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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Faculty Union Voted Out



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By a narrow margin, the faculty at Michigan Tech has voted out its union. Here is the university’s release.

I’m going to try to find out more about this, but on its face, this tells us that a lot of smart people – a majority of the MTU faculty – concluded that the benefits of union representation weren’t worth the costs. If union representation were a matter of individual contract, as it should be, the professors who had been compelled to accept union services they didn’t much value would not have had to go to the trouble of petitioning for an election. By the same token, the professors in the minority could still have their union, although its clout would probably be weaker than it was when the dissidents were captive.

Counter-Agroterrorism Profs



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Some academics are doing their bit to foil terrorists.

Witness the work of Arizona State University Associate Professor William Nganje and his colleagues, who are assessing the impact of a potential attack on the nation’s food supply and the need to implement food security measures, especially on our borders. As reported in Land Line magazine, they have concentrated on a section of the border between Arizona and Mexico, where there is especially heavy traffic in produce and shockingly minimal inspection of it.

A tip of the hat to professors who contribute to protecting us.

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WM Vandalism Pales Next to UMass Violence



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Last weekend, spray-painted graffiti, some reading “Board of Dictators” and others obscene, proliferated on the William and Mary campus. The target of this protest was, according to local press, the college’s Board of Visitors, because it had recently declined to renew the contract of President Gene Nichol, who then resigned.

Mere child’s play, when compared to the scene at UMass-Amherst. During the last three weeks alone, a wild off-campus house party turned into a soused, violent melee. Athletes allegedly assailed other partiers with lacrosse sticks, baseball bats, and bottles. And two students face attempted murder charges in separate dormitory incidents that include an alleged rape and a racially charged stabbing.

“We need to shift away from looking at each individual incident, and toward looking at this as a cultural problem,” said Marianne Winters, director of the campus women’s center. You think? “There’s this anticipation, almost an expectation, on campus,” she added, “that violence is a possibility.”
Sounds like it’s pretty much already out of hand, and all the more so in light of comments by Amherst Police Chief Charles L. Scherpa, who noted that the spate of violence is part of a longstanding campus culture of alcohol abuse and raucousness. “Every weekend, we could make hundreds of arrests” for disorderly conduct and vandalism, he stated.
Mayhem on campuses, from the more traditionally staid William and Mary to the playing fields of UMass, seems to be intensifying. Our society had better get to work at inculcating in youth a true tolerance of differing views and respect for public property – not to mention for the life and limb of others.

The Duke Saga Continues



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The latest from the Duke lacrosse case:

Duke University will be sued by 38 members of the 2006 men’s lacrosse team who claim they suffered emotional distress when school officials failed to support them during a rape investigation, a spokesman for the players said.

The lawsuit, to be filed today in U.S. District Court in North Carolina, also will name Duke President Richard Brodhead, Duke’s medical center, and the city of Durham, North Carolina, according to a statement posted on a Web site run by players’ spokesman Bob Bork. University officials remained silent during the rape probe, even though they had evidence that the players were innocent, according to the statement.

“These young men want acknowledgment that they were wronged by institutions and individuals that they trusted to treat them honestly,’’ attorney Chuck Cooper said in the statement. “They were victimized by a corrupt investigation that ignored or suppressed evidence that would have cleared them. And, all for a crime that never took place.’' 

More information here.

A Very Serious Point About Study Abroad



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The funniest new website around, Stuff White People Like, has this cutting analysis. In part:

[T]hey all pretty much work the same way. You arrived in Australia not knowing anybody, you went out to the bar the first night and made a lot of friends, you had a short relationship with someone from a foreign country, you didn’t learn anything, and you acquired a taste for something (local food, beer, fruit). This latter point is important because you will need to be able to tell everyone how it is unavailable in your current country.

The site as a whole is very interesting from a sociological standpoint – by “white people” it means educated, rich, liberal Caucasians who want to show their true commitments to multiculturalism and “social justice.” It mocks them relentlessly.

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Harvard Professor Insults Black Conservatives



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I’d normally dismiss this column as typical left-wing claptrap, but it seems that a Harvard University sociologist has no concept of statistics and a distinct taste for racially charged conservative-bashing. Lawrence Bobo insults black neo-conservatives:

Is “blackface mercenary” a fair characterization of neo-conservative Negroes? I suppose it all hinges on what highly selective reading of day-to-day events you want to make. And, of course, how much someone is willing to pay you for it.

He specifically references one of John McWhorter’s City Journal articles on hip-hop – mischaracterizing the writer, by the way, as McWhorter has spoken quite positively of some rappers elsewhere – and draws anecdotes from his own life of blacks behaving well and whites behaving badly.

Then, he concludes:

Keep reading this post . . .

NCA Can’t Take the Horowitz Heat



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By all appearances David Horowitz has been disinvited to debate at the annual meeting of the National Communication Association, which is expected to draw thousands of professors to San Diego next fall.

Why? Because the NCA doesn’t know how to communicate unrestrictedly, much less debate. It should be renamed the National Censure Association.

Way to Go, National Association of Scholars



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The National Association of Scholars, which recently published an eye-opening study titled “The Scandal of Social Work,” is urging student journalists to investigate and report the truth about the execrable state of social work schools on their campuses. NAS will link to their articles.

Naturally there will be cries of “McCarthyism” and the like. But students have every right, and indeed the duty, to speak up about curricular rot.

Re: School Choice vs. Instructivism



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Stern’s article has faced a variety of criticisms that ably deconstruct his arguments, and he has yet to address the most important and damaging of these.

But the primary problem is the general imprecision of the essay. The title, for instance, is “School Choice Isn’t Enough,” but Stern writes only about vouchers and incentive reforms within public schools — and then within vouchers, only considers those that target poor children. Stern calls himself a reporter, but a reporter should, at the very least, discuss the issue carefully and present the facts and context necessary for a reader to understand the subject.

There are, for instance, 21 programs in 13 states that allow students to choose private schools with the support of public vouchers or tax incentives. Most of these were passed in the last ten years. Just counting recently passed state programs, close to $700,000,000 is used to help more than 700,000 children attend a school of choice.

Keep reading this post . . .

Plagiarism Grounds for Firing



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Robert notes that Madonna Constantine, the Columbia professor who claimed a noose was left on her door a few months ago, has been has been found guilty of plagiarizing the work of two students and another professor — in no less than two dozen cases.

Sure, college administrators say Constantine has been punished, but they delicately refuse to specify how. They also make clear that, because she is tenured, she will keep her job.

The case in question involves more than a mere gaffe or slip of the memory. Serial plagiarism is word piracy and cheating, and it should disqualify professors from the high tasks of teaching on campuses and mentoring students.

Whatever sanctions Columbia has placed on Constantine, they do not fit the crime. Neither tenure nor the cowardice of administrators should be allowed to shield academics who steal the thoughts and words of others. Constantine should be fired, and students and the public have a right to be informed that they no longer need be concerned about such untrustworthy professors.

As Tracy Juliao, one of the students who cooperated in Constantine’s investigation, rightly stated, “You go in as a student thinking you should be able to trust your faculty.”

Re: School Choice vs. Instructivism



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No one, I’m glad to say, in the incentivist vs. instructivist brouhaha has come out against Direct Instruction, Success for All, Singapore Math, and Core Knowledge. I think they are excellent programs for many, many kids, and advocating for choice in no way opposes them, as Jay rightly points out. But Stern’s call for high standards goes far beyond just saying we should be touting good programs. It implies that we should be forcing them from above. Don’t forget Diane Ravitch’s “thought experiment” that apparently was Stern’s turning point:

Say that one school system features market incentives and unlimited choices for parents and students, but no standard curriculum. Then posit another system, with no choice allowed, but in which the educational leadership enforces a rich curriculum and favors effective instructional approaches. In the market system, Ravitch predicted, “most schools will reflect the dominant ideas of the schools of education, where most teachers get their training, so most schools will adopt programs of whole language and fuzzy math. . . . Most students under a pure choice regime will know very little about history or literature or science.” The system with the first-rate curriculum and effective pedagogy, Ravitch argued, would produce better education outcomes.


That thought experiment clearly favors forcing all schools to adopt what government considers “a rich curriculum” and “effective educational approaches,” and says specifically that there’s “no choice allowed.” Now, maybe no one would ever really say choice should be outlawed, but the ultimate implication is that choice is not compatible with instructivist reforms, which must be imposed on the unwilling. But there are many huge problems with that, two of which loom particularly large.

Keep reading this post . . .

Prof Who Alleged Hate Crime a Plagiarist



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Campus hate crimes already have a pretty bad reputation as examples of bigotry — they’re frequently found to be the work of minority students who want to prove racism is still alive, and rarely are they substantiated as the actions of true-blue haters. Even conservatives students have gotten in on the action.

Now it comes out that a Columbia University professor who said she found a noose on her door last fall “plagiarized the work of another faculty member and two students” two dozen times, publishing it in academic journals.

Here’s her reaction:

[Madonna] Constantine said she was the victim of a racist conspiracy.

The school accused her of plagiarism because of the “structural racism that pervades this institution,” she charged. “As one of only two tenured black women full professors at Teachers College, it pains me to conclude that I have been specifically and systematically targeted.”

Police haven’t come up with a suspect in the noose incident, and several professors, including Constantine, objected to putting video cameras in the hallway.

Medill Investigates Dean



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A quick follow-up on the story Guy Benson wrote about on this blog earlier:

[Northwestern University's provost's office] has opened an investigation into the journalistic practices of its journalism dean, the Chicago Tribune reported. The dean, John Lavine, has faced growing criticism since the student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, raised questions last week about quotations attributed to anonymous students that he used in columns for his alumni magazine.

In the quotations, students extolled new courses that were part of a controversial curriculum overhaul at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism . . . A number of Medill School alumni protested the curricular changes . . .

On Tuesday, 16 faculty members . . . [wrote] that they were “deeply troubled” about Mr. Lavine’s use of anonymous sources and called on him to provide proof that he did not fabricate the quotes.

(Disclosure: Both Benson and I are alumni.)

UPDATE: More news; Lavine apologized for using an anonymous quote, but:

He does not provide the name of the student, adding that “I do not make up quotes.” He has said the quote came from a deleted e-mail message or lost notes.

At Core



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I’m glad that my colleague Jay Greene believes that the school-reform movement should be advocating both good instructional practices and improvement through competition. And I intend to keep writing about the moral imperative of school-choice programs for poor children stuck in failing inner city public schools, just as I did in my City Journal article.   I look forward in turn to his support in the future for scientifically tested instructional programs like Direct Instruction, Success for All, Singapore Math, and Core Knowledge.  

Stanford’s Largesse



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Stanford joins Yale and Harvard in making its undergraduate program free for applicants whose families earn less than $60,000/year. 

My Question re: Stern, McCluskey, and Ponnuru



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Maybe I’m missing something, but what exactly is this conflict about?  Can’t we advocate both for effective instructional practices and improvement through competition?  Some of us may focus more on one or the other, but these two reform strategies seem to be nicely complementary.  Until someone explains how these two approaches are mutually exclusive, I don’t understand what is being achieved by this debate.  We can like both brownies and ice cream — and they are particularly good together.

School Choice, Ramesh Ponnuru & Me



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I appreciate the fact that, unlike most of my other critics, Ramesh Ponnuru actually seems to have read my City Journal article carefully and understands that I was not in any way abandoning the moral argument for offering vouchers to disadvantaged kids stuck in lousy inner-city school districts. Still, let me respond to some of the points he raised in his recent post. Perhaps I could convince him to be more pro than contra Stern.

First, I think Ponnuru shouldn’t accept Jay Greene’s argument that the reason the ed schools are so uniformly awful (despite having all the characteristics of a market system) is that they are responding to the “preferences of our monopolistic public school system.” Neither Greene nor Ponnuru produce any facts to back up that claim. That’s because the facts all point in exactly the opposite direction — that is, ed schools tend to maintain their ideological loyalty to progressive education doctrines (such as whole-language instruction and social-justice teaching) even when the “monopoly” public schools finally seem to want something more sensible. For example, California’s public-education authorities shifted back to phonics in the mid 90s, but the state’s ed schools continued to ignore phonics in their elementary-education courses. Similarly, Massachusetts’s curriculum and pedagogical reforms of the past two decades have been opposed by the ed schools, and with the election of Governor Deval Patrick they are now working to overthrow the reforms. Ideas matter in education as in all other areas of our public life. There is an ideological hegemony in the ed schools that will not be overcome by some miraculous market transformation. I would think that conservatives understand the power of bad ideas and the need to combat the ed schools’ bad instructional ideas with better ideas.

Second, Ponnuru ignores the empirical reality of the Catholic schools’ crisis and the impact this recent development has on any realistic hopes for expansion of voucher programs. In Washington, D.C., Catholic schools are closing despite enrolling students with fairly generous tuition vouchers. I bemoan this. I pray that this seemingly inexorable decline of inner-city Catholic schools might be reversed. But it seems to me that any realistic school-reform plan must take the new demographic and financial realities in the Catholic sector into account. Nor do I think that there is any warrant for Ponnuru’s belief that (absent enough Catholic schools) inner-city voucher plans will still likely stimulate the startup of a significant number of new private schools. I concede that he might be right on this and I might be wrong. But during the many years it might take to decide this question, shouldn’t conservatives and school-choice reformers be joining the fight to challenge the progressive education hegemony in the public schools that presently educate 50 million American children? After all, most of those children will be future voters. Do we really want to abandon them to the ideologies of Paolo Freire, Jonathan Kozol, and Bill Ayers while we wait for market utopia?

re: A Conservative Conference at Harvard



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I spoke there last year — what an impressive group of students! Do go if you are in the area.

Call Girl Disrespectful



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Paul Thomas, director of “Call Girl Confidential,” spoke and screened a hardcore film focused on fantasy rape and bondage at Yale last week, according to the New York Post. A student, Colin Adamo, had the temerity to call the film disrespectful to women, to which Thomas, notes the Yale Daily News, “insinuated that he was a prude.”

This kind of accusation — of prudery, puritanism, etc. — is of course the stock retort these days when anyone challenges the easy circulation of sicko, violent S&M porn on many college campuses. And such rhetoric has largely succeeded. The porn merchants and their academic allies have embarrassed and paralyzed most critics into silence.

Never fear, Yale. Respect for women? Human dignity? The potential danger to students of violent porn? What in the world glorifying the likes of fantasy rape has to do with higher education? Such “bourgeois” considerations would be met with a gaping yawn and yet more derision. Serious moral debate, especially on sexual issues, is near dead on campuses.

A Conservative Conference at Harvard



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Yes, you read that correctly. This weekend the school’s Conservative Women’s Caucus will host their third annual Conservative Women’s Conference. If you’re a student in the Boston area, consider checking it out.

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