Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Moderate Muslims Not Always Helpful


A new book by Florida State professor John Kelsay, Arguing the Just War in Islam, explains why moderate Muslims do not speak out more forcefully against their radical brethren. The Sunday New York Times reviewer, Irshad Manji, head of the Moral Courage Project at NYU, says the book explains that moderates can share key premises with militants, and can agree with militants that “democracy implies a kind of moral equivalence between Islam and other perspectives.

And such a situation is dangerous, not only for the standing of the Muslim community, but for the moral life of humankind.” And the same issue of the Book Review includes an essay by Fouad Ajami, an enthusiastic supporter of the democracy project in the Mideast, now acknowledging that Samuel Huntington was right that the contemporary world would see a clash of civilizations as opposed to the universalizing advance of liberal democracy at one time predicted by Francis Fukuyama.

Keep reading this post . . .

Gene Nichol Out as President of William & Mary


Statement here. After being told his contract would not be renewed, he decided to resign.

He mentions being involved in four controversies — altering “the way a Christian cross was displayed in a public facility,” refusing “to ban from the campus a program funded by our student-fee-based, and student-governed, speaker series” (that is, the Sex Workers Art Show), offering an “aggressive” scholarship “for Virginians demonstrating the strongest financial need,” and turning the college into a “more diverse, less homogeneous institution”


Re: Can Liberal Arts Colleges Survive?


That’s a very interesting article, but I doubt his plan has much chance of succeeding — mainly for reasons he himself notes.

Demand for liberal-arts schools is falling, and the goal is to draw potential students and their parents. But today’s trends are the products of competition for students between the schools; therefore, he has to show that his strategy beats that of the free market.

Here are the three arguments he thinks schools should push forward:

  • It is the very “uselessness” of what liberal arts students study that opens the door to their appreciating knowing for the sake of knowing, that drives home the point that learning is of value in and of itself whether or not it leads directly to a marketable skill.
  • If liberal arts colleges pay attention in hiring, training, supporting and tenuring faculty, there is really no way universities, no matter now highly ranked, can match them in teaching excellence. . . . For the most part, the most famous names in higher education are associated with major universities, not liberal arts colleges, but the severe limits on their worth to university undergraduates are well known: limited exposure to students, huge lecture courses, smaller classes taught by graduate students, and so on.
  • Your life will be fuller and richer if you read Aristotle, Descartes and Rousseau.

The author notes the obvious problems here. Colleges are, first and foremost, in the business of peddling credentials. Most students go to college because it will help them get jobs — if you want to learn for the sake of learning, why not go to the library and save a few grand? Also, students (and for that matter, future employers) will appreciate big names more than an assertion of “teaching excellence.”

Keep reading this post . . .

Can Liberal Arts Colleges Survive?


That’s the question explored in an Inside Higher Ed piece by a former president of a liberal-arts college.

He makes a good case for liberal-arts colleges, and he also takes a whack at a number of bad arguments often used in their defense, especially the mindless blather about teaching “critical thinking.”

Re: Should Government Determine...?


Alas, freedom of contract has been dying the death of a thousand cuts for many years in the United States. For the gory details, consult Prof. F. H. Buckley’s book The Fall and Rise of Freedom of Contract, which I reviewed here.


Should Government Determine the Price of Study Abroad?


Yes, according to a new lawsuit:

The father of a recent graduate of Wheaton College, in Massachusetts, is suing the college for charging students its regular tuition rate to participate in cheaper independent study-abroad programs, The Boston Globe reported.

In his lawsuit, filed on Friday in a state court, James P. Brady argues that it was “deceptive and unfair” of Wheaton to charge his daughter almost $23,000 for a semester in South Africa in a program that costs around $18,000. “Wheaton provides no services whatever for that program,” the newspaper quoted Mr. Brady, a lawyer who has represented employees in a number of high-profile whistle-blower lawsuits, as saying.

Let’s see here. There is no assertion whatsoever that Brady was ever told he’d be charged less — in other words, the college set a price for the program (normal tuition, no matter how much the program costs), and Brady and his daughter went through the program knowing that price. Now he’s suing because he thinks the cost is too high, an opinion he by definition did not have when he agreed to it.

Also, there’s no indication this is a new policy, so there’s no bait-and-switch argument. Freedom of contract, people.

Get Indoctrinated


If you’re a blogger who wants to watch and write about Indoctrinate U., free copies are available. Details here.

What They Mean When They Say “Diversity”


The potentates at Virginia Tech felt it was necessary to say this:

We, the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, use the term ‘diversity’ to mean the desirability and value of many kinds of individual differences while at the same time acknowledging and respecting that socially constructed differences based on such characteristics as gender, race, ethnicity, class, ability, health status, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, and geographical and cultural background exist within systems of power that create and sustain inequality, hierarchy, and privilege. The College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences is determined to eliminate these forms of inequality, hierarchy, and privilege in our programs and practices. In this sense, diversity is to be actively advanced because it fosters excellence in learning, discovery, and engagement.

The Higher Ed Cost Blame Game


In an American Spectator column, Neal McCluskey of Cato takes a look at the current hand-wringing over the increasing cost of going to college. He easily refutes the politically popular notion that endowment hoarding is the problem. He also dispatches the explanation that costs are rising because state governments have been too cheap to give higher ed the support it needs.

So, where do we put the blame? McCluskey argues that we should point the finger at rising federal subsidies for higher ed, which increased by 77 percent from 1996 to 2006. “In other words,” he writes, “college prices kept rising because aid made sure they could.”

I don’t disagree, but there is another factor that I think should be considered — the rising wealth in the country. There is a huge amount of wealth owned by older Americans. The sellers of luxury cars, glamorous jewelry, posh condos and similar things have been charging more for their goods, too. They know how to separate rich people from their money. Colleges and universities also know how to play that game. Grandparents with big estates don’t hesitate to write out the checks so Johnny and Suzy can get their degrees. My guess is that we would see tuition rising even if it weren’t for federal subsidies, although not as rapidly and widely perhaps.

The bursting of the real estate asset bubble will make a lot of wealthy people significantly less wealthy. That should do much more to slow down the rise in tuition than anything the politicians could cook up.

Romney Understands Culture


Mitt Romney gave a thrilling speech last week to CPAC, emphasizing all the major aspects of true conservatism in full and clarifying detail. Particularly important was his assertion of culture, our culture, as embodying the virtues and values that underpin our freedom and prosperity. How good to hear this common sense after years of being inundated with the universal-values-transcending-all-cultural-formations idea promoted by President Bush and, from what we can glean from his various pronouncements and his open-borders enthusiasm, now by John McCain. And what a shame that conservatives wasted months supporting the utterly unsuitable Giuliani instead of Romney. Now there is McCain. Like Bush, McCain can assert some conservative views but, also like Bush, he is not really a conservative, either in principle or in temperament. This is why many of us cannot support him. It has been very painful to see conservatism wither under the Bush Administration and it would be even more painful to watch it wither further under McCain. When a president is partly conservative and partly not, he creates a fog in which conservatives lose their way. A Democrat in the WH would mean a revivified and re-energized conservative movement. I am quite amazed at this development. For years, when I thought about it, I fretted mightily at the prospect of Hillary being our first female president, but, thanks to the ill-conceived conservative support for Giuliani, and now the elevation of McCain, I can contemplate it with equanimity.

9/11 Truther to Speak at Stanford Law


From Stanford Law School, former NR associate editor Anthony Dick sends word that a group has invited a 9/11 truther to speak this afternoon:

The Civil Rights Civil Liberties Society has invited Sander Hicks to speak at the law school today, billing him as “a multimedia political activist committed to the preservation of civil liberties and civil rights for all Americans.”

In fact, Mr. Hicks is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist committed to the proposition that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were orchestrated by the United States government, which is now murdering its citizens to cover up the truth. In his own words:

“The 9/11 commission was a coverup. . . . 9/11 was the product of a conspiracy — specifically a conspiracy between the CIA, Pakistani intelligence, and the so-called al-Qaeda organization, which is really most likely just a product of Pakistani intelligence and CIA intelligence.”

Mr. Hicks is now touring the country speaking about “The FBI murder of Dr. David Graham,” a fellow 9/11 conspiracy theorist who died in 2004.

Tomorrow’s appearance at SLS will be the latest installment in Mr. Hicks’s deranged slander campaign, which insults the men and women of the United States government and trivializes the tragedy of September 11th. It is utterly disgraceful to give this man a platform to speak at Stanford Law School.

Professor Cunningham Talks About Ed Schools


Retired University of Louisville education professor George Cunningham is interviewed here by EdNews on his views on education schools. Among other points, Cunningham gives some good ideas on how education schools should be changed if we want to have better teachers.

Evaluating Student Learning


An interesting problem with higher education is that there’s no way to measure it on a value-added basis. One can look at how bright students are coming in to a school — College Board has average SAT scores, etc — but that just measures how selective the school can be. One can also look at how much money students make after graduating, but again, if they make more, that might just be because they were brighter to begin with (or studied more lucrative topics). There’s no standardized test students take before graduating that proves they’ve learned something.

The Educational Testing Service has a few ideas in its new report (PDF). Its suggestions for educational institutions are rather commonsensical: Decide what you want students to learn, devise a test that determines whether they’ve learned it, and if they haven’t, find ways to teach better. Always try to improve your tests.

That’s great in theory, but the report is (necessarily, at 32 pages) short on specifics. In many fields, students have (and should have) a whole buffet of courses to take, and no one standardized test can really determine whether students in these fields have “succeeded.” Which regions, periods, and writers should an English major concentrate on? Should he specialize — take many courses on similar topics — or learn a little bit about a lot of literature? Higher education could certainly stand to move in the direction of accountability, but sometimes it’s just hard to give everyone the same test and expect it to mean something.

Another View on the “Sex Workers Art Show” at Duke


Stuart Taylor, Jr. (co-author of Until Proven Innocent with K. C. Johnson) has a delectable column on the decision to bring to campus and pay for the gutter schtick that is the “Sex Workers Art Show.”

It’s delectable if you enjoy seeing craven hypocrisy called out. If, on the other hand, you think that college administrators should never be criticized for pandering to leftist mores, Taylor will make you cringe.

‘Sex Week’ at Yale


This week at Yale is “Sex Week”, an event rivaled only by Harvard’s “Gaypril” in being a sequence of puerility masked by a veneer of seriousness.

So its director proclaims: “There is no ideology behind Sex Week. Its mission is simple: present students with a range of perspectives about sexuality to get them talking, so that they can begin to reconcile serious issues of love, sex, and relationships in their lives.”

And then it proceeds to present a veritable parade of things prurient and flippant: a pornographer to lecture on how he turned his craft “mainstream”; his “models” as the centerpieces of a party at The Toad, a New Haven establishment; two of the “Pick-Up Artists” from the VH1 program of the same name, giving presentations on a day themed “Seduction”; the radio host Suzy Bloch, author of The Ten Commandments of Pleasure, presiding over a tea on “Sex and God” at the Saybrook Master’s House; and so on.

This year’s Sex Week will be, in other words, a characteristically moronic and misleading undertaking. The full schedule can be seen here, though it’s probably not wise if you’re at work to click on many of the associated links. Its sole sponsors are Vivid Entertainment, a pornography studio, and Pure Romance, a sex-toy retailer.

It’s unclear why the Yale administration continues year after year to indulge this charade. Now would be as good a time as any to bring the hammer down.

Exporting NYU


The lede to this article on this weekend’s New York Times piece on the “globalization” of higher education is just priceless:

When John Sexton, the president of New York University, first met Omar Saif Ghobash, an investor trying to entice him to open a branch campus in the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Sexton was not sure what to make of the proposal — so he asked for a $50 million gift.

You really don’t need to read the rest of the article. (He gets the gift, and a campus in the Emirates is in the works). Thanks to the irresistible temptation put upon university administrators to be Chatty Kathys with the press, NYU’s Sexton just revealed what’s behind the globalizing trend: money.

If I were one of the hipsters paying $50k a year to live in the Village, explore myself, and cull a degree stamped with the name of NYU, one of the United States’ best universities, I’d be a bit peeved. Inexorably, when you start establishing satellite campuses of a prestigious university like NYU, you devalue its center.

There are several reasons for this. First, there is an explosion of people who hold a degree nominally from NYU, but really from an inferior institution outside of New York. Second, the globalizing trend is predicated on the belief that knowledge is digitalized and borders are meaningless. But anyone who lives on or near a campus cannot fail to recognize that the physical campus is of utmost importance. There are lectures, there are research libraries befitting a university, there are faculty offices where you can sign your name to a sheet and then have a meeting with an expert on anything from Shakespearean soliloquies to Sumerian cuneiform. But you can bet that in an attempt to correct the first problem and turn NYU-Abu Dhabi into something worthy of the name NYU, lots of those resources — many of which cannot be replicated or bought with mere dollars — are going to be exported abroad.

This doesn’t even touch upon the problems of academic credibility one encounters in teaching in a country, whether NYU in the UAE or Yale in China, that values technical learning at the forfeit of classical learning. If you thought American higher education was in a rotten state, bereft of a general education as it is, just go East! Indeed, even were these schools interested in offering the barest shreds of the Humanities, much of it would be censored outright.

Shooting at Louisiana Technical College


If high-school shootings were the wave of the 1990s, it seems the trend has moved to colleges. My condolences to everyone affected by today’s incident:

A female student shot and killed two classmates and then herself this morning in a classroom at Louisiana Technical College’s Baton Rouge campus, United Press International reported.

There are policy questions — school policy and government policy — that always come up following events like these. Back in September, I wrote about preventing campus shootings in The American Spectator.

College Degrees and Real Wages


Regarding the study mentioned below, I think it’s important to point out two things about “real wages.” One, there’s some real debate about whether they measure what they’re claimed to, especially considering people seem to be consuming more with their lower “real wages.” Also:

Wages are only part of total compensation — and increasing proportions of that total compensation is taken in the form of fringe benefits. Total compensation has been going up while average real wages have been going down.

Even the decline of real wages has to be taken with a grain of salt. Real wages are calculated by taking the money wages and adjusting for changes in the consumer price index . . . an inaccurate consumer price index is part of the reason for the appearance of declining real wages.

Two, it’s misleading to point out that college-degree wages are declining without mentioning that lower-educated Americans have been seeing the same phenomenon for 30+ years.

In fact, using data between 1973 and 2005, an Economic Policy Institute analysis found: High-school dropouts, and to a lesser degree high-school graduates who didn’t go to college, made less in 2005 than they had in 1973. “Some college” folks saw their wages decline until 1995, but by 2005 they were making more than they had in 1973. The “college” and “advanced degree” groups saw their wages rise nonstop between 1979 and 2005. If graduates’ real wages are going down, it’s a recent phenomenon.

As of 2005, college graduates made about two-and-a-half times what high-school dropouts did. Advanced-degree holders made more than twice what high-school graduates who didn’t attend college did. Some of this isn’t due to the education itself; if you shut down all the colleges, no doubt the high-IQ students who’d have attended them would still make more than their competitors in the marketplace. And when an increasing number of graduates end up taking jobs that don’t even require the degrees, there’s a waste of resources. But I do think there’s a lot of truth to the argument that education is the best way to get ahead, at least for those with the ability to see it through.

Advice to Students Aspiring to National Security Careers


From Prof. Jeffrey Breinholt:

[Students] should not assume their ideas have ever been considered by American counterterrorism officials, and . . . not be surprised when they find they are onto something unique and cutting-edge. After all, the Pentagon found that the expertise of one of the Doobie Brothers warranted awarding him a consulting contract . . . [And] Stephen Landman is a second year law student at the Catholic University of America . . . [his] research paper on bank liability for transferring money to terrorists . . . was so good that I encouraged him to let me publish it on the website of the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

How Many Workers Really Need College Degrees?


A new study shows that, contrary to the common wisdom, bachelor’s degrees don’t necessarily add value in the workplace. Notably:

• Fewer than 40 percent of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing job classifications require four-year diplomas.

• Fewer than 30 percent of all jobs demand them – a figure that has barely budged in the last two decades.

• Real wages for bachelor’s-degree holders are falling.

Evidence of this reality is popping up even the education sector. For example, Indian River County School District hired an audio-visual coordinator just out of high school for $15,000 more than a beginning teacher with a master’s degree.


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