “unauthorized practice of law” prohibitions.) Licensing adds nothing to the protection consumers have against incompetence in the free market, but it reduces their range of options considerably.

On Ward and Up Ward


Ward Connerly and the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative move forward:

Connerly was in Denver to announce the submission of 128,744 signatures on petitions to place the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative on the November ballot. The group needed to collect 76,047 valid signatures, which must be verified by the Secretary of State’s Office.

Academic Freedom to Dope?


There are reports, comments the New York Times, of a rise in the use of prescription stimulant drugs by academics and students in order to induce alertness and so improve scholarly performance.

Dr. Anjan Chatterjee predicts that such “brain enhancement” is a sign of the times:

We worship at the altar of progress, and to the demigod of choice. . . . Both are very strong undercurrents in the culture and the way this is likely to be framed is: ‘Look, we want smart people to be as productive as possible to make everybody’s lives better. We want people performing at the max, and if that means using these medicines, then great, then we should be free to choose what we want as long as we’re not harming someone.’ I’m not taking that position, but we have this winner-take-all culture and that is the way it is likely to go.

Objectors to what Chatterjee calls – again, critically – this “cosmetic neurology” argue that users exhibit irritable, angry, and diffident behavior; the greater availability of these medications will result in their abuse; professors’ “pop-pills-or perish” habit could give bad example to students; and the use of such stimulants could artificially boost the performance bar, thereby increasing the incentive for obtaining the medications.

But Francis Fukuyama voices a more profound consideration: the age-old connection between struggle and the formation of character. To the classical mind, thought led to action, action to habit, habit to character, and character to greatness. Can stimulants such as Adderall enable humans to leapfrog this process? No. The purpose of drugs, as Fukuyama says, is not to “turn people into gods.”

UPDATE: A reader writes:

I thought you would be interested in the case of a swimmer named Ous Melloulis, who swam at USC. He tested positive for banned substances. His excuse was the he, like many college students, was using the PED not to swim fast, but as a study aid. He did not test positive when tested at a number of meets, but was still stripped of medals that he won at the the 2007 Swimming World Championships.  He received a lighter-than-usual ban for PED use and some normally outspoken opponents of PED use (like Swimming World magazine) seem sympathetic in this particular case. Here is one article about his situation.  

Does Academic Work Need More Scrutiny?


I don’t know, but there are two new examples of papers that could have benefited from it.

Immigration economist George Borjas tried to replicate the results of another study, but found he was unable to do it. The problem with the original, it turns out:

The [study's] data includes currently enrolled high school juniors and seniors. They classify these high school juniors and seniors as part of the “high school dropout” workforce. Their finding [that immigration increases wages for many natives] disappears if the analysis excludes these high school juniors and seniors.


And via John Lott, regarding a famous Journal of Political Economy paper (PDF) finding that illegal downloading doesn’t hurt music sales, comes this Craig Newmark post.

Apparently, the paper was based on data provided by the file-sharing services “MixmasterFlame” and “FlameNap.” This is already a conflict of interest and, what’s more, the agreement through which the researchers procured the data forbade them to share it – they could analyze it themselves for the paper, but no one could double-check their work or run different analyses.

(Fortunately, it seems that since the paper was accepted for publication, JPE has made binding a rule that requires authors to publish data and methods along with results.)

I think both cases stem from a drive for attention-getting results: The more “counterintuitive” a finding is, the more likely journal editors are to see it as “too good to check.” Both of these studies, if true, would basically have repealed the laws of supply and demand – increased competition for jobs increases wages; making something available free won’t affect how many people choose to pay for it.

Oversight of International Education Lackadaisical


A lawsuit filed by a former Wheaton College graduate, Jennifer Bombasaro-Brady, is drawing much-needed attention to colleges’ billing and other practices concerning their international programs, notes John.

This legal action challenges, as the New York Times reports, the campus’s “policy of pocketing the difference between the cost of a [cheaper] study-abroad program and the full Wheaton tuition.” The case is also casting light on whether campuses are awarding credit for low-quality programs; whether program administrators receive junkets, cash bonuses, or other perks for guiding students into specific programs; and, more broadly, the glaring need for higher-education boards to review their study-abroad policies and to ensure transparency regarding pricing, financial arrangements, and quality control.

It is not only Wheaton’s study-abroad program that is under investigation. Earlier this year, the New York attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, issued subpoenas to 15 universities seeking information about how they run such programs.

During my service as a trustee of the State University of New York, I repeatedly questioned the SUNY administration on this very matter, as indicated in a 2003 memorandum, which I directed to then-Chancellor Robert L. King (as well as other top administrators and my fellow trustees), and which included a number of my other queries about SUNY academic and financial affairs. Below I reproduce the relevant section of that memorandum, which I hope will provide more insight into the emerging study-abroad morass. My call, at the end of this document, “for consistent System policies and oversight” in the area of international education, seems more pertinent than ever today.

Keep reading this post . . .

Presiding over Literary Renewal


Explore the articles in the current issue of the “literate and literary” academic journal Praesidium, and know that resistance to intellectual suffocation thrives. I especially liked “Dr. Paterson Visits the Library While the Cool People Wiki and Blog” by Thomas F. Bertonneau, on the spiritual poverty of the post-literate age.

Res Lifers “Renovate” UCLA Res Dorms


… from the standpoint of identity politics, that is.

As reported in The Daily Bruin, the university intends to replace its current five “themed” housing floors (“an academic floor, a social justice floor, an art floor, a community service floor and a health and fitness floor”) with four floors whose themes will be “sustainability; African Diaspora Studies; health, science and medicine; and Chican@/Latin@ Diaspora Studies.”

Peter Wood is at his wry best in interpreting this latest burst of innovation on the part of residence life “progressives,” for example, in puzzling out the meaning of their new code word “sustainability,” their zany @-laced orthography, and their demotion of “an academic floor.” Here is more evidence that the Res Life leaders are virtuoso manipulators, adept at devising ever more ways of forcing captive students into an ideological straitjacket.

Wheaton & Chaff


“No heat, no hot water, no electricity, no Internet”–and full room and board at Wheaton:

Ms. Bombasaro-Brady, who spent a semester in South Africa on a program run by the School for International Training, said Wheaton forced her family to pay full Wheaton tuition, room and board — more than $21,000 that semester — even though the program cost $4,439 less.

“I had an amazing time in South Africa, and I wouldn’t change the experience for anything in the world,” Ms. Bombasaro-Brady said. “But it doesn’t seem right that I was living in a place with no heat, no hot water, no electricity, no Internet, and paying the cost of my dorm room here.”

Wheaton is not the only institution to charge home tuition and fees to students who study abroad on programs that cost thousands of dollars less. But because of Ms. Bombasaro-Brady’s family, it is the one facing litigation on the pricing question.

Failing Integration Efforts in Minnesota


Here’s a story in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star-Tribune that reports two fundamental disappointments in the Choice is Yours program, a voluntary desegregation initiative in the state. Here are the relevant findings:

Nearly 5,000 students have participated in the program since 2001, but nearly 80 percent have not returned since it started.

The report said 2,080 students use the Choice is Yours to go to school in the nine suburban school districts . . .

For the comparison, students in third through seventh grade were tested in reading and math using the Northwest Achievement Level tests. The groups were nearly identical in demographic characteristics.

This is the third year the comparative test results have been released. Minneapolis students who attended suburban schools outperformed district students during the 2004-05 school year. The following year, district students did better than their suburban peers.

This time, district students did better than suburban students at every grade level in reading. The district cites early childhood and after-school programs as two reasons for the rise.

Gloom, Doom, and Killing


Has the gloomy, despairing, toxic environment on some campuses influenced the killers who have recently gone on murderous rampages at colleges and universities? Is it possible that such places “can drive an immature mind insane” or “tweak a narcissistic or paranoid [entering] high schooler into a temporary state of madness”? Do lugubrious classroom lectures “take a toll on students with no frame of reference”? And might such an environment contribute to leading some students to kill?



So asks Bob Parks of Intel Radio Network, who goes on to describe the ways in which college life can “be a bummer” these days. Students are repeatedly told that

the world is coming to an end because … [of] “man-made” global warming … some women’s studies departments … push the idea that … all men are capable of rape … students have been taught to hate the war … conservative presidents who take military action … Students are taught to openly defy and disrespect political leaders they’re taught to disagree with … [and hate] a “controversial” speaker come to share ideas … .

The postmodern belief in the futility of life undeniably permeates campuses today. Parks asks us to pay more heed to this dark mindset, alongside the fact that “[m]any of these recent shooters have not only targeted innocents, but they saved the last bullet for themselves.”

Re: Wisdom on School Choice


Andrew Coulson of Cato writes to note he’s responded to Carol’s post.

“Catch-22” at IUPUI


A tale of utterly moronic repression of intellectual freedom at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is getting around, thanks to Nuvo, an Indianapolis newspaper.

Keith John Sampson, a janitor at IUPUI, landed in big trouble last year with the campus’s apparently zealous Affirmative Action Office. He’s been slapped down for reading a book critical of the Ku Klux Klan while on a work break. A black co-worker of Sampson, who saw him reading the book, Notre Dame vs. the Klan: How the Fighting Irish Defeated the Ku Klux Klan, filed a racial harassment grievance against him, after reportedly telling him that reading a work about the Klan was akin to (in Nuvo’s words) “bringing pornography to work.” The AAO, ignoring Sampson’s efforts to describe the content of the book, proceeded to brand him as “insensitive” and to order him to stop reading the book in the immediate presence of his co-workers.

Sampson now welcomes the chance to speak publicly in the interest of intellectual liberty about what he calls his “catch-22″ ordeal. The IUPUI leadership should discipline its AAO and see that all parties who so ignorantly and reflexively wronged Sampson apologize.


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