Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Funniest Headline Ever


From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Elite Colleges’ Scramble to Enroll High SAT Scorers May Undermine Diversity

No kidding.

In fact, there’s no “may” about it — different ethnic groups score differently on the SAT, on average. As anyone remotely familiar with statistics knows, even small differences become pronounced at the extremes. Elite colleges seek out the extreme high-scorers, so any racial gaps in American society will be particularly obvious there.

Headline aside, the trend the article talks about is interesting. It turns out that colleges are not only “scrambling” to enroll high-scorers, but that they’re apparently putting more emphasis on scores than they have in the past. This raises the question, though: What did they emphasize before, and just how much do they emphasize the SAT now? If we’re moving away from legacies and subjective measures of performance, this is probably a good thing for colleges overall.

We should bear in mind, however, that the SAT I is not a particularly good measure of performance, regardless of how bad the racial argument against it is.

UPDATE: I should have thought of this before, but one of the points the piece makes is that a demand for higher SAT scores “prices” elite schools out of letting in minorities. The thing, though, is that the whole point of a diversity crusade is to ignore, or at least race-norm, minorities’ scores. As there’s no indication that minority enrollment has declined, there’s actually no reason to assume a connection between (A) diversity and (B) the scores demanded of whites and Asians. However, this could widen the on-campus gaps in scores.

The Racial Conversation


In my NRO column today, I join Jonah and Bill Kristol in ridiculing the notion that America needs more discussion of race. In this regard, though, I want to mention something about Sunday’s Washington Post editorial that, predictably, urges America to “Keep Talking.”

The interesting thing about the Post editorial is that, less predictably, it gives only one example of how more discussion would be fruitfulnamely asking Senator Obama to reconcile, on the one hand, statements he has made recognizing problems with racial preferences (notably, in university admissions) and busing with, on the other hand, statements he has made supporting racial preferences (notably, in university admissions) and busing. Well, yes, I wouldn’t mind some discussion of that.


Amendment 46


This morning, the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative received official notice that it has qualified for the November ballot, a reliable source tells me.

Re: Salary Gap


I’ve read through the study (PDF), and I think there’s a little more to it than people who “can’t abide inequality between any groups of people.”

I’d like to illustrate what I consider an important distinction here. On the one hand, sometimes there really is “inequality between groups of people.” For example, there is good evidence that men have better visuospatial ability than women, and that women have better language ability than men. Therefore, I have no problem “abiding” when most engineers are men, or when women far outnumbered men in my journalism school (in fact, without that imbalance tipping the odds in my favor, I probably wouldn’t be engaged right now).

On the other hand, there is definitely a problem — usually not one anybody can solve, but a problem — when one group of people gets paid less simply because they belong to this group. In this case, there’s not just inequality between the groups, but inequality in the way others treat the groups, even when the individuals in question are equal in skill.

This study made an attempt to disentangle the factors statistically; it didn’t simply point out that women make less than men. In fact, the study shows that the vast majority of the gap is due to factors other than sexism:

After partitioning disciplinary and institutional effects, females earn approximately 14 percentage points less than males (approximately $10,300) when no individual factors are accounted for. When I enter race/ethnicity, marital status, and whether the faculty member has children the difference between men and women faculty members drops to approximately 13 percentage points. After controlling adding human capital variables into the model, female faculty members earn 5.8 percentage points less than males. The difference drops to 4.5 percentage points, or approximately $3,300, after introducing controls for academic rank.

As I see it, the problem with any analysis like this is that there are always factors left unaccounted for. For example, personality: Women might be less assertive than men in asking for raises. So I wouldn’t consider this definitive proof that women face any degree of pure sexism in academia. Still, it’s a serious attempt to answer the question with data rather than emotion, and the author deserves credit for that.

Hand Wringing over the ‘Salary Gap’


Inside Higher Ed reports on new research purporting to find that some of the “gender gap” in professorial pay might be due to sexism.

This is a problem only if you’re a central planning type who can’t abide inequality between any groups of people. The only complete solution would be to mandate equal compensation for everyone, but then that would be subject to the criticism that not everyone deserves equal compensation.

Some women earn more than men do. If any woman thinks that she is underpaid, she can take steps to try changing that by following the lead of more successful women. Stories about the “gender gap” tend to make women think that they face some systemic obstacle that can only be surmounted through political action. If there is a problem at all, though, it can only be solved by individual action.


Death Knell for Literary Criticism


Professing Literature, Gerald Graff’s history of American English departments, has just been reissued in a 20th-anniversary edition. His argument is well known to cognoscenti:

Classicists had been deposed by humanists, humanists by historians, historians by critics and now critics by theorists, but . . . the same accusations were flung: obfuscation, esotericism and overspecialization; naïveté, dilettantism and reaction. Teaching versus research, humane values versus methodological rigor, “literature itself” versus historical context.
So what’s new? As William Deresiewicz writes, the “‘conflicts’ still exist, but given the larger context in which they’re taking place, they scarcely matter anymore. The real story of academic literary criticism today is that the profession is, however slowly, dying.”

Girl Talk


. . . as relayed by a professor.

The “chatterers” are ignorant, narcissistic, aggressive – in a word, barbarian.

Listen in, at Thomas F. Bertonneau’s “The Vanishing Cultivated Girl and her Replacement: From Reading Novels to Talking Trash on Campus.”

Jesuit University President Ballistic over Querying of Jesuit Leader


George Weigel, a highly respected Catholic scholar and papal biographer, recently published a column on the Jesuits titled “Questions for Father General” (the head of the Jesuit order). He made the point that many Jesuits, especially those affiliated with Jesuit colleges, do not follow and further Jesuit teachings, and asked what the Father General would do about it.

In response, the president of the University of San Francisco (USF, a Jesuit university), Rev. Stephen A. Privett, published “Attack on Jesuits Out of Place,” calling Weigel’s airing of all-too-justified concerns a “mean-spirited assault.”

As for USF, one commentator on this controversy, Gary Sokolow, notes stringently that it “is about as ‘Catholic’ as the Univ. of Notre Dame.”

Count me among those who think that Weigel should be commended for giving voice to concerns that have long been shared by Catholics around the world. It’s about time for contemporary Jesuits to declare whether they are still faithful to basic Catholic beliefs, and whether they will teach those beliefs in Jesuit schools. As Sokolow concludes, one suspects that “St. Ignatius Loyola (the founder of the Jesuit order) would be asking some of the same questions today.” Hat tip: Deal Hudson.

Prof Enmeshed in Terror-Related Investigation


The feds are zeroing in on a Saudi-backed American foundation accused of ties to terrorists in a case the New York Sun says has all “the elements of an international thriller,” in which a Florida professor is reported to be involved. Prosecutors say the Virginia-based charity spirited $22 million out of America and into a trust on the Isle of Man.

Students Vote with Their Feet


For two decades, conservatives, traditionalists, and libertarians have criticized women’s-studies departments for being partisan, biased, and lightweight, but they haven’t done much to affect its institutional footing on campus. In Great Britain, by contrast, women’s studies is on the way out, and students are the reason. Here’s the story in The Independent.

Opening paragraphs:

Women’s studies, which came to prominence in the wake of the 1960s feminist movement, is to vanish from British universities as an undergraduate degree this summer. Dwindling interest in the subject means that the final 12 students will graduate with a BA in women’s studies from London’s Metropolitan University in July.

Universities offering the course, devised as the second wave of the women’s rights movement peaked, attracted students in their hundreds during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but the mood on campuses has changed. Students, it seems, no longer want to immerse themselves in the sisterhood’s struggle for equality or the finer points of feminist history.

Windows Widen at OSU


Oregon State University has launched a department-by-department, online budget reporting system, overcoming fears of what one involved party described to Inside Higher Ed as the “‘embarrassing revelation risk.’”

Mind you, the OSU model is accessible only to those connected to computers on campus. More troublesome, it is said not to shine light on macro issues, such as how funds from a tuition hike are spent, or on individual, as opposed to aggregate, compensation.

Nonetheless, this budget site is a most-appreciated advance on the higher education accountability and transparency front. Cheers to the OSU administration for taking steps to counter the opaque reporting practices of most public universities.

Talk About a Job that Doesn’t Call for a College Degree


A UNC graduate is evidently doing pretty well as “Miss Cherry Bomb” in a burlesque show. Story here.

Re: The Spectator


Robert is absolutely right in saying that, despite the statistics showing that, on average, college grads earn substantially more than non-grads, “there’s really no way to determine how valuable a college degree is.”

The fact is the matter is that some bright and energetic young people do extremely well in life without ever earning a degree, while on the other hand, many others who get their college degrees wind up doing jobs that call for no academic preparation whatsoever. Formal academic coursework is of little benefit to students who are not intellectually inclined, and as our K-12 system deteriorates and graduates increasing numbers of disengaged students, college will do less and less good.

The Spectator on Higher-Ed Subsidies


The American Spectator makes some interesting points today. I especially like the suggestion to only subsidize college degrees that have vocational utility.

However, the writer falters in making a financial case to back this up:

Having the equivalent of Australia’s entire labor force, around 11 million American adults, idle on college campuses around the country, “studying” subjects of dubious vocational merit at public expense, results in significant waste [including lost income during those four years]. . . .

Of course, college attendance entails not only lost income, but forgone tax revenue. If six million full-time U.S. students were working rather than studying, on $40,000 a year income and a total average tax rate of 30 percent, U.S. governments would gather an extra $72 billion a year in tax in the short-run, enough to fund the entire Departments of Justice, the Interior, Commerce, and Energy.

For one, only the rich pay taxes, so adding a bunch of workers at $40,000/year wouldn’t significantly increase revenues. It’s cute to talk about funding this or that department, but total federal spending in 2007 was $2.8 trillion. Total tax receipts — federal, state, and local — from these folks would amount to about 2.6 percent of annual federal spending, under the writer’s own assumptions. That’s not negligible, but it’s not exactly a money shower, either.

In addition, the $40,000 figure is high, perhaps dramatically so:

Keep reading this post . . .

From the Cutting Room Floor


Watch deleted scenes from Indocrinate U.

President Hank



The modern academy is notoriously immune from accountability, as Larry Summers so painfully learned at Harvard. So it is worth noting, and applauding, the achievements of Hank Brown, the best college president you’ve never heard of, who retired this month from the University of Colorado. …

Anne Neal, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, recently summarized Mr. Brown’s accomplishments. “In a little more than two years, he has helped restore CU’s reputation for educational excellence and accountability. Alumni and public confidence quickly followed.” As Mr. Brown departed, Ms. Neal noted, “CU was enjoying a record level of public support,” including record increases in alumni giving the last two years.

Send that man to Harvard.

Undoing White Supremacy


At this site of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, you can find all the information you need to attend the White Privilege Conference in Springfield, Mass., in two weeks.

“The annual White Privilege Conference (WPC),” it says, “serves as a yearly opportunity to examine and explore difficult issues related to white privilege, white supremacy and oppression.” People there will learn of this year’s theme, “Critical Liberation Practice: Creating Transformation for Social Justice.” But the organizers assure it will be an inclusive and constructive gathering, for “this conference is not about beating up on white folks.”

Oh, the Lure of that Petromoney


Compromising much-ballyhooed principles of equality in exchange for lush partnerships with Mideast higher-education institutions is in fact common on American campuses.

Charlotte Allen surveys these arrangements, citing only the University of Connecticut as having resisted the siren song of petrodollars on grounds of principle.

Hug Bans


FIRE rose up to fight speech codes and the like on campuses. But it appears high time for it or a similar organization to challenge the often-ridiculous repression at the K-12 level — of which a prime example is recounted by Deborah Langbert.

First came a ban on hugs and high-fives at a Fairfax County, Va., middle school. Why? Because a 13-year-old male student put his arm around his girlfriend while walking down the school hall.

This year, the Mesa, Ariz., school district also instituted a hug ban. In the wake of protest — a fulsome 20-minute hug-a-thon across the street from school — ingenious school officials tried to cut a deal with students that permitted hugs of two seconds or less in duration.

And there it is, the next pitched battle on the horizon, the battle against hugging codes.

Up with Updike


Novelist John Updike will deliver the prestigious Jefferson Lecture for the NEH this year. Details here.


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