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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Unprepared for college



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This Boston Globe story could have appeared almost anywhere in the U.S. — high percentages of students entering college are ill-prepared and need to take remedial courses.

That’s pretty old news. I suggest a follow-up piece looking into the results of those remedial courses. My own experience with students back in the ’80s was that even after taking remedial English, most of them were still ill-prepared for college work. I just don’t think it’s possible to make up for years of educational neglect, in math and especially reading and the use of the language, in just one semester. These remedial classes are regarded as miracle pills, but they aren’t.

Do any colleges require students who have taken a remedial course to re-test before beginning the regular curriculum?

Environmental Bureaucrats



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They’re all the rage on campus. Inside Higher Ed has the scoop.

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Another Poor Choice for Summer Reading at UNC



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The University of North Carolina has made a reputation for itself for its proclivity to select highly tendentious, politically charged books for its summer reading assignment for incoming students. (Actually, it’s not much of an assignment, since there are no adverse consequences if a student completely ignores the book and discussion session.) In this week’s this week’s Clarion Call, my colleague Jay Schalin writes about the choice they’ve made this year.

It’s just the sort of book you’d expect, insisting on government coercion to remedy a “problem” that is merely an irritation, namely social pressures to go along with the crowd when in public. The author, a gay college professor, calls it “covering” and wants to give legal protection to all expressions of one’s individuality. Why should soon-to-be UNC freshmen spend their time reading this call for more regulation, litigation, and grievance-mongering?

Star Parker to Speak at St. Thomas



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The Catholic university’s decision not to invite her has been reversed, a reader points out.

The Oddities of Restricted Endowments



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The New York Times has an interesting article on endowments over the weekend. An amusing anecdote:

When Stanley J. Seeger gave Princeton $2 million for Hellenic studies nearly three decades ago, the gift’s income paid for two courses in modern Greek and trips to Greece for five.

But the Seeger money, which must be spent only on matters Greek, is now worth $33 million, multiplying through aggressive investing like the rest of Princeton’s endowment. So the university offers Greek, Greek and more Greek — 13 courses this semester, including “The Image of Greece in European Cinema” and “Problems in Greek History: Greek Democracy,” as well as trips to Greece and nearby areas for more than 90 students and faculty members last year. The history department recently hired its second Byzantine specialist. And the fund paid half the cost of a collection of 800 rare coins from medieval Greece.

Also, apparently there is significant variance in the degree of restrictions universities face:

Aides to the Senate Finance Committee, which sent out a query in January about endowment practices to the 136 wealthiest colleges and universities, say they have received 131 responses and have begun to scrutinize them. The responses, some of which universities have made public, show that at some, including Harvard and the University of Texas, 80 percent or more of the endowment is constrained by donors’ wishes. But the responses do not begin to detail the variety of these restrictions.

Another source says that, on average, about 50 percent of funds are restricted at private schools, 75 percent at wealthy public schools — meaning that it would be very difficult for the government to decide what the “right” amount is for colleges in general to spend on reducing tuition.

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Animals: Tasty and Informative



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I hate to harp on conservative bias, but the Chronicle of Higher Education homepage surprises me today. Of the campaign to stop academic researchers from using animals, it says:

Many scientists are keeping quiet about their work rather than abandoning it. Some science advocates, concerned about the effects of that silence, are trying to build pro-research activism, based on a model from Britain.

“Science advocates” who are “pro-research,” presumably as opposed to anti-science activists?

This isn’t about science or research generally, but about the use of animals in research. One can support both scientific research and limits on it — I happen to agree the animal-rights crowd is crazy, but that doesn’t make it OK to misrepresent their aims.

The New Yorker on Nadia Abu El Haj



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Jane Kramer’s New Yorker article (not online) on the controversy over Nadia Abu El Haj’s book, Facts on the Ground, is biased and totally non-informative about the nature of the book itself. As PBC has noted, the book sparked a dispute about its author’s bid for tenure at Columbia, which has now been granted. Two good analyses of the book appear here.

They detail how Abu El Haj does not have the requisite linguistic ability to do work on Mideastern archaeology, which involves knowing a number of ancient languages. She mistakenly says that the Hebrew word “bayit” is a “secularizing” term and does not mean “temple,” when it does, or can in certain contexts. Nor does she have sufficient background in archaeological sources and texts.

She is an anthropologist working in the “construction of knowledge” school of thought. She uses many anonymous sources, and this is serious when she claims, for example, that evidence counter to the Israeli “narrative” that she posits has been hidden or destroyed. And at a couple of points she seems to justify Palestinian looting and destruction of sites as a form of political resistance.

Evidently, her dissertation was more closely based on facts and scholarship and was properly reviewed at Duke, but when she turned it into a book, she went way beyond what her evidence legitimately entitled her to say.

Re: Economic Outlook



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I’m glad that Allison brought up the question of the employment outlook for college grads. It doesn’t look good for those who hope for “good” jobs. This year the overflow of college grads into “high school” jobs that don’t really call for any academic accomplishments will be greater than it usually is.

It’s most enlightening to go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics site, where you can find out about the educational credentials of people who are in a vast array of jobs. You’ll find there plenty of evidence that even in our “information economy,” a lot of graduates end up doing work that you could train most 10th graders to do. Just a small sample: 55 percent of the people working in employment recruiting and placement have BA degrees, as do 45 percent of insurance sales people, 58 percent of probation officers, 33 percent of dental hygienists, 54 percent of fashion designers, 38 percent of court reporters, 47 percent of fitness and aerobics instructors, 32 percent of massage therapists, and 42 percent of purchasing agents.

The politicians who are pushing for more “access” to higher ed are in effect saying, “Let’s spend more money to process more young people through college so they can compete with high school grads for work that requires only on-the-job training.”

Speaking Truth to Political Correctness



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Today’s Wall Street Journal features a review by John Leo of History Lesson by Mary Lefkowitz. The book describes her criticism of false claims by “Afrocentric” writers and the trouble she encountered for having done so.

Leo concludes, “The academy has still not firmly answered the central question of ‘History Lesson’: What should the university do when a professor insists on teaching demonstrable untruths? No prattle about academic freedom, please.”

Philosophy and Chicks



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A letter from reader Michael Filozov, an adjunct professor at Niagara Community College:

Candace, I read that link you posted from the NYT on philosophy majors. Interesting, but — respectfully, I must disagree. Philosophy is NOT good for getting chicks!!

Don’t ask me how I know. Let’s just say that trying to discuss Aristotle (“The male is by nature superior, the female inferior” — Politics, Book I) with girls in a college bar does NOT work. And we haven’t even mentioned Aristotle’s discussion of the “natural slave” yet.When I was an undergraduate at Geneseo some of the best parties I ever went to were in a long, narrow, low-ceilinged apartment (dubbed “the submarine”) populated with very ugly, male, philosophy majors. Very few women were present, but beer-fueled discussions of Cartesian epistemology and Marxian false consciousness were as good as any graduate seminar.

Now, as far as the quote you listed about philosophy being good for getting girls… it seems they dig the French stuff, like the Rousseauian-crying-in-the-wilderness, and of course Sartre, who was doing it with ‘ole Simone. But the “tortured soul” thing is more of a French affectation, and, as you well, know, the French have damn near made an entire culture out of pretentious affectation…

REAL philosophers, like Socrates (the very paradigm!)  Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Hobbes and Nietzsche (of course this is true of Nietzsche) were all bachelors, probably schizoids, and were certainly more worried about being exiled or executed than about women…

Quod erat demonstrandum…

BTW while not exactly a work of philosophy, Jefferson’s letter to Maria Cosway (“Dialogue Between My Head and My Heart”) can certainly pique the interest of women… (again… don’t ask me how I know) — if you’ve never read it, it’s a must.

Russert Calls WFB “Singular Force in American Life” at Notre Dame



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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief of NBC News and moderator of Meet the Press, described the late William F. Buckley Jr. as an “extraordinary, complicated, intelligent, singular force in American life” on Monday in a lecture at the University of Notre Dame honoring late New York Times reporter Walter W. “Red” Smith. Russert added “I think that when we find that, we should salute it.”

Russert shared personal anecdotes of Buckley during the audience’s question period following his address on American journalism in front of over 500 students and faculty members.

“It was extraordinary talking to him,” said Russert, recalling that he sat near Buckley at past social functions, including the annual Al Smith Dinner in New York.

At the dinner table, Buckley “was someone who did not engage in long conversation,” said Russert, before noting that the late National Review editor “was the quintessential observer” who could “come back and just say something that was so spot on.”

Russert also addressed what he sees as a common simplification of Buckley’s work and thought.

“I realized the suggestion that, well, he was a conservative writer,” intoned Russert, “he was far more than that.”

“He was someone who was a conservative and proud of it,” said Russert, “who understood the rhythms and changes in history — that there was a race worth running in 1964 with Barry Goldwater that would probably be unsuccessful but it would lay the groundwork for a successive conservative takeover of the Republican Party, and the White House, to wit Ronald Reagan — and he was right.”

Russert, who worked on the staff of late Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan after finishing law school, fondly recalled Buckley’s sometimes intimidating intellect.

“One of the greatest nights of my life was to go to dinner with Pat Moynihan and Bill Buckley,” said Russert, smiling. “I said nothing,” he quickly added to the delight of the crowd of students and faculty.

Russert found the friendship between the late Buckley and Moynihan demonstrative of a void in modern politics.

“Here they were, one liberal, one conservative,” said Russert. “Two roaring intellectuals who had this deep and abiding and grudging respect for one another — often competitive — trying to show one another up with a better recall of a certain academic citation.”

“They really, truly were good friends,” said Russert. “They had a level of respect that was something to behold. I think men of that caliber, that quality, are so lacking in our public discourse.”

Here’s the video:


Rigorous Multicultural Courses Promised at Columbia



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In the wake of a student hunger strike to protest the weakness of multicultural offerings in the campus’s core curriculum, the university is dedicating $50 million to the creation of major culture classes that can count toward core credit.

Its new director, a professor of Western civilization, Roosevelt Montas, says he “embodies diversity.” Auspiciously, he is also portrayed as one of the Core’s most fervent defenders.

“I don’t represent the tradition of dead white males that the Core is associated with,” Montas states. “I think it helps to undo or challenge the idea that this is a white curriculum.”

This is reassuring, as long as students are in fact steeped in the Western canon. Even greatly improved courses on non-Western cultures cannot make up for such a grounding.

Future of Feminism Follow-up



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There is some small, somewhat snide amount of blogging at The Crimson on the Future and Legacy of Feminism conference, sponsored by Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield’s Program on Constitutional Government, which Kathryn mentioned below.

The best parts are a Women’s Studies academic who sputters that conference attendees are “Neanderthals” and complains of Mansfield: “He invited, instead of academic speakers, he invited a preponderance of journalists. These people are a bit superficial, they cater to an unprofessional public.” Heaven forbid. 

But then there is Mansfield, who in his closing remarks noted “I think we’ve shown Harvard that it is possible to have a conference where people disagree.” That really is a remarkable achievement.

The Economic Outlook for the Class of 2008



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The Wall Street Journal paints a bleak picture of job opportunities for the class of 2008:

As the credit crunch roils financial markets and the U.S. economy sputters, new college graduates are plunging into the rockiest job market in recent years.

The bleaker picture is in stark contrast with last year, when colleges and employers reported robust hiring, and students in finance, accounting and other hot fields were choosing among numerous offers. Now, companies that just a few months ago were planning substantial increases in entry-level hiring have scaled back their plans as economic conditions have worsened. In turbulent areas such as financial services, some firms are slashing the number of fresh graduates they intend to employ, and students are curtailing expectations of finding their ideal position.


The article also has an up-to-date chart of average starting salary broken down by major (hint: tell your kids to be engineers).

CMC Professor to Resign as Holocaust Center Director



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Over at the Claremont Independent, Elise Viebeck has an update on the professor/stolen art/Nazi controversy I posted about last month:

Claremont McKenna College history professor Jonathan Petropoulos will resign as director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights effective summer 2008. Dean of Faculty Gregory Hess made the announcement to CMC professors at a meeting on April 8.

The announcement comes amid controversy surrounding an effort by Petropoulos to restitute a Nazi-looted painting to its rightful owner in which his associate, a Munich art dealer, has been investigated for blackmail. The painting was looted in 1938 from the childhood home of Gisela Bermann-Fischer, now a resident of Zurich, shortly after she and her family escaped the Nazi Anschluss.


More here.

Romantic Benefits for Philosophy Majors



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There’s more to the intellectual and pragmatic pluses of pursuing the examined life, as students are increasingly doing.

Jenna Schaal-O’Connor, a 20-year-old sophomore, says “many male philosophy majors [are] interesting and sensitive.”
Flashback to the Sartean days: “That whole deep existential torment,” O’Connor observed perceptively. “It’s good for getting girlfriends.”

Text Messages



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The political problem with America’s textbooks isn’t that they’re too conservative, or that a few of them have a couple of sentences that arguably slant rightward. The problem is that they’re too liberal. For more information, spend some time with the American Textbook Council.

Another Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week II Underway



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IFAW II, as FrontPage indicates, aims at educating the public about the threat of radical Islam, and will take place this week at more than 100 campuses. Congresswoman Sue Myrick is one of the featured speakers.

The theme of this year’s drive, Declaration Against Genocide, urges student and Muslim organizations to condemn terrorist groups, and “repudiate the saying of the prophet Mohammed that redemption will only come when Muslims fight Jews and kill them, when the rocks and trees cry out Oh Muslim there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.”

How can you get more counter-cultural than asking students, as IFAW II does, to espouse hoary concepts such as:

  • The right of all people to live in freedom and dignity
  • The freedom of the individual conscience: to change religions or have no religion at all
  • The equal dignity of women and men
  • The right of all people to live free from violence, intimidation, and coercion

Sadly, a hundred Muslim Student Associations, when asked, failed to sign the Declaration.

FrontPage tells why they have not done so and what befell last year’s supporters of IFAW. The details are frightening.

May the movement fructify.

Re: College-Textbook Plot



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I caught that post and story as well, and actually used the textbook in high school. To be fair, they do seem to have found some pretty slanted statements, most importantly this one (which was fixed in a subsequent edition but is still in many schools):

The book shows a picture of kids praying in front of a Virginia high school and states, “The Supreme Court will not let this happen inside a public school.” . . . The textbook goes on to state that the court has ruled as “unconstitutional every effort to have any form of prayer in public schools, even if it is nonsectarian, voluntary or limited to reading a passage of the Bible.”

It’s a dangerous and common misconception that prayer-in-school court rulings apply to all prayer in school. In fact, they only apply to prayer that is funded or advanced by the school or its officials, or public prayer during official events (which the court takes to be school-endorsed, even when it’s delivered by students). Students are free to pray on their own without disrupting others. A textbook that encourages this error, whether out of political agenda or simple incompetence, deserves a second look.

Also this:

The authors wrote that the Supreme Court decision [declaring sodomy a constitutional right] had a “benefit” and a “cost.” The benefit, it said, was to strike down a rarely enforced law that could probably not be passed today, while the cost was to “create the possibility that the court, and not Congress or state legislatures, might decide whether same-sex marriages were legal.”

Why in the world would a textbook declare a controversial decision to have “benefits” and “costs,” rather than “effects”? Presuming the AP paraphrased it fairly, this is poor writing and sloppy editing.

For what it’s worth, as I recall, my fellow AP Government students got 4s and 5s on the exam, so the book can’t be all that bad. And I really doubt the same level of media attention would find its way to a similar example of liberal bias.

A Star Goes Out?



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From Young America’s Foundation:

Herndon, VA – Liberal administrators at the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic university and private college in Minnesota, censored the appearance of prominent pro-life and black speaker Star Parker. On April 21, 2008, Star—the best-selling author of numerous books—was slated to speak on campus about the devastating impact abortion has on minority communities. UST Vice President of Student Affairs Jane Canney nixed the idea entirely, citing “concerns” that the lecture was being underwritten by Young America’s Foundation.

Full press release here.

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