Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Re: Girl Power


I enjoyed that article as well. However, I think Sommers is catering to political correctness in one way – she talks about research into sex differences in ability, but calls it research into differences in “career choices.”

Take these grafs:

So why are there so few women in the high echelons of academic math and in the physical sciences? In a recent survey of faculty atti­tudes on social issues, sociologists Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University asked 1,417 professors what accounts for the relative scarcity of female pro­fessors in math, science, and engineering. Just 1 percent of respondents attributed the scarcity to women’s lack of ability, 24 percent to sexist discrimination, and 74 percent to differences in what characteristically interests men and women.

Many experts who study male/female dif­ferences provide strong support for that 74 percent majority. Readers can go to books like David Geary’s Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences (1998); Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), and Simon The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain (2003), for arguments suggest­ing that biology plays a distinctive—but not exclusive—role in career choices.

Baron-Cohen is one of the world’s leading experts on autism, a disorder that affects far more males than females. Autistic persons tend to be socially disconnected and unaware of the emotional states of others. But they often exhibit obsessive fixation on objects and machines. Baron-Cohen suggests that autism may be the far end of the male norm—the “extreme male brain,” all systematizing and no empathizing. He believes that men are, “on average,” wired to be better systematizers and women to be bet­ter empathizers.

The scientific sources side with the 1 percent, not the 74 percent – women have different brains (or “wiring”) than men do, and thus tend to have less ability in math and science (“systematizing” fields). This is inconsistent with the 74 percent of profs who believe women have the same ability in math, but simply choose other fields. (Of course, both factors are probably at work, so why wasn’t that an option in this poll?)

Pinker himself wrote:

Keep reading this post . . .

Wisdom on School Choice


A review of Chester Finn’s new memoir about his efforts at reforming education, Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform Since Sputnik, reports:

Mr. Finn applies the same troublemaking honesty to the sacrosanct matter of school choice. He has not given up on charter schools and voucher programs. However, citing his own experience with them in Dayton, Ohio, he now argues that, to be good, schools must not just be free but also internally strong, with a good curriculum and good instruction. Declaring his old beliefs “naïve,” Mr. Finn concludes: “Market forces alone will not speedily lead to stronger academic achievement.”
This is welcome and hard-earned wisdom from one of our most intrepid and experienced school reformers. Just as conservatives were led to overstate the efficacy of “democracy,” so were they led to overstate the efficacy of free markets in school reform. Democracy and free markets are good, but they are only procedural. They are only as good as the substantive cultural understanding that they advance.


Re: Girl Power


John is right. You should read the article. Note well the monumentally silly programs the feds are paying for, such as this one: “Michigan is experimenting with ‘interactive’ theater as a means of raising faculty consciousness about gender bias. At special workshops, physicists and engineers watch skits where overbearing men ride roughshod over hapless but obviously intellectually superior female colleagues.”

The “gender equity” crusade won’t give us better science, but it will waste a lot of money and interfere with the work of scientists, men and women alike.



The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has just issued a report card, Shining the Light, on the performance of the University System of Georgia. Here is the executive summary. Take a look at USG’s performance in the key areas graded by ACTA with a “passing” (P) or “failing” (F) mark:

General Education: P

Intellectual Diversity: F

Board Structure & Transparency: P

Board Accomplishments: F

Cost & Effectiveness: F

One aspect of this analysis struck me as particularly appropriate. In evaluating USG’s general education requirements, ACTA excluded from consideration “narrow, esoteric or single author courses,” i.e., it not only looked at what core courses are required but also at their breadth and richness.

It is to be hoped that ACTA moves on to grade many more of our public – and private – universities.

Even at Harvard, Sports Tail Wags Educational Dog


Harvard has decided to get serious about winning the basketball title in the Ivy League, according this NYT article.

This is even less comprehensible to me than the allure of adding football at UNCC, which I wrote about recently. Suppose that Harvard should manage to win the Ivy League. That guarantees that its team gets to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Why is that worth the effort, especially when you consider that the relatively weak-performing students they’d have to recruit in order to move up to the top of the Ivy League — weaker academically than the current basketball players, to be sure — will require a lot of special treatment.

At most schools there are some sports fans who live vicariously through the ups and downs of the teams, elated when “we” win and despondent when “we” lose. All of that is very fleeting. Is the University of Florida a better university because the school’s basketball team won back-to-back NCAA championships? Does that really matter a year or even a week later?


Overselling Higher Ed in Britain


We learn in this Daily Mail article that the government in Britain is bribing universities to take very weak students.

Why? “Ministers say the target of getting 50 per cent of 18 to 30 year-olds into higher education is needed to equip more workers with high level skills.”

There’s that demented notion again — that government planners know the right percentage of people to lure into higher ed.

At least there is some dissent. “Critics are increasingly questioning the quality of some courses and asking whether university is always the best way of acquiring such skills. . . . They also warn that growing numbers are recruiting students with poor grades, casting doubt on their aptitude for degree-level studies.”

Exactly. The Brits should learn from our unhappy experience of overexpanding higher ed.

Girl Power


Women make up a majority of college students, but men still dominate areas such as science, math, computers, and engineering. Christina Hoff Sommers warns of government solutions to this “problem,” in The American. I like her last graf:

American scientific excellence is a precious national resource. It is the foundation of our economy and of the nation’s health and safety. Norman Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Burton Richter, Nobel laureate in physics, once pointed out that MIT alone—its faculty, alumni, and staff—started more than 5,000 companies in the past 50 years. Will an academic science that is quota-driven, gender-balanced, cooperative rather than competitive, and less time-consuming produce anything like these results? So far, no one in Congress has even thought to ask.

Gird Yourself for Laughter, Gagging


There is rarely a work so singularly moronic as this defense of Madonna Constantine, the serial plagiarist of Columbia’s Teachers College, on whose case Candace, Robert, and yours truly previously wrote.

Declaring himself “an advocate of black radical feminism,” Anthony Kelley, a columnist for the Columbia Spectator, supports the view that:

[T]his is just another instance of white supremacy and sexism at work wherein a black woman’s credibility is systematically made illegitimate. … [S]o few black women are in academia, and those who are there face tremendous opposition from their institutions, especially if their scholarly work centers around the intersectional nature of black women’s oppression (i.e. as the subordinates of both white supremacy and sexist oppression because they are both black and women simultaneously). These allegations of plagiarism, some claim, are continuations of the historical devaluation of black womanhood and should be recognized as such.

Moving beyond the fact that it takes Mr. Kelley 72 words to identify Prof. Constantine as a black woman, it doesn’t seem to occur to him that a white professor faced with these charges would probably be shown the door; that the evidence is overwhelmingly stacked against Prof. Constantine; and that calling an Ivy League school of education, the flakiest of all schools, institutionally racist not only makes one wonder what an non-racist institution would look like, but also is at odds with the decision to employ Prof Constantine in the first instance and then give her tenure.

The best part, though, comes after Mr. Kelley invites us to “assume” that Prof Constantine is a plagiarist. Hard to do, I know, but let’s just try… He writes:

Instead of punishing (or “sanctioning”) her, we should be making special efforts to extend compassion to her and those who feel wounded as a result of her actions. … Imagine a forum in which Professor Constantine and her accusers engage in the life-sustaining practice of dialogue, actively listening to each other’s concerns and extending heart-felt compassion in understanding each other’s pain. Imagine the reconciliation that could arise from such a space. Imagine the impact such a forum would have on our community. Instead of just giving lip-service to the idea of dialogue, we would be demonstrating its importance and effectiveness, even when it is difficult and uncomfortable. Imagine an end to the lies. Imagine embracing truth. Imagine healing. 

Were this a parody, it would be a very bad parody for the simple reason that the rhetoric is so over-the-top that I could not imagine anyone, even a Columbia undergraduate and exponent of radical black feminism, writing or saying it. As usual, reality always outperforms the most fanciful farce.

Many thanks to the good people of IvyGate for drawing attention to this specimen.

Mac Donald vs. Koss on the Prevalence of Campus Rape


Researcher Mary Koss defends her statistic that 20-25 percent of college girls will suffer “rape” before graduating, which Heather Mac Donald had attacked in an article I’ve previously blogged about. Mac Donald replies in usual must-read fashion here, devastating a study Koss cites to back Koss’s own:

The 2000 Department of Justice study of campus rape found that those women whom the researchers characterized as rape victims “generally did not state that their victimization resulted in physical or emotional injuries.” . . . Moreover, 65 percent of those whom the researchers called “completed rape” victims and three-quarters of “attempted rape” victims said that they did not think that their experiences were “serious enough to report”—a judgment inconceivable from a real rape victim.

The most strikingly absurd comment from Koss is this one:

Keep reading this post . . .

Campus Cops With ‘Assault Rifles’


UPDATE: Two different readers have deduced that the guns are probably .223-caliber. There’s some debate over what, exactly, the “shortage” of ammo entails.

Kind of a funny article about Arizona state schools that, unfortunately, doesn’t say what kind of gun the “assault rifles” are. It’s rather odd they’d buy a firearm they’re having trouble securing ammo for.

My favorite part:

Jan Kelly, an ASU faculty member, said she understands why officers have a need for weapons with increased capabilities. She said she feels comfortable with campus officers’ access to the rifles.

“I don’t think the police are going to target students,” Kelly said. “If they (the guns) aren’t visible, most won’t really know about them.

Well, I’m glad we’ve cleared up that cops won’t use students as target practice (“Get back to class!”).

Also this:

Pistols that campus officers currently use aren’t ideal for long shots, said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, UA Police Department spokesman.

“Beyond 50 feet, you lose a lot of accuracy,” Mejia said. “You can take a longer, more accurate shot (with the rifles).”

In practice, with moving targets, you lose accuracy way before 50 feet with a pistol — even within six feet, cops miss suspects more than half the time.

On another serious note, hopefully these guns will make the officers more prepared in the event of a tragedy.

UA Prof Maps Bioterrorist Risk


University of Arizona Communications reports that a UA researcher has devised an ingenious way to demonstrate the relative level of vulnerability to bioterrorism in 132 U.S. cities. UA’s Walter W. Piegorsch has created a color-coded map that identifies the risk based on factors such as critical industries, ports, population, etc. The map highlights high-risk areas as red (for example, Houston), midrange risk as yellow (San Francisco) and lower risk as green (Tucson).

Thank you for your contribution to our collective security, Dr. Piegorsch.

Terrorist Threat by Muslim Female Student Against UIC


Yesterday, reports former police chief Jim Kouri, the FBI arrested Mahtab Shirani, a Muslim woman enrolled at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Shirani is alleged to have sent an anonymous e-mail to a university administrator threatening a repeat of the shooting incident that had taken place the previous day at Northern Illinois University. The threat stated that a group of five individuals would carry out the attack sometime during the spring 2008 semester.

The FBI praised the campus police department and the administrative staff for dealing with the threat professionally and expeditiously. Kudos to both the campus police and the FBI for preventing a potential terrorist act as well as alarm on campus.

MEF Education Grants


The Middle East Forum has just announced the establishment of the MEF Education Fund, a program instituted to support researchers and institutions focused on the Middle East and radical Islam, i.e., unbiased studies in these areas.

Generating such scholarship is crucial to our national security. May the new program flourish.

Does UNC-Charlotte Need a Football Team?


A lopsided feasibility study recommended that the school spend big bucks (coming largely from an increase in student fees) to start up intercollegiate football, reaching the NCAA’s top division by 2016.

Is it a good idea? I’m very skeptical and say so here.

Long ago, an economics professor of mine who had done quite a bit of work in Puerto Rico said that the island “looks wonderful from a distance, but when you get up close — ugh.” I think that’s also true about big-time college football.

More Guns, Less Campus Crime



PHOENIX — Horrified by recent campus shootings, a state lawmaker here has come up with a proposal in keeping with the Taurus .22-caliber pistol tucked in her purse: Get more guns on campus.

The lawmaker, State Senator Karen S. Johnson, has sponsored a bill, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last week, that would allow people with a concealed weapons permit — limited to those 21 and older here — to carry their firearms at public colleges and universities. Concealed weapons are generally not permitted at most public establishments, including colleges.

Georgetown: In Defense of Petrodollars


Rep. Frank Wolf wrote to DeGioia February 14, expressing concern about the effect on scholarship of a Saudi prince’s $20 million gift to Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

Since receiving the gift several years ago, there’s been “no outside interference [with the Center's work] of any kind,” Georgetown President John J. DeGioia wrote.

DeGioia glosses over the real point, commented Middle East scholar Martin Kramer. At issue is how impartial and intrepid academics will be in confronting governments and academic institutions indebted to beneficent donors. On the Center’s vaunted influence on various federal agencies concerned with foreign policy and national security, Kramer warned:

The faculty of the Center have consistently underestimated and downplayed the threat posed by radical Islamism. Prior to 9/11 and since then, they have played a considerable role in obfuscating the dangers facing the United States–something our officials can ill afford now and in the future.

IPT News now presents more compelling evidence that Georgetown is begging Wolf’s vital questions. Has the center criticized Saudi Arabia where criticism is due? Has it asked whether Saudi petrodollars fan anti-Americanism and extremism?

No, because Georgetown is reckoning that lofty assertions of its “integrity” will suffice. Wolf, who has not yet commented on DeGioia’s letter, should demand a more critical response.

Bottomless Pit of Anti-Israel Bias at Columbia


What does a powerful and unaccountable university do when the outcry of bias directed against it becomes so loud that it must respond? But, of course, it creates a committee or department designed to create a semblance of evenhandedness.

And who does it choose to preside over such entities? Well, more biased honchos. Thus, the New York Sun reports, officials at a Columbia University department established in 2005 to counter an anti-Israel slant in Middle Eastern scholarship on campus have named as its director a professor who, one, signed a letter labeling Israeli policy “the occupation and oppression of another people” and, two, backed a statement in support of Israelis who refused to serve in military operations in Gaza and the West Bank during a violent uprising by Palestinian Arabs.

Don’t look for Israel to get a fair shake in this “balanced” environment.

Getting in Trouble for Reading a Book


Just when you think the dementia in American universities has peaked, along comes a story like this.

A worker is in trouble because some co-workers were offended that he was reading a book that makes the KKK look bad. Never mind the content of the book. The mere fact that it has anything to do with the KKK makes it offensive.


Re: Social Justice


Just wanted to chime in with Thomas Sowell’s The Quest for Cosmic Justice.

Re: Social Justice


Another book that shouldn’t be overlooked in this regard is the late Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia. He brilliantly explored what he called “end-state” theories of justice (things are unjust if the richest has more than X times the wealth of the poorest) and historical theories of justice (where you have to look at the nature of the transactions that led to each person’s degree of wealth or poverty).

Too bad that Tritton didn’t look for advice on readings for his course at PBC before he taught it!


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