Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Thomas Sowell on Higher Ed


With yesterday’s news I dropped off watching Uncommon Knowledge’s five-part interview with Thomas Sowell, but former Townhall columnist Jennifer Biddison writes to inform me that the last two have been about higher ed. As usual, Sowell is worth watching, though to longtime Sowell devotees such as myself, it’s largely points he’s made before.

One of the more interesting observations regards how self-interest affects faculty decisions. Because so many professors want to hold classes between 10 and 2, campuses have more buildings than they really need; they’re packed in those hours, but go empty most of the rest of the time. Also, grade inflation is in the best interest of teachers even without student evaluations – give everyone an A, and no one bothers you during office hours.

Re: Academic Freedom for Non-Academics


I think Contreras is making a problem where there is none – there is no “academic’s cloak” denied to non-institutionally-affiliated scholars. I’m no lawyer, so I’m plenty open to persuasion, but at the very least, he falls far short of proving his case.

Academic freedom has two meanings in America. An institution grants the first kind: Most employers can fire employees basically at will, but colleges, even private ones, promise not to fire academics whose work becomes controversial. Obviously, there’d be no point in colleges promising not to fire people who don’t work for them, and think tanks, etc., can decide whether to provide similar guarantees.

But the second one, the one Contreras seems to be writing about, comes from the government: The government won’t prosecute you for academic inquiry. He makes a feeble attempt to prove there’s a legal difference between professional academics and private individuals engaged in scholarhship. My basic point is that the First Amendment applies to everyone, and the courts, by and large, have fairly and consistently interpreted it that way.

The only Supreme Court case he explicitly cites is Keyishian v. Board of Regents, from which he pulls this quote:

Keep reading this post . . .


Academic Freedom for Non-Academics?


(UPDATE ADDED)  Something to cogitate on, from Alan Contreras.

Why, he asks, is the idea of academic freedom as a protected right limited to university professors? Why doesn’t it apply to those engaged in research in think tanks, foundations, publishing houses, and businesses?

Let me cite a few of Contreras’s novel insights, all of which relate to the notion that campuses’ uniquely protected status as the nation’s main conductors of information and principles to young adults has long been failing:

Keep reading this post . . .

In Memoriam, WFB


It’s impossible to speak about the legacy of William F. Buckley, Jr. without making special reference to his role in higher education.

His first book, God and Man at Yale, permanently raised the stakes for culture wars on campuses. He was intimately involved in the founding of the Young America’s Foundation and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, two organizations whose impact on campus conservatives have been enormous. It was always clear, at least to me, that Buckley had a special role in his work for college conservatives.

For editors of college conservative newspapers, it seems awfully unlikely that our work would be possible without the foundation laid by William F. Buckley. My colleagues, past and present, sent e-mails throughout the day noting his passage. In that sense, I feel as though I owe some of my best college experiences, as editor-in-chief of the Michigan Review, to Buckley.

Would there be a Michigan Review if it weren’t for Buckley and National Review? Doubtful.

Lightning at FIRE



The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is now more, well, afire, than ever. It has launched Campus Freedom Network (CFN), which enables students and professors to interact at split-second speed.



One more big score for freedom.


Buckley and the Bookman


From Gerald J. Russello, editor of The University Bookman:

We note with great sorrow the passing of the great William F. Buckley, Jr.  All conservatives – indeed all Americans – have many reasons to be grateful for this happy warrior and graceful writer, who stood so forcefully for the permanent things of human existence.  Those of us who follow in his footsteps will forever be indebted to him.

The relationship between the University Bookman and WFB goes back many years, almost to the beginning of American conservatism when Buckley asked Russell Kirk to contribute a column for his budding publication to be called National Review.  And for many years, National Review graciously included Kirk’s quarterly Bookman with NR.  We cherish our long relationship with NR, and the man who made it possible.

On behalf of the staff and advisory board of the Bookman, our condolences go out to the Buckley family.  May he rest in peace.

Remembering WFB


On the day William F. Buckley, Jr. has died, let’s recall one of his great quips, circa 1956, in which he announced that he’d “sooner be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand members of the faculty of Harvard University.”

On GMU and ‘Interesting Economics’


Doublethink has an interesting article about George Mason University’s libertarian-leaning economics department. The school specializes in “interesting economics” – counterintuitive theories about pretty much everything.

We should celebrate anything that makes the field more attractive, of course, provided it doesn’t come at the expense of academic rigor. “Interesting economics” also can apply economic logic to everyday problems, making us all better off.

One misgiving I have, though, is that it challenges economists to come up with the most offensive or outlandish theories possible, and then stick to them even if they’re proven wrong. See, for example, Steven Levitt’s “abortion cut crime” theory, or read my review of Steven Landsburg’s More Sex is Safer Sex (in which he actually posits that the government should run a dating service, and charge used condoms as admission).

Living Wage Activism on Campus


([Another] update added after the jump.)

The Independent Women’s Forum has a new report, written by a sophomore at Claremont McKenna College, about the “living wage movement” on campuses, in which students agitate for higher wages for university employees.

The report argues that such actions actually hurt low-wage employees, much the same way minimum-wage laws do. When you increase the cost of something, even labor, people buy less of it. Minimum-wage laws help some workers make more money, but others then go unemployed because they’re too expensive to hire.

Unfortunately, the report is light on actual data from campuses that have taken these measures. Colleges, like all non-profits and government projects, are insulated a bit from market concerns, so it’s at least conceivable that, by and large, they’d just eat the extra cost of paying their lowest-level employees more. I can’t seem to find the average proportion of a university’s budget spent on these wages, but compared to professors’ salaries, office staff, student aid, supplies, etc., I can’t imagine it’s very high. (If anyone has numbers, shoot me an email at rverbruggen nationalreview com.)

Keep reading this post . . .

New Pope Center Paper on Legal Education


Yesterday, the Pope Center released a new paper on legal education in North Carolina. Authors Andrew Morriss and William Henderson advocate a liberalization of the legal-services market, including legal education. North Carolina, like most states, insists that only graduates of American Bar Association-accredited law schools can take the bar exam, but Morriss and Henderson see no justification for that restriction.

At the luncheon for the presentation by Morriss and Henderson, I was sitting next to former Duke Law School Dean Paul Carrington, who said that decades ago he had been part of a Ford Foundation study group that had advocated reducing law school from three years to two. (I think that you could have a useful law school program that lasted just one year, but if students want to stick around longer, fine.) Why didn’t that suggestion go anywhere? Carrington explained that since medical school takes four years, the big shots in the legal profession felt that it would lower the prestige of the legal profession to go to only two years of study.

Well, there’s a really good reason to use up a lot of a student’s time and money.



Below the jump, readers weigh in on my recent posts about campus nuclear reactors and res-life programs.

Keep reading this post . . .

Blacks & Title IX


It’s not just white guys hurt by feminists:

A study released today by the College Sports Council shows that, due to their student gender ratio approaching 2-1 female to male, nearly all of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are out of compliance with Title IX’s proportionality standard.  According to the study:

  • 72 of the nation’s 74 HBCUs that are co-educational and have athletic programs were out of compliance with the strict proportionality standard.
  • 29 of the schools out of compliance would have received an “F” from the Women’s Sports Foundation in their latest report card on gender equity in college athletics.
  • 43 schools, though they didn’t get an “F”, are still vulnerable to lengthy and expensive litigation.
  • Only 2 schools (Allen University, Morris College) were in compliance.

Phi Beta Cons in the New York Sun


This article about Weather Underground founder William Ayers’s ties to SUNY has both a quote from a PBC post and kind words for the blogger:

An SUNY trustee during the Pataki era who was not reappointed by Mr. Spitzer, Candace de Russy, had it right when she said, “That campuses continue to affiliate themselves so uncritically with such persons is beyond perverse.” If even the Clinton campaign is reportedly raising eyebrows about Ayers, what’s the point of bringing him to talk to SUNY students? And where is the Candace de Russy of the Spitzer administration?

More on Loose College Girls


I’m finally figuring out how feminists think, thanks to their reactions to this Heather Mac Donald piece. It’s a condensed version of the City Journal article I blogged about here.

Mac Donald’s is a two-part argument. Part one is that the “campus rape crisis” – the notion that as many as one in four college girls will be raped before graduating – doesn’t exist. Part two is that the reality underlying the statistic is that college girls get drunk and do things they wouldn’t otherwise. Researchers often call this “rape,” and sometimes even the girls themselves do.

Here’s what Mac Donald actually writes:

Keep reading this post . . .

UD: The Mother of Jesus as Stripper


The University of Dallas, an orthodox Catholic school, hosted an art exhibition that included a print of Our Lady of Guadalupe dressed (or, rather, undressed) as a stripper. Although some students remonstrated, the sacrilegious “objet d’art” remained on view. Then along came a thief who purloined it. In the wake of these events, the university president has now come out in full force to condemn the thievery.

“Theft is sinful, and a crime,” Rod Dreher writes, “and it’s right of President Frank Lazarus to condemn it. Still, does the UD administration have its priorities straight? A Catholic university hosting a work of art depicting the Virgin Mary as a hoochie who takes her clothes off for money is tolerable? Really?

Moreover, Dreher asks, “does the UD student newspaper have its priorities straight? They wrote an entire long story about a theft, without ever mentioning what the stolen artwork depicted.”

I join Dreher in taking “the risk of being [called] a horribly judgmental prude who imposes his troglodytic views on sexuality on people” and so say: For shame, UD!

(Tip: Winfield Myers)

Fine Editorial in the Stanford Daily


Its title is “The Harm of Diversity,” and it criticizes, in particular, faculty hiring by racial numbers. Here’s the penultimate paragraph:

In June 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States made a very simple, yet profound statement when ruling on public school programs which consider race. Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” This statement holds true and pertinent to any issue of diversity — race and gender should never come into the equation. Forcing the hand of employers to hire based on race or gender does nothing but cause harm to the industry in question.



Lots of colleges and universities already have turned into remedial-education factories. The problem will worsen unless high-schools solve the problem highlighted in a new report from Common Core:

Unfortunately, too many young Americans do not possess the kind of basic knowledge they need. When asked fundamental questions about U.S. history and culture, they score a D and exhibit stunning knowledge gaps:

• Nearly a quarter of those surveyed could not identify Adolf Hitler; 10 percent think he was a munitions manufacturer

• Fewer than half can place the Civil War in the correct half-century

• Only 45 percent can identify Oedipus

• A third do not know that the Bill of Rights guarantees the freedom of speech and religion

• 44 percent think that The Scarlet Letter was either about a witch trial or a piece of correspondence

If Gender is a Social Construct, Where Do ‘Women Only’ Hours Fit In?


As Mark Steyn notes on the Corner, a Harvard gymnasium (the QRAC) is hosting “women-only” hours in an attempt to accommodate, among others, Muslim women.

Somehow, I still receive the occasional letter-to-the-editor destined for The Crimson. I was forwarded one a few days ago that I highly doubt will be published, but it certainly deserves to be:

Dear Crimson,

Last week, I dressed for exercise and jogged to the QRAC. Someone barred the way. I couldn’t enter – girls only. This hurt me deeply, because while I appear to most observers to be a white male, I have for some time now self-identified as a Native-American womyn, feeling that it is impossible that I could be one of those who have brought so much suffering to the people of this gentle earth. I find Harvard’s presumption disgusting. They have incarcerated within a matrix of arbitrary authority those of us who defy patriarchal and socially-constructed stereotypes of race and gender. It makes me as sick as it makes me sad to think I live in such a place.


[name redacted]

Pretty funny considering one of the parties advocating women-only hours — Harvard’s mindless Women’s Center — rolls out just such far-fetched rhetoric from time to time.

Re: Res Life Programs


Being a recent graduate must really skew my perspective, because when I saw Candace’s excerpt from the new National Association of Scholars article, I was all psyched up to read it and fire off a post about how stupid the idea of “campus community” is. It never even crossed my mind that it could mean, basically, that everyone has to study incredibly hard, so there’s a general atmosphere of scholarliness.

See, where I went to school, “community” meant “the school charges you an ‘activity fee’ and uses it to fund entertainment events. The people who don’t go to these events essentially subsidize those who do. This is OK, because socializing is just as important as studying to the college experience, and if you’re not meeting new people all the time, and becoming part of the ‘community,’ you should pay to do so anyway.” I even publicly complained about how it discriminated against the antisocial.

Res Life Programs Reflect Campus Fission


Tom Wood’s latest installment on residence life and the decline of campus community is so rich in documentation and insights, for example about the dramatic decline in student academic engagement and increase in student substance abuse, that it’s hard to know where to begin.

But the heart of Wood’s argument is that

[r]ogue Res Life programs like the ones that have come to light at U Delaware and U Mass Amherst represent the fissiparous tendencies of modern American life as they are reflected inside the college or university. Absent any vital sense of campus community as an academic enterprise, a vacuum is created in which all the racial and ethnic and political tensions in American life are allowed to play themselves out, in many cases without any counterbalancing force in the form of a respect for academic integrity and the life of the mind. The vacuum is also an open invitation for political activism that fails to respect such norms.

Wood concludes that entropic campus community will hasten major changes in the delivery of higher education:

Maintaining a sense of campus community is a difficult task these days, and getting harder. If the American residential college and university fails to meet the current demands and challenges, it will likely find itself increasingly vulnerable, for economic and socio-cultural reasons, to online, virtual universities that abandon the in loco parentis principle altogether. In such an arrangement, it would be left to students to create their own social and personal connections and environments, both in cyberspace and in the “physical” world … .


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