Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Another of Those “Women are Underrepresented!” Pieces


One of the favorite leftist tropes is that the US has a serious problem in that women (and other groups, of course) are “underrepresented” in certain fields. In this Washington Post article,  Catherine Rampell frets that the employment stats at high tech companies are not fair, and arrives at the standard solution of having colleges lure more women into the right majors.

Would consumers who use tech products and services be better off if all the companies in the field (or any particular company, for that matter) had ideal employment statistics, perfectly mirroring society? I don’t think so. If people like Ms. Rampell operated behind a Rawlsian “veil of ignorance” so that they did not know anything about the composition of a firm’s workforce, would they be able to discern any difference between “equitable” ones and “inequitable” ones?

And it’s pure fantasy to believe that women who are not otherwise inclined to go into the academic fields that lead to employment at companies like Google can be lured in by university officials who want to polish their social justice haloes.


Faculty Life


Hats off to the Washington Post.

First, the not-so-good part. The Post just published a somewhat mindless article by a former writer, Colman McCarthy, now an employee of the Center for Teaching Peace. He teaches peace studies at several schools as an adjunct.

Unhappy about the low pay of adjuncts (the national median is $3,000 per course), McCarthy advocates that adjuncts be paid $15,000 per class. That would be great, if money grew on trees. His suggestion:

Start with cuts to presidential salaries, which are at all-time highs. Annual pay packages from $500,000 to more than $1 million are common.

I’m not opposed to cutting presidents’ salaries, but, frankly, how many adjuncts would that pay for? This is just rhetorical fluff.

At the bottom of the article, however, the Post links to related articles, including one by David C. Levy, a “career-long academic and former university chancellor” (at the New School). His 2012 column discusses the debate over why tuition continues to rise. He writes:

Overlooked in the debate are reforms for outmoded employment policies that overcompensate faculty for inefficient teaching schedules.

And he goes on to discuss “inefficient teaching schedules.” Back when faculty were poorly paid (early in the twentieth century) generous work weeks made sense, but things have changed.

Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.

Furthermore, while conceivably such teaching loads might be legitimate for top universities focused on research, they know no such limits:

Unfortunately, the salaries and the workloads applied to the highest echelons of faculty have been grafted onto colleges whose primary mission is teaching, not research. These include many state colleges, virtually all community colleges and hundreds of private institutions. For example, Maryland’s Montgomery College (an excellent two-year community college) reports its average full professor’s salary as $88,000, based on a workload of 15 hours of teaching for 30 weeks. Faculty members are also expected to keep office hours for three hours a week.

Now, that article raises some important questions!



Yet Another Dubious “Affirmative Action” Study


The Chronicle of Higher Education has short summary today of yet another dubious “affirmative action” study.  This one involves “an experiment in which students in the fifth through eighth grades competed for cash prizes and were paid according to their relative performance on a national mathematics examination”; students who were considered “disadvantaged” were given prizes even though they did not do as well, and the study found that this policy narrowed achievement gaps.  The abstract of the study ways that the experiment “creates a microcosm of the college admissions market.”

Here’s the comment I posted:

For starters, the study does NOT really replicate higher ed admissions, because here we do not have a zero-sum game – that is, no one is disadvantaged by the advantage given to the preferred students. And it appears from the abstract that no attention is given to the costs of preferential treatment (divisiveness, resentment, stigmatization, mismatching, etc. etc. etc.); instead the focus is just on one possible benefit, namely creating more incentive for the preferred students (a benefit that has never been recognized as “compelling” by the Supreme Court, by the way). And it seems hard to believe that demanding less of the preferred students is not ultimately a bad message to send to them. Finally, in deciding which students to prefer, there’s no reason to choose based on race rather than some other, less problematic factor — like, say, economic disadvantage.

On the last point, indeed, while the Chronicle summary talks about “demographic groups,” the abstract of the summary itself does not, defining “disadvantage” instead as those “who on average have less mathematics training and practice.” 

Shed a Tear for Sleep-Deprived Teenagers


Do college freshmen arrive on campus expecting to be coddled the way they were back home? Many faculty would say so, but watch out—they will be even more coddled a few years hence.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has just recommended that middle and high schools not start classes until 8:30 am or later. In a news release the academy says:

Many studies have documented that the average adolescent in the U.S. is chronically sleep-deprived and pathologically sleepy

And it goes on:

The reasons for teens’ lack of sleep are complex, and include homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and use of technology that can keep them up late on week nights.

What about staying out late just for fun? Yes, that’s part of the sleep-deprivation problem, too, but today’s teenagers just can’t help themselves.

. . . getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.—and who face a first-period class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier the next day.

Read more about it in the Washington Post blog Answer Sheet.

Now She’s Helping Ruin The Whole Nation


They say those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

That’s certainly the case with Michigan’s former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who ran her state’s economy into the ground – and is now teaching college students about job growth.

Yes, under the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” department comes word that the class Granholm is set to teach this fall at UC Berkeley is focused on “creating jobs through better government policies.”

This is the same woman who led the state as its beloved automotive industry crumbled, its once booming metropolis of Detroit staggered into bankruptcy, and its unemployment rates exceeded national averages.

Look – even she hightailed it out of Michigan after her 8-year tenure in 2011 ended, grabbing a public sector job at her alma mater.

Now she’s teaching the best and brightest how to create NEW government sector jobs focused on the left’s favorite subject – green energy regulations.

This just goes to show how public universities are often ground zero for what’s going so wrong with America.

Tags: Jennifer Granholm , UC Berkeley


A Candidate for Guiness Book of World Records?


In this Chronicle of Higher Education story, we read about Mustapha Marrouchi, professor of postcolonial literature at UNLV. His claim to fame? Plagiarism; lots of it over a span of several decades. He gets caught at it, apologizes, and then does it again.

With all the time that professors have for their research and writing, you might think that this fellow could at least come up with his own words.

Liberals (True Liberals, Not Statist Pseudo-liberals) Meet in Charlotte


In a recent meeting at Johnson & Wales University, a private school located in Charlotte, NC, classical liberal thinkers got together to discuss their projects and goals — an event meant to “bridge the academic and policy worlds.” In today’s Pope Center piece, Harry Painter writes about the gathering, which brought together quite a few people, mostly from the Carolinas.

Adam Smith was the main instigator. Really. I refer to economics professor Adam C. Smith of Johnson & Wales.

Painter explains that “The main goals of the conference were networking and informing classical liberal scholars about what their colleagues are doing and what resources may be available. Five professors shared stories and best practices of the classical liberal centers they have established or run on campus.” One audience member commented that the classical liberal tradition ought to be revived in disciplines other than economics, where it has the strongest presence currently. Excellent point, although I suspect that trying to bring classical liberal thinking into fields such as political science and philosophy will face the same problem as organ transplants — the body treats it as an invader and attacks.

The success of the conference bodes well for future gatherings, probably including students.

Ministry of Truth Update


In this discussion of how Department of Labor regulations apply to academia, it’s noted that the American Association for Affirmative Action has changed its name to the American Association for Access, Equity, and Diversity.

Incidentally, those regulations are unconstitutional, if any university or university employee (including of course faculty members) would like to challenge them.

Good Intentions Come with Costs


Due to a horrific crime some years ago, the federal government passed what is known as the Clery Act (named for a young woman raped and killed in her dorm room). The law requires universities to record and report the crimes on campus, including but not limited to violent crimes.

Needless to say, this law has had unintended consequences. Crimes are relatively rare on campus, and compiling this information is a chore that takes a lot of time.

The requirements are somewhat vague and the law has a long reach. Robert Whaples, an economics professor at Wake Forest University, wrote a post in the Independent Institute’s Beacon about having to take crime-reporting training and passing a test—simply because he is a club advisor. (Okay, it only took an hour and a half because he was able to get out of the in-person training and did it online. But he’ll probably have to take the test again next year, and he is just one among many.)

Did it accomplish anything? He wrote:

In my twenty-plus years as coach of the Wake Forest Quiz Bowl Club and as a professor, I cannot recall even once becoming aware of a crime that needed to be reported. If I had, I would have reported the crime.

So what does the law accomplish? It’s not clear that it accomplishes anything. In a Pope Center article, George Leef contends that this is another example of the overreaching that comes with federal laws that are enacted by emotion not reason.

Liberal Education Should Get Students to “Think Slow”


Daniel Kahneman’s intriguing book Thinking, Fast and Slow has many applications and in today’s Pope Center piece, St. Lawrence University economics professor Steve Horwitz sees a connection to higher education. Most students enter college with their slow-thinking faculties little developed. That is, they’re apt to rush to judgments about an unfamiliar idea without taking time to ponder what that unfamiliar idea really means and whether it could possibly be correct.

One example Horwitz gives is the concept of spontaneous order. Many students, first confronting such thinking, dismiss it as lacking in concern or compassion. If they slow down — which is what the professor should get them to do — they will understand that unplanned orders often work far better than do ones based on top-down controls that purportedly aim at accomplishing good objectives.

Several weeks ago, I reviewed a book arguing that higher education should have a leftist bias. Nope. The only bias it should have is in favor of slow, deliberate, logical thinking.

Professor Horwitz’s conclusion is right on the money: “The human brain is just as much a product of evolution as the rest of our bodies, and the job of good liberal educators is to help students understand our evolved reactions and fast thinking and give them the tools to slow that thinking down and recognize those biases, as well as acting to correct them.”

Today’s Sex Ed


What is the academic value of a student club that celebrates and engages in kinky sex?

That was one of many questions that rolled through my mind as I reported recently on how a University of Chicago-sanctioned student club called “Risk-Awareness Consensual Kink” received $200 from the student government to help fund field trips to Chicago’s “biggest dungeon.”

While these students are technically adults, we’re talking late teens and early 20s. How many among us can say we knew what we were doing at that age?

It’s often been said that the proliferation of Sex Week seminars and orgasm tutorials at our colleges is all about education, and the positive reinforcement of sexual identities and desires.

But the reality is these events influence young, developing and impressionable minds, telling them the if-it-feels-good-do-it mentality is totally fine, perfectly normal, and in fact healthy.

Administrators are complicit in this scheme, which peddles promiscuity and sexual experimentation as liberation and education. But ultimately they serve as behavior and lifestyle modification tools, and not for the better.

Back to the University of Chicago, the very same campus that offers on-campus abortions, gave students a chance to try out what it feels like to be sexually electrocuted and flogged last spring, and in 2013 screened porn films as part of its Sex Week observances.

A campus spokesman told me earlier this month that “the University of Chicago is committed to student health and safety. …” If health and safety at one of the nation’s elite colleges looks like that, then this world is truly upside down.

Why Don’t Others Get This?


It’s refreshing when someone spells out the facts about higher education so that they could not be clearer. This time it’s a blogger on, J. Maureen Henderson, writing about how many students are prepared for college.

ACT, the organization that competes with SAT, issues an annual report. Based on the latest, Henderson writes that only 39 percent of the students who took the ACT test this year did well enough to “be reasonably confident (non-academic factors notwithstanding) that they’ll succeed in their first year college classes and continue on in their education to earn a degree.”

Yet 86 percent of them plan to go to college (and only six percent of those expect to get a vocational degree).

The ACT report also gave some information about last year’s test-takers. While 87 percent intended to go to college; only 69 percent actually did. But given the student performance on ACT, Henderson points out that “a significant number of college freshmen showed up for their first day of classes last fall with dim prospects of making it through the next four years.”

Shouldn’t this report be resonating through the halls of the Department of Education bureaucracy? Shouldn’t this report give the “college for all” enthusiasts some pause?

Conundrums Regarding Preferences for “Hispanic” Students


Weak as the argument for preferences for black students is, it’s strong as steel compared with the argument that students who happen to have some “Hispanic” ancestry deserve special treatment by elite colleges and universities. Their ancestors weren’t enslaved; on the contrary, some were conquistadors who extended Spanish dominion over native peoples. Including “Hispanics” (or “Latina/o”) among the preferred groups makes no sense other than as a political ploy.

In this Discriminations post, John Rosenberg observes that giving preferred group status to “Hispanics” involves some conundrums. For example, some Brazilians trace their ancestry to Americans who fled the Confederacy after the end of the Civil War. Because Brazil is regarded as “Hispanic” (even though the language is Portuguese), if a young Brazilian of such lineage were to apply to one of our prestige universities, he or she would get the Hispanic preference.

Why don’t we just call the whole thing off?

Sex and College


The local NPR affiliate interviewed an incoming college freshman female student and her mother as they prepared for the opening of school. Instead of happy chattering about the new experience awaiting her, the student was concerned by the probability she would be sexually assaulted, or the victim of other varieties of violent crime. Are these genuine concerns or paranoid fears stirred up female activists and a hyper-active media?

Sadly, a little of both. The statistics say 25 percent of college females are sexually attacked, a statistic that requires a grain of salt tempering the statistics by deleting incidents reported  by females that follow-up  investigations reveal were exaggerated. Across the country males have had their lives negatively affected - or ruined – by girls who report consensual sexual liaisons as assault or rape to exact revenge, knowing that simply bringing a charge stains a man for life. Or cases arise out of remorse, covering up unladylike behavior with a patina of outrage. And, of course, the age-old role of alcohol is invoked, a double-edged message that conveys, “I was drunk and he took advantage of me.” (I am forced to add an old joke. What is the mating call of the Southern co-ed? “Ya’all, I’m so drunk”!)

No matter the actual facts in these cases. A police report that doesn’t corroborate an accusation is rarely the end of the matter. Instead, buoyed by righteous lessons taught in women’s studies courses, the alleged victim turns to the college. Now schools are burdened with acting as the justice system,  a role traditionally relegated to student courts. But the students dragooned into these roles discover that the truth does not matter when it comes to l’amour

Dissatisfied with the results in the nation’s system of justice and time-honored student-run courts,  female  activists appeal to the sisterhood in Congress, or local government lamenting the system is unfair and demanding more be done, especially prevention. The Feds get involved and have passed laws and regulations requiring colleges to implement “policies” and create costly infrastructure and awareness programs. The result is that going to college, formerly a joyful expectation, is fraught with anxiety. Another reason not to go at all.

Trustees and Academic Content: No Dilemma


It may be a matter of pouring old wine into new bottles, but the report on “Governance for a New Era” issued by the American Council for Trustees and Alumni does provide good advice for university trustees.

Will they take it? The evidence that trustees will respond is rather weak, especially to ACTA’s overarching message, which is: Trustees “must regularly assess the cost/value proposition of academic and non-academic programs in setting their goals.”

In other words, trustees are supposed to consider and actually define their mission and priorities and review the school’s educational content to see if those are being fulfilled.

Trustees should set the “educational strategy,” however much the faculty doesn’t like it. Now, it is true, the report says, that “faculty should always have the first word when it comes to the curriculum, and their expertise must have a central role in shaping policy on academic quality.” However, “faculty cannot be the last and determining voice regarding academic value, academic quality, and academic strategy.”

The report recommends that trustees:

  • Outline educational outcomes desired (such as their views on the required level of mathematical knowledge or whether students should know a foreign language)
  • Review the general education program (i.e., core curriculum) and its effectiveness in preparation for post-college life
  • Annually assess what programs have been dropped or added, along with the criteria that have been used to make those choices.

Those sound good to me, and we can hope.

National Higher Ed Leaders Call for Reforming University Governance


In a newly released survey, ACTA found that 89% of the public believes college is becoming unaffordable for the middle class. And over 90% believes that boards of trustees should take the lead in reforming higher education to lower costs and improve quality.

Governance for a New Era, the report of a project led by CUNY Board Chair and former president of Yale University Benno C. Schmidt, and signed by 22 national higher education leaders, couldn’t be timelier. Over the past several months, leading college and university faculty, trustees, and presidents met and discussed the unprecedented challenges facing America’s institutions of higher learning. The result is this new report, which clearly identifies trustees as fiduciaries, not cheerleaders and boosters, and urgently calls on them to take a more active role in the governance of their institutions than they have traditionally held.

Tomorrow, at 9:30 a.m., Benno Schmidt will lead a discussion of the report’s findings and recommendations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He will be joined by Tom McMillan, University of Maryland Regent and former U.S. Congressman; Richard DeMillo, Distinguished Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and author of From Abelard to Apple; and John Engler, former Governor of Michigan and President of the Business Roundtable. You can find the details here.

“We are concerned that Government is rapidly approaching a tipping point for the student loan system”


That title could certainly apply to the U.S. but instead it’s from a report in the U.K., where higher ed suffers from most of the problems we find here. As we read in this Freeman piece by British writer Emma Elliott Freire, the idea of requiring colleges to have some “skin in the game” is also surfacing over there.

A Well-Reasoned Piece on the Salaita Affair


Via PrawfsBlawg, Professor Steven Lubet’s recent Chicago Tribune op-ed on the case.


In Case You Don’t Know What a “Passout Page” Is....


Twitter has many uses that might not occur to people who went to college long ago and don’t have much familiarity with such social media. In the latest Pope Center piece, Harry Painter (who is a recent grad) explores some of the innovative uses of Twitter that college students have devised. It seems that we have another “invisible hand” phenomenon here. As Harry writes, “While this is probably not their intention, people who expose their friends on the Internet may unwittingly be encouraging moderation. Especially those who know that they cannot tolerate alcohol will want to avoid being the next online sensation at their college.”

“Post” Pabulum Depression


Here is a long — painfully, 876-words long — call for “Increasing College Diversity” on Huffington Post.  It’s quite unremarkable, the usual pabulum, and not at all worth reading. 

I post it only to note that at no point does the author argue that “diversity” will yield educational benefits for white and Asian students by exposing them to random conversations with students having a different melanin content from themselves.  Even that is not itself noteworthy, since most defenses of “diversity” likewise fail in this regard.  But it is worth noting that even those who defend the use of racial and ethnic preferences don’t seem to think much of the only legal defense the Supreme Court has recognized for such discrimination.


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