Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Update on the Fight Against Libel Tourism


Bruce Kesler reports on the recent “Rally for Freedom of Speech” to support a strengthened law in New York State, as in many other states, to protect writers from international libel tourism. For more background, you may access prior posts here. The intrepid Rachel Ehrenfeld is leading the charge, and the movement is gaining steam. (Democracy Project)

In Defense of Maj. Coughlin


Andrew G. Bostom is rallying support to save the career of Major Stephen Coughlin, a Pentagon analyst who has been fired for, as Bill Gertz writes in his “Inside the Ring” column (1/11/08), his politically incorrect but “hard-to-refute views on the relationship between Islamic law and Islamist jihad doctrine.”

Coughlin put forth his arguments in his thesis, To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad, which was accepted recently by the National Defense Intelligence College, and made available online (here). Bostom summarizes Coughlin’s work here.

Diana West warns that the firing of Coughlin “brings the military’s woefully belated education on jihad to a halt” and makes it all too “clear that the Pentagon is more concerned with political correctness than protecting the nation.”

As Bostom says, there is some hope that the Pentagon will come to its senses and ensure that Coughlin retains his job. Indeed, Fred Lucas of Cybercast News Service reports today that Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), co-chair of the bi-partisan House Anti-Terrorism Caucus is seeking to find out why Coughlin was fired.  


Regulating Speech on Campus


It’s not easy to do without running afoul of the First Amendment. Recently, Winston-Salem State University announced a new “free speech zone” policy and immediately took so much criticism that the policy is now being reviewed. In the Pope Center’s Clarion Call this week, Jay Schalin writes about the controversy.

In 2005, FIRE did a study of the degree to which the UNC schools infringe upon the First Amendment rights of students, faculty members, or others who want to speak on public property. The study concluded that most of the campuses had at least one policy that either clearly or arguably would not withstand judicial scrutiny.

Molly Broad to Head Up American Council on Education


Molly C. Broad, former president of the University of North Carolina system has been chosen to head up ACE, IHE reports.

My view of Molly Broad is that she’s good at cheerleading for higher ed — that is, squeezing as much money out of taxpayers as possible for it — but not much interested in changes that would make it a better societal value. In 2000, she pushed hard for a large bond package in North Carolina that initially was loaded with some really dubious things more in the nature of political moola than educational necessities. Most of them were eventually taken out under pressure in the General Assembly.

Broad put together a high-powered coalition to push for the bond proposal and she pulled out all the stops, even though there was no organized opposition. (I was among the few people who publicly expressed any doubt as to the need for the large expansion of the UNC system.) Here is an anecdote from the campaign.

In October, the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma was scheduled to play a recital in Chapel Hill. I bought two tickets and took my older son, then 10. At 8:00, when we were expecting to see Yo-Yo Ma, instead Molly Broad and some other UNC bigwig walked out on stage. They spent 15 minutes or so giving a perky talk about how crucial it was that the bond package be passed. The audience, which included a lot of kids, wanted music, not a campaign talk. Very tacky.

‘Diversity’ Diverting from History


Robert Holland describes the further erosion of the discipline in Texas, where

academics have prepared a set of college readiness standards for the high-school curriculum that emphasize “diverse human perspectives and experiences” while omitting pivotal events and heroic movers and shakers…

The academics who drafted the standards up for adoption by the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board on Jan. 24 boasted that their approach was consistent with that of other states and national organizations. About that much they are right. Multiculturalism is weakening the study of U.S. history in many school systems. (Washington Times)


The Cole-CAIR Pas de Deux


Juan Cole, a University of Michigan history professor, is scheduled to speak at a CAIR-Florida fundraising event in March. Cinnamon Stillwell calls Cole and CAIR (The Council on American Islamic Relations) “two peas in a pod. Both act as apologists (and in the case of CAIR, incubators) for radical Islam and consistently paint the United States and Israel as the bad guys in the struggle therewith.” (Campus Watch)

More on the Genealogy of Islamism


Here is a Chronicle blog by Evan Goldstein on James Gelvin’s comparison of the al-Qaeda threat to anarchism:

… an influential line of argument [has] emerged that interpret[s] the jihadists as the latest incarnation of the sort of totalitarian menace that previously appeared on the world stage in the guise of German and Italian fascism. Such an analysis was perhaps advanced most cogently by Paul Berman in his 2003 book Terror and Liberalism …

there is another current of thought articulated in a recent address by James L. Gelvin, a historian at the University of California at Los Angeles, in which he compares al Qaeda-type jihadism to anarchism. (Conversely, Gelvin dismisses “Islamo fascism” as “polemic masquerading as analysis.”) According to Gelvin, jihadism and anarchism claim to be defensive in nature, they both target the structures of power they perceive as being responsible for their subjugation, and they both define themselves as ideal “counter-communities.”

Walter Laqueur agrees with Gelvin that the controversial term “Islamo fascism” has little analytical value, but he does not find too much worth in Gelvin’s anarchist comparison either. “Anarchists were not ‘nihilists,’” Keep reading this post . . .

Pope May ‘Prune’ Lapsing Campuses


The movement to reform secularizing Catholic campuses may get help from Pope Benedict XVI when he addresses college presidents at the Catholic University of America this spring. Patrick J. Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, reports that the Vatican may be preparing to:

require public identification of theologians who receive the mandatum

insist on the distinction between genuine theology and “religious studies” courses

repeat its call for periodic self-assessment of Catholic identity according to measurable “benchmarks”

and reassert the authority of the bishops over matters of Catholic identity and doctrine, thus encouraging the bishops to “prune” wayward colleges when necessary by declaring them no longer Catholic. (

Back in Session


Going to college in Iraq:

As levels of violence have fallen in Baghdad over the past six months, the tension at the university has lessened, with more people returning to their studies and trying to turn their thoughts to the future.

The campus is something of an oasis in Baghdad, and the diverse student body, from all over the city and the country, offers a glimpse into the national mood at a time when Iraqis are experiencing a relative lull in the war.

With 80,000 undergraduates, Baghdad University is the largest in Iraq. It is protected on three sides by water and on the fourth by plainclothes gunmen. Its location on a peninsula formed by a bend in the Tigris River, in a relatively peaceful neighborhood where several prominent politicians have their compounds, has helped keep it from suffering the kind of gruesome bombings inflicted on other campuses in the capital. Still, about 80 professors, and many more students, have been killed since the war began, university officials said.

During the last school year, about 50 percent of students went to class regularly and hundreds of faculty members took unpaid leaves of absence. This year, attendance is about 80 percent and many teachers have returned, said Riyadh Aziz Hadi, the university’s assistant president.

Stanley Fish on “Critical Thinking”


On his blog at the New York Times, Stanley Fish has been having some fun with the argument of Professor Anthony Kronman’s new book Education’s End that the country would benefit greatly if the humanities were restored to their former prominence. Fish thinks that Kronman overplays his hand. I have recently finished reading the book and am inclined to agree.

Anyway, in his most recent post, Fish says some sharp things about the claim that the humanities promote critical thinking:

Of the justifications for humanistic study offered in the comments, two seemed to me to have some force. The first is that taking courses in literature, philosophy and history provides training in critical thinking. I confess that I have always thought that critical thinking is an empty phrase, a slogan that a humanist has recourse to when someone asks what good is what you do and he or she has nothing to say. What¹s the distinction, I have more than occasionally asked, between critical thinking and just thinking? Isn¹t the adjective superfluous? And what exactly would uncritical thinking be?

Fish is right. It’s time for some thinking about this notion that the humanities (and indeed the whole of the college experience) is so beneficial in teaching students “critical thinking.”



Over at Romenesko, there’s a link to how the Ohio State student paper’s sports section reacted to last Monday’s loss in the national championship (the second in two years–at least in football). They published a picture of firefighters about to be engulfed in an apparently crumbling building–reminiscent of 9/11, though the paper’s editors say the image is from South Korea–with the caption, “It could be worse.”

MLK Essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education


The Chronicle of Higher Education has an essay on Martin Luther King, Jr., this week, emphasizing that King was not only antidiscrimination but also antiwar, anticapitalist, etc. All true, but of course these points have been made in the past not only by Jesse Jackson but also by Jesse Helms.   

But I’d like to raise a different issue.  Early on the essay notes that even conservatives revere King:  “While dismantling affirmative action, a policy King advocated, they cite King’s aspiration that Americans be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  Two points:  First, I see it frequently asserted that King endorsed affirmative action.  I’m not an expert on everything that King wrote and said, but the only place I’m aware of where King came close to endorsing racial preferences is in his book Why We Can’t Wait, and that endorsement is ambiguous and can be read as favoring class-based rather than race-based affirmative action.  Second, even if it is true that at some point King endorsed racial preferences, it would not follow that there is anything wrong with conservatives (and anyone else) citing his “I Have a Dream” speech’s declaration of the broader ideal of colorblind justice — just as there was nothing wrong with Lincoln citing the Declaration of Independence’s ideal of equality notwithstanding that document’s authorship by a slaveowner.

NYU’s Clinton Haven


New York University has been turned into a holding pen for a sort of Clinton “administration in exile,” notes the New York Sun. Those doing the hiring on campus are not offering “real-world experience that will help manage the institution and educate students, but left-wing ideology.”

Anti-Semitic Tirade at Al-Quds U.


The president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, Sari Nusseibeh, made anti-Semitic remarks during a rant against the presence of Jews in any future Palestinian state. Al-Quds has partnered with several American and Canadian universities to offer programs, classes, and research opportunities. These schools include the University of Michigan at Dearborn, Northeastern University, York University in Ontario, Brandeis, and George Washington University. Al-Quds also receives U.S. government support. (Campus Watch)

AIA’s 2007 Bottom-of-Barrel Professors


Accuracy in Academic has assembled a bottom 10 list, drawn from the more than 100 professors a year whose capers the group reviews annually. AIA has also taken special notice of four professors who have been actively working to wear down U.S. national sovereignty in ways that come perilously near to becoming reality no matter how conceptually out of touch with it.

Risky ‘Quarrying’ of a Quranic Archive


Believed for 50 years to have been destroyed, an extensive photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran, assembled in Germany to study the evolution of the text, has in fact survived. But reviving this research is proving to be “sensitive”:

Academic quarrying of the Quran has produced bold theories, bitter feuds and even claims of an Islamic Reformation in the making. Applying Western critical methods to Islam’s holiest text is a sensitive test of the Muslim community’s readiness to both accommodate and absorb thinking outside its own traditions…

Experts nonetheless tend to tread warily, mindful of fury directed in recent years at people deemed to have blasphemed Islam’s founding document and the Prophet Muhammad.

A scholar in northern Germany writes under [a] pseudonym … because, he says, his controversial views on the Quran risk provoking Muslims. He claims that chunks of it were written not in Arabic but in another ancient language, Syriac. The “virgins” promised by the Quran to Islamic martyrs, he asserts, are in fact only “grapes.” (Andrew Higgins, “The Lost Archive,” The Wall Street Journal, January 12-13)

Trash-Minded Profs


Haul your noses! NYU anthropologists want to create a Department of Sanitation museum to celebrate the history of New York’s Strongest. (New York Post)

Ed School Priorities


Here’s an article from Jay Greene and Catherine Shock on, among other things, the relative weight schools of education give to math and to diversity/multiculturalism in their class offerings (). Greene and Shock surveyed how many courses in a school’s offerings focus on “political and social ends of education,” and how many focus math topics. An excerpt on findings from selected curricula.

The average ed school, we found, has a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 1.82, meaning that it offers 82% more courses featuring social goals than featuring math. At Harvard and Stanford, the ratio is about 2: Almost twice as many courses are social as mathematical.

At the University of Minnesota, the ratio is higher than 12. And at UCLA, a whopping 47 course titles and descriptions contain the word “multiculturalism” or “diversity,” while only three contain the word “math,” giving it a ratio of almost 16.

Some programs do show different priorities. At the University of Missouri, 43 courses bear titles or descriptions that include multiculturalism or diversity, but 74 focus on math, giving it a lean multiculturalism-to-math ratio of 0.58. Penn State’s ratio is 0.39.

(By contrast, the ratio at Penn State’s Ivy League counterpart, the University of Pennsylvania, is over 3.)

Still, of the 71 programs we studied, only 24 have a multiculturalism-to-math ratio of less than 1; only five pay twice as much attention to math as to social goals.

Schwarzenegger vs. Spitzer on State Funding for Higher Ed


Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting $1.1 billion from the California State University and the University of California systems for fiscal year 2008-09.  Governor Spitzer is preparing a State of the State speech in which he is expected to call for an additional $3 billion to support research in New York’s universities, add 2,000 new full-time faculty members to SUNY, and recruit “250 top scholars over five years.”  The Boston Globe editorializes that “Massachusetts has to catch up on faculty hiring,”  lest it fall behind in the state-by-state race in the “knowledge economy.” 

The Globe editorial also states the premise behind this competition:  “Across the country, public higher education is good for people’s hearts, minds, and economic future.”

If so, our cardiac, cerebral, and financial prospects this year should feel better than ever—7.5 percent better, to be exact.  According to the Center for the Study of Educational Policy at Illinois State University, that’s the overall increase in state-tax support for higher education in 2007-08.  The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the study that we now spend $77.5 billion on this support, and the 7.5 percent increase this year is “the highest annual increase since 1985.”   Obviously, the increase was spread evenly among the states.  North Dakota came in first, with a 19.1 percent increase.  But there were increases in state expenditures in every state except Rhode Island, where expenditures fell 1.2 percent.   The Chronicle adds that most of the increases outpaced inflation for the year, which officially stands at 4.3 percent. 

A fair number of critics point out that increases in spending on public higher education do not reliably advance the economies of the states.  A great deal depends on whether the increases succeed in producing graduates four years, eight years, ten years down the road whose knowledge, skills, and ambitions match the special needs of business and industry at that point.  Governor Spitzer is placing his bets on stem cell research and nanotechnology.  But the picture is murky.  How many of those 2,000 new faculty members will work in these fields and how many will fill the urgent need for new professors of post-colonialism and gender studies?   How many of the students who do gain in-demand skills are going to stay in New York?   

The “people’s hearts” part of the Boston Globe formulation is surely more to the point than the people’s minds or the economic future.   Americans do have a heart-felt conviction that spending public money on higher education is good for our society.   And up to a point, it must be.  We would rather have—and be part of—an educated citizenry than an ignorant one.  But the intuitions of the heart aren’t very reliable when it comes to figuring out proportionality.    Is $77.5 billion too little?  Will Governor Schwarzenegger be thrashed about the ears for reducing the total by $1.1 billion?  Will Governor Spitzer ride in triumph for adding $3 billion?   Part of the problem is that a significant slice of the higher education dollar goes to junk education:   to students who graduate with very modest skills and nothing approaching a solid education, regardless of whether we define a solid education in terms of practical knowledge or liberal arts well-roundedness.

The SUNY system, viewed from a moderate distance, has massive over-capacity, because many of 67-some campuses, spread throughout the state, come nowhere close to filling up.   But it is unlikely that the debate in New York is going to dwell on the actual efficiency of the Governor’s proposed expenditures in making New York more competitive.   Coast to coast, it is politically easy to spend public money on higher education, but exceptionally hard to do it wisely. 

The Koran and Violence: Frum, Spencer and Bat Ye’or


The debate about whether today’s Islamic violence is rooted in the Qu’ran and Muhammad rages on. Going to the heart of the disagreement, Robert Spencer takes issue with David Frum for adopting:  

the common idea, which I [Spencer] debunked here, that the “most lurid verses” of the Qur’an are relatively newly minted, and planted into translations by wicked Saudi Wahhabis. In reality, as you can see from my discussions of sura 9 and other passages in the Blogging the Qur’an series, mainstream pre-Wahhabi Qur’an interpreters affirm that the Qur’an teaches warfare against and the subjugation of non-Muslims under the rule of lslamic law. 

Spencer also maintains that Frum has done “sincere Muslim reformers a disservice by painting an overly optimistic picture of what they need to do, without even bothering to mention that even to begin this undertaking puts their lives at risk.” 

In his original commentary Frum suggests that not only Spencer, but also the historian Bat Ye’or, are extremist in their views on violence in the Qu’ran. Bat Ye’or has now  responded to Frum, claiming that the latter

ignores the rules and the meaning of the subject itself … [In addition] Between the dehumanization of dhimmitude and the inalienable right to freedom, dignity and equality, there is no meeting in the middle …

[Frum’s wisdom] hangs on the usual love paradigm of interfaith dialogue … , while waiting with humble timidity for a powerful Muslim majority to reinterpret the Koran as a book of universal love and peace. I do not object to that, except that meanwhile, Muslim reformers even in Europe must hide to save their lives, while terrorism claims countless innocent victims throughout the globe, and tomorrow we might be facing a global nuclear jihad.


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