Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

‘Evangelicalism Rebounds in Academe’


The subheading of this feature in the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education reads, “Even at elite colleges, doors are opening for religiously committed students and faculty members.” Is the suggestion that normally the religiously committed would not be worthy of an elite college, or that normally the doors would be closed to them, however worthy they might be? Just curious.

Don’t Dismiss Expelled


Aside from ugly and excessive close-ups and a thunderously pounding soundtrack (which may be more the fault of the theater’s equipment than the film itself), Ben Stein’s Expelled is entertaining and informative. Among the bracing clarifications the film provides is that Darwinian evolution is not even necessary for the study of modern biology and medicine; that Darwin and religion are at odds, as Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson has written; that the Nazis did indeed take Darwinian science as inspiration; and that science is even more fanciful about the origins of life than religion could ever be (one anti-Darwinian hypothesizes that organic life may have begun on the backs of crystals).


Breaking News Out of California


Story here:

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego County district attorney’s office says nearly 100 students have been arrested at San Diego State University on drug-related charges.

Drugs, cash and guns were seized from sellers and buyers in the bust that followed a five-month undercover operation.

Studying vs. Democracy


Here’s an excuse I’ve never heard before: In some states, Obama might fail to get a huge youth vote because students are too busy with finals. I’m not that surprised, as in a survey of one college, 20 percent of students said they’d sell their vote for an iPod. (An iPod touch, to be specific.)

Re: Unromantic Education


I just wanted to add a few comments about Murray’s treatment of stereotype threat. He cites Claude Steele’s research about the topic, and concedes that the results of said research have held up. Murray is right when he says that “Whatever causes stereotype threat in the larger society, it is not anything that is fixable in the day-to-day conduct of K-12 education.”

However, I think he could have better explained why this concept took hold so much in academia. It did so because people misrepresented Steele’s research — Murray notes this fact, but in going through the details focuses on differences between the lab and the real world, rather than on the outright media distortion the research suffered.

The common narrative about stereotype threat goes like this: Blacks face the stereotype that they aren’t smart enough to do well on tests. When you give them a test and say it measures their intellectual ability, they get nervous about confirming the stereotype, and as a result actually do do worse. When you give them the very same test and just say it’s for your research, they do just as well as whites do.

Keep reading this post . . .


Unromantic Education


Charles Murray writes a masterful essay at the New Criterion about what he calls “educational romanticism” — pretty much the Lake Wobegon idea that every child is above average and can achieve proficiency in basic academic skills, as the No Child Left Behind Act postulates. Murray argues that some children will always be below average and will struggle or fail in school, and that therefore No Child Left Behind is based on totally unrealistic premises.

One of the main reasons for the rise of educational romanticism, according to Murray, is that after the civil rights movement, people who were of a certain age at that time could not accept the thought of low-achieving black kids as they had low-achieving white kids. But is that it, or is it that they couldn’t stand the thought of a greater percentage of black kids in that category? Were the black and white percentages equal, I doubt that there would be much of an issue about this.

Meanwhile, through the years since the civil-rights movement, the country became more materialistic and status-conscious, as did the movement itself, and they both lost sight of many old virtues, such as modesty, humility, and gratitude. It was no longer a matter of encouraging young people to recognize their own uniqueness, do the best possible with what they have, and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in that — and not to compare themselves or their group to others. Instead, the civil-rights activists came to feed on envy and resentment, and began to use statistical disparities among groups to indict the country for ongoing racism and discrimination and to gain boons of various kinds on that basis. And of course Hispanic activism piggybacks on black activism.

Murray says the age of educational romanticism is coming to an end, but that would require that experts be willing to say that we can’t demand exact group equality. We should seek to provide the best education possible at all levels as well as the kind of practical education that less-academically proficient young people could use to advance, instead of insisting that everyone must go to college. And perhaps also to provide the kind of character education that can offer a deeper satisfaction than the invidious and never-satisfied spiritual greed common today.

Breaking: Objectivists Have a Charitable Foundation


Via Radley Balko at Reason comes this NPR story:

Since 2005, the BB&T Charitable Foundation has given 25 colleges and universities several million dollars to start programs devoted to the study of Rand’s books and economic philosophy. In January, the company announced it was donating $1 million to Marshall University in West Virginia.

The “programs” include courses, not just extra-curricular activities. 

Balko doesn’t have a problem with it (“Hell, my alma mater had classes on pornography, the Beatles, and the music of Frank Zappa”), and I’m sympathetic to that — any funding that doesn’t come from tuition or taxes is a good thing, and there’s nothing wrong with studying Ayn Rand.

What I wonder, though, is (A) how many college courses are funded by people with political agendas, (B) is there any attempt to strike a balance between funders’ views, and (C) is the funding disclosed to students? I’m not sure the Right or Left wants to start a bidding war for the soul of higher ed (OK, maybe it would give the Right a better shot than it has now), and letting activists buy courses can get things started down that road.

Re: Saletan


That’s a fair point — I just think it’s kind of odd he used genetics to get there. I find the case you just presented, the socioeconomic one, much more compelling.

Re: Saletan


Robert, maybe I’m being too charitable, but my interpretation of Saletan is just that he has belatedly but happily come to the conclusion that, rather than make racial generalizations (in medical prescriptions or college admissions), we should judge people as individuals. So, for instance, rather than assume that all blacks and Hispanics come from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds and that no whites or Asians do, we should consider socioeconomic disadvantage in all applicants.

Predatory Education


In a Chronicle of Higher Education piece, Marty Nemko argues that the bachelor’s degree is America’s most overrated product. Many students spend a load of money to get one, learn little while obtaining it, and later discover that the job market is pretty depressing for people who have educational credentials but no particular abilities. They wind up in jobs that most high-school kids could be trained to do. That’s a point I have frequently made, most recently here.

Of late, we’ve heard a lot of talk about “predatory lending” — that is, lenders inducing gullible people to borrow for houses they really couldn’t afford. You could make at least as good a case that “predatory education” should also be actionable. When schools lure unsophisticated kids (and their parents) into degree programs that will, in all likelihood, leave the student with nothing but a big pile of bills, they have done much the same thing. I’m a believer in freedom of contract and caveat emptor, so I reject both concepts, but I wonder why the politicians who say loudly that they’ll crack down on predatory lending don’t say anything about predatory education.

An Odd Argument Against Affirmative Action


Over at Slate, William Saletan revisits the fundamental truth of race and genes — some genes are more common in some races than in others, but with pretty much any trait, there is significant overlap — and concludes that race is of diminishing scientific importance.

That’s true enough in the research he cites; one genetic variation, present in 40 percent of blacks but only 2 percent of whites, makes blacks less likely to respond to beta blockers. However, rather than giving all whites and no blacks the medicine, it’s more efficient to test directly for the gene and ignore race.

But he uses this to say we should refrain from all racial analysis, and applies this logic to higher-ed preferences, and I can’t for the life of me see how it makes any sense:

Keep reading this post . . .

What Has Become of Higher Ed?


Here is an elegant essay by Prof. Alan C. Kors, a sad reflection on how higher education has changed over the decades. The key point is that the focus used to be on thinking. Now it’s on political conformity.

I particularly liked his story on a professor he had long ago, who said that he was disappointed in the performance of the class on an assignment because the students had just told him what they thought he wanted to hear. So, to challenge them, the professor assigned a book he told them he disagreed with — and told them to present its arguments as accurately and sympathetically as they could. The book was Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and for Kors, reading it was an intellectual turning point.

Re: Life at Dartmouth


I wanted to point out a few more things from that WSJ article on the hilarious case at Dartmouth, where a professor is going to file a discrimination lawsuit because some of her students had the unmitigated nerve to question some of her bizarre assertions in class.

The professor, who has left Dartmouth in a huff for Northwestern (watch out, Evanston!) lectured to her students such notions as that “Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct.” When the students started to do some of what professors usually say is the main objective of college — critical thinking — she blew a gasket and denounced them as “irrational.”

What kind of course was it? It was supposed to be a writing course. So, nutty as this is, you have to ask why Dartmouth would hire someone whose academic focus is on “science studies” (whatever that might be) to teach a section of freshman composition.

Group Traits and Liberal Education


Here is a nice entry in an online network of colleges. It draws a fruitful parallel between the management of persons through “Taylorism” and the grouping of persons by race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. Taylorism was the science of industrial efficiency developed more than 100 years ago by Frederick Winslow Taylor, a science that tried to manipulate labor and behaviors in order to maximize a system (an assembly line, a bureaucracy, etc.). The author, R. J. O’Hara, sees a complementary engineering in today’s identity categories in higher education:

Liberal education — education for a life of liberty rather than a life of servility — is education that cultivates agency as opposed to reflex, original thought and judgment as opposed to pattern-behavior determined by one’s race, class, sex, or nationality, or by one’s role as a machine-part. . . .

Keep reading this post . . .

History Lesson


My 10-minute audio interview with Mary Lefkowitz is now available here. She is the author of a new book, History Lesson: A Race Odyssey, which is about her experience of combating the “Black Athena” theory in the academy–it’s a first-person account of “the tyranny of political correctness.”

While you’re at it, check out NRO’s Between the Covers — a series of 10-minute audio interviews with recent book authors. In addition to Lefkowitz, we’ve recently posted interviews with Arthur Herman on the Churchill-Gandhi rivalry, SF author Ursula Le Guin on her Aeneid-inspired novel, crime-fiction author Michael Connelly, and Arthur Brooks on happiness, plus conversations with William Safire, Richard Posner, Andy McCarthy, and Roy Spencer. More than 60 episodes are now available and we add new ones each Tuesday and Thursday.

Ayers at AERA


Baltimore Examiner blogger Mark Newgent used to work at AERA. He reports that three years ago, Ayers gave an talk at an AERA event called “Shut Up and March: Patriotism and the Threat to Democracy in America’s Schools.”




Ward Connerly’s drive to turn this November’s election into a “Super Tuesday” on affirmative action has been dealt another blow, as he has been forced to cross a second state off the list of five where he had hoped to get proposals on this fall’s ballot to curtail racial, ethnic, and gender preferences.

The organization leading his campaign’s efforts in Missouri acknowledged on Sunday that it would miss that day’s deadline for turning in enough petition signatures to put the measure before voters this year. With the campaign’s Oklahoma organization having similarly scuttled its efforts last month for lack of petition signatures, Mr. Connerly’s initial list of targets for such measures has been whittled down to Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska.

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.


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