Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Wikipedia Rejects Muslim Censors


An entry in the online encyclopedia that includes images of the Prophet Muhammad is drawing worldwide protest at, reports the New York Times.

One protester writes, “It’s totally unacceptable to print the Prophet’s picture. It shows insensitivity towards Muslim feelings and should be removed immediately.”

Wikipedia is not backing down, asserting that it will not be “censored for the benefit of any particular group.”

Paul M. Cobb, who teaches Islamic history at Notre Dame, comments, “Islamic teaching has traditionally discouraged representation of humans, particularly Muhammad, but that doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. Some of the most beautiful images in Islamic art are manuscript images of Muhammad.”

Kudos to Wikipedia.

Meyers on the Black Male Initiative


Robert commented below on the likely illegality of this CUNY program aimed at recruiting and retaining black male students. From the get-go, Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition has also pointed out such programs discriminate “against black men by segregating them and stigmatizing them.”


Stop Giving to Colleges


This blog has been home to some pretty extensive endowments discussion lately, so I figured I’d throw in my two cents. First off, I absolutely agree with George Leef’s reader that it’s not a good idea for the government to make universities’ decisions for them. Any time there’s a massive amount of money earning interest, there’s a serious tradeoff between spending money and leaving it to gather more interest, and colleges are best equipped to make that tradeoff with their futures in mind.

But a point I don’t think too many people have made is this: When a college gets a lot of money from donations and subsidies rather than tuition, there’s an incentive to shift resources from education to donor-luring. Yes, the two are linked (donors and governments will give more if they think the college is doing a good job), but seeing how universities waste money sometimes (diversity crusades, etc.), I wonder if there isn’t a better way to align incentives.

No, I’m not saying we should ban private gifts to schools. I’m saying it should happen voluntarily: If you want to donate money to further postsecondary education, contribute to scholarship funds, not directly to universities. Pick funds that use any criteria you like (merit, need), just put the money in the students’ hands. The same goes for government money — give out more vouchers and loans, rather than funding state and private schools.

Not only would this solve the massive-endowment problem, it would improve education; it would subsidize the consumer. Universities would have to sell themselves to students and parents, not alumni, philanthropists, and legislators.

Egalitarian Worrying at the New York Times


In yesterday’s New York Times, education writer Karen Arenson had this piece entitled “Endowments Widen a Higher Education Gap.”

This pours gasoline on the endowment-spending fire. How can good liberals resist the egalitarian urge to prevent any sort of “gap” from widening?

Arenson quotes Sandy Baum of Skidmore College: “You don’t have to go very far down the food chain before you get to institutions that feel real constraints about how they spend their money. Princeton can do what they want to, but not many schools can.”

Excuse my non-egalitarian nature, but so what? Why is it a problem that the great majority of colleges and universities “feel real constraints” on their spending? Does it mean that students are short-changed educationally? No. Harvard can ladle millions into a “diversity” crusade (that is, Larry Summers’ failed attempt to mollify his faculty enemies) and Princeton can build dorms that make students feel as though they’re staying in a posh hotel, but why should anyone care how they squander their funds?

Keep reading this post . . .

Slate and The Weekly Standard Agree . . .


That Obama ought to come out against racial preferences. Here’s Richard Kahlenberg’s Slate piece, and here’s Terry Eastland’s in The Weekly Standard.


Education Department Investigating ‘Black Male Initiative’


Chronicle of Higher Education blog post here. The New York Civil Rights Coalition filed two complaints against the City University of New York program in 2006, one arguing the program itself would discriminate, the other arguing the hiring of program staff did. The government is looking into the initiative on a total of 16 campuses.

Of course, black males are a worthy target of educational remedies — whites outpace blacks in general, and black females outnumber black males in college admissions by a 3:1 ratio. Clearly there’s something going on here, but that doesn’t mean (A) that this program is legal or (B) that anyone can fix the problem at the college level. Most likely, whatever causes the severe gap, it’s already taken hold by the time anyone even thinks about the “school-to-college pipeline” the Black Male Initiative hopes to work on. Improvements targeted at younger students (vouchers, anyone?) would be more likely to see results.

You can read about the program here. Funniest part:

A new initiative intended to increase, encourage, and support the inclusion and educational success of under-represented groups in higher education, in particular black males. All programs and activities of the Black Male Initiative are open to all academically eligible students, faculty and staff, without regard to race, gender, national origin, or other characteristic.

That’s right: The Black Male Initiative is completely inclusive.

Non-Black Athletes, Historically Black Colleges


A reader brings to my attention an article in today’s Washington Post about historically black colleges and universities recruiting white athletes to play on their sports teams. This reader flags in particular the suggestion (by a white player at one such school, ironically) that “there could be limits on the number of scholarship white players at HBCUs to ensure the schools’ and teams’ missions and histories are not affected,” and notes the likely outcry if the shoe were on the other foot and such limits were placed on the number of black athletes at non-HBCUs. Good point.  Still, in all the article is refreshing, since clearly what the schools care most about is winning, not political correctness, and the players just want to play.

Pell Grants for All Trapped Students


Rabbi Avi Shafran considers the potential of the president’s new proposed initiative “Pell Grants for Kids.” Current Pell Grants are meant to help low-income students attend postsecondary school; Bush would like to apply the model to younger students, and indeed all students who cannot afford decent education. Expanding this model would be tantamount to creating vouchers that are “more than a ‘next stop’ after a child has been sentenced to wasted years — or worse — in a failing school.”

More on Endowment Spending


Inside Higher Ed has a story about Friday’s conference at AEI on college endowment spending.

I have a solution. It’s awfully politically incorrect, but it slices right through the Gordian Knot: Abolish the income tax. This problem wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the fact that the income tax is used to reward certain behaviors and punish others. The income tax gives rise to a whole universe of bad consequences, of which endowment “hoarding” but a fairly minor one.

Justifying the Term ‘Islamofacism’


Andrew Bostom provides the doctrinal and historical background for understanding and using the word “Islamofascism” correctly, that is by “acknowledging the direct nexus between Islam, pre-modern despotism, and modern totaliarian ideologies.”

The ‘Sex Workers Art Show’ Does Duke


On Sunday night, Duke University hosted the “Sex Workers Art Show.” My colleague Jay Schalin attended and writes about it here.

If there is any point to this, other than wallowing in vulgarity, it escapes both of us.

Reactions to ‘Al-Arian’s Third Strike’


Stephen Emerson’s recent article “Al-Arian’s Third Strike” has provoked responses from two federal officers who disagree with George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley’s view that there is “a new and disturbing trend by the Bush Administration in using grand juries against individuals who they fail to convict in criminal cases.” According to Emerson:

One pointed out that civil contempt has been used during a number of presidential administrations of all stripes to compel testimony and recounted in detail how, after several tries, a reluctant witness in a drug case finally testified truthfully and triggered indictments of dozens more people. We are publishing the comments of the other official, who consented under a condition of anonymity.

Agresto on the Pitfalls of Hope


John Agresto is the author of Mugged by Reality: The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions, and the Interim Provost of the New American University of Iraq in Sulaimani. Regarding the great difficulties in establishing democracy in countries such as Iraq, he solemnly warns “the hopeful ones,” i.e.:

The hopeful on the right who think if we can just get democracy straight in the Middle East all will yet be well, and the hopeful on the left who put their money on “negotiation,” greater communication, and mutual understanding.

Agresto admonishes those on the right who, in facilely promoting democracy in places where tribal, religious, political and personal differences dominate, endanger America, as we are now confronted by “the growth of Islamic fundamentalism as a mass, popular, democratic movement. Thus, the more we promote ‘democracy,’ the more we might well be promoting elected extreme Islamist governments worldwide.”

As for multicultural leftists, and in particular academics, he excoriates them for their simplistic accusations of “ugly ethnocentrism” whenever confronted by the often hateful reality of the “culture of honor and retribution” in the Middle East.

We need more such nuanced thinking about the dangers that face us, including the blinding politics of hope.

Re: Maryland District Sex Lessons Challenged


I’d agree that school sex-ed curriculi frequently promote agenda over fact. That said, on homosexuality being innate, I’d argue the school district is closer to the truth. One can say the evidence isn’t quite conclusive, and therefore schools shouldn’t teach it yet, but on balance the facts support that theory.

The best article I’ve found on the topic is this one from New York magazine. In just one interesting biological marker, the hair whorls on the back of gay men’s heads tend to run in the opposite direction to those on straights’. Of course, some gay men can force themselves to live as straights, but that doesn’t mean the tendency itself isn’t innate.

It’s important to recognize the difference between “biological” and “genetic” — most of the leading theories posit that something happens in the womb, after conception, specifically during the flush of male/female hormones.

From Daily Me to Daily Them


Cass Sunstein astutely comments in the Financial Times on how many people use the Internet to construct a “Daily Me” — “information cocoons” or “echo chambers” that bombard them with material that confirms the views they already hold. He cites a 2005 study of groups composed of either left-wing or right-wing members, which concluded:

  • In almost every group, people ended up with more extreme positions.
  • Aside from increasing extremism, discussion had another effect: it squelched diversity.
  • When people find their views corroborated, they become more confident and so are more willing to be extreme.
  • People who favour a position think of themselves in a certain way and if they are with people who agree with them, they shift a bit to hold on to their preferred self-conception.
  • The internet is thus a powerful tool for intensifying group polarisation, with important ramifications for the electoral process. The “self-sorting” that it so greatly facilitates results in “more confidence, extremism and increased contempt for those with contrary views.”

It is plausible that the Internet contributes to an especially intense level of self-sorting among campus denizens, who have constant access to high-speed online service. But, then, such self-sorting is also greatly advanced by corrupt faculty hiring and student organizational practices — and hence the thriving of departmental and student-organizational “information cocoons,” radicalism, and intolerance of opposite opinions.

Maryland District Sex Lessons Challenged


Excerpts — but read the whole thing — from World Net Daily:

A parents group is asking a judge to halt an explicit sex-education curriculum [for middle- and high-schoolers] implemented by a Maryland school board that teaches homosexuality is innate and provides depictions of “erotic” sex techniques.

Brandon M. Bolling, of the Thomas More Law Center, [argues] that state law requires that information presented in public schools be supported with evidence, and the teaching that homosexuality is “innate” lacks that support . . . [and] that the lessons required by Montgomery County Board of Education teach students how to use condoms in violation of a state prohibition against material that “portrays erotic techniques of sexual intercourse” . . .

“Declaring homosexuality to be ‘innate’ is a direct attack upon the ex-gay community and the possibility of changing one’s sexual orientation,” said Peter Sprigg, a Montgomery County resident and board member for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays . . .

[The school system’s] highly explicit sex curriculum … earlier was struck down by a federal judge because of its content that condemned religious perspectives that did not endorse homosexuality . . .

“Nowhere is abstinence or sex placed within the context of marriage. The word marriage is not mentioned in the 8th or 10th grade lessons” . . .

WND has documented a number of earlier cases in which educators have promoted a homosexual lifestyle to children under their charge.

UPDATE: Reader Michael Filozov, an adjunct professor at Niagara County Community College, writes:

[I]t seems to me that the educational establishment is caught in a great contradiction. As we know, the educational establishment teaches, as unassailable fact, the theory of evolution. But the theory of evolution is all about reproduction and the transfer of genes to subsequent generations. . .

It goes without saying that homosexuality doesn’t enhance the transfer of our genes to subsequent generations. According to the theory, then, if homosexuality is innate or somehow biologically constructed, it would have to be considered an abnormality or mutation that will eventually be eliminated through the evolutionary process.

Despite their ironclad commitment to evolution, you don’t find schools teaching that, do you?”

Smash Distribution


The University of Michigan wants to crack down on student publications that aren’t officially sanctioned by the administration, according to this report in the Michigan Review. From what I can gather, the policy would make it basically impossible for all but two publications to enjoy a mass distribution to students.

DHS Funding Islamist Sympathizers?


This article (from the Tufts University Daily) raises some legitimate questions about Department of Homeland Security grants to universities. Here’s its most serious charge:

In 2006, Tufts’ Hillel received part of a $1.6-million Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant to promote “inter-faith and intercultural dialogue.” The program’s intentions are noble and its goals laudable, since it is best to resolve conflict through dialogue.

But this past fall, Tufts’ Interfaith Initiative, “Pathways,” used its federal money to sponsor a dinner and dialogue by Edina Lekovic on “Women, Faith, and Women.” . . . A former managing editor of “Al-Talib,” a Muslim publication at UCLA, Lekovic was on the masthead when it published an editorial — signed by the Al-Talib staff — praising and defending Osama bin Laden.

I could go either way on this. Yes, Lekovic was part of a publication that defended Osama bin Laden — that merits investigation. But there’s no indication that she wrote or could veto the piece, which ran in 1999 — almost a decade ago, and before 9/11. Few people would defend every belief they held in 1999, much less every idea in an entire publication from that year.

But the broader criticism of Pathways has merit, especially considering that the group receives “homeland security” funds:

Keep reading this post . . .

Legislators vs. High Textbook Prices


Maryland (as well as about 20 other states) and the federal government are considering laws to reduce the price of notoriously expensive college textbooks.

The problem is a classic case of market failure: Textbook makers compete in terms of quality — all else being equal, a professor will pick a good book over a bad one — but not price. Professors don’t pay for the books, so few consider the cost. Students can’t buy the cheaper alternatives, because they’ll be tested on the assigned book’s material.

With that in mind, I’m not sure the federal bill will do that much to help:

The bill, introduced in November 2007, would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 by adding several sections that would make the cost of higher education more transparent to students and their families.

And, specifically:

One provision of the nearly 800-page-long bill would require textbook publishers to fully disclose to colleges the prices of textbooks, as well as information about how revised editions differ from previous ones. Publishers would also have to allow bundled textbooks and materials to be purchased separately.

These measures can’t hurt, but the core problem remains.

Keep reading this post . . .

Support for My Laissez-Faire Approach on Endowments


After posting yesterday’s Clarion Call with a pro-and-con on the issue of mandating increased endowment spending, I received a supporting e-mail from someone who has a lot of experience in managing endowments. Here is just a small slice of what he wrote:

In short, increasing the payout will, in the long term, lead to decreased funds for students. Typical of Congress, this is a short term political proposal with bad long term consequences. The reason for this is that investment horizons for universities are very different than those for individuals. In 30 years most of the members of Congress will be dead, but the universities will still be running. Because these are endowments they are meant to provide funding in perpetuity, which means their most dangerous enemy is inflation. It’s imperative to invest a great deal of the return back into the fund to beat inflation over, say, 100 years. Applying human investment strategies to institutions that don’t die is a dreadful mistake.


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