Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

More Law School Downsizing


As we read in this piece, the Thomas Cooley Law School, the country’s largest independent law school, has had to cancel its entire incoming class for this year at one of its five campuses — Ann Arbor.

Law school costs too much, takes too long, and the degree opens few doors. As the article suggests, more downsizing is likely. I suspect that the job prospects for unemployed law professors won’t be very good, especially for those who taught the kind of courses that Professor Charles Rounds called “bad sociology, not law.”

The Budget Squeeze


Jenna Robinson and I got tired of the complaint that state legislatures are starving their state universities. The complaint is usually phrased the way John L. Pulley did in 2012, “A quarter century ago, state funds covered 78 percent of the cost of college, says Julie Bell, education group director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Today the figure is 60 percent.“

Could it be that instead of cutting appropriations (the implication of such remarks), perhaps revenues were growing and as a result the state appropriations became a smaller part of the total?

That seems to be the case as the chart made from Department of Education IPEDS indicates.


FIRE Launches ‘Stand Up For Speech’ Litigation Project to End Speech Codes


For more than two decades, speech codes—policies on college campuses that limit what and where students may engage in free expression—have been a constant problem. First struck down (in the modern era of political correctness, anyway) 25 years ago in the case of Doe v. Michigan, speech codes have nevertheless hung on and miseducated a generation of students about freedom while robbing them of their basic rights. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) has spent its 15 years of existence fighting these codes, systematically classifying them, and engaging in public advocacy aimed at convincing colleges to do the right thing and get rid of them. While we’ve been winning, the fight has been slow. That’s why FIRE this week launched the “Stand Up For Speech” Litigation Project, bringing four federal lawsuits in a single day against schools with unconstitutional speech codes. The schools are Iowa StateOhio UniversityChicago State, and Citrus College (Calif.). More lawsuits are planned in the coming weeks and months.

FIRE has much more about this in our press release, and a whole website dedicated to showing how speech codes have been and are being struck down at, but it’s important to note that FIRE is doing this not because we love being in court (we don’t) but because the incentive structure was all wrong—colleges were more afraid of offended students’ complaints than they were respectful of their Constitutional responsibilities. (I have more about this in my Washington Post op-ed.) FIRE aims to change that. As long as the First Amendment is seen as optional by our nation’s public colleges and universities, attempts to change the culture on campus from one of repression to one of freedom are likely to be in vain. 

Why Would a Dean Shy Away from Grant Money?


It’s an implicit part of the job description for higher ed administrators: rake in as much money as you can. Therefore, it is noteworthy when a dean dithers away a chance at a grant that would have helped hire more faculty members with the credentials that matter to accrediting bodies. That is exactly what happened recently at Brooklyn College, though, and in today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Professor Mitchell Langbert explains the lamentable circumstances.

Important if not decisive in the dean’s aversion to Professor Langbert’s efforts at procuring the grant was that the money would come from the Koch Foundation. Taking money from Koch often triggers a derangement among hard-core leftists, as I observed in this recent Forbes piece. It seems that the dean did not want to risk an outbreak in Brooklyn.

Professor Langbert argues that the failure of the dean to pursue a grant that could have probably been secured supports the case (recently made by Professor Henry Manne here) that there is really no distinction between for-profit and non-profit management. In “non-profits” the managers just take their profits in different forms, such as avoiding conflict.

The Free Rider Problem in Higher Ed


Alex Pollock of American Enterprise Institute mostly writes about our housing woes, but sometimes applies his insights into our housing troubles to higher education. He does so in this piece.

Colleges, he argues, are free riders on our dysfunctional student loan system. They get the benefits as students pay their bills with borrowed money, but suffer none of the costs when the students later default. (Pollock points out that the true default rate on student loans today is about where defaults on subprime mortgages were soon after the housing bubble burst.)

What to do? His serious solution is to insist that colleges have some “skin in the game.” That is, if schools had to consider the possibility of losing money when they admit students who have little likelihood of succeeding, they’d think twice before roping in any and every kid they can.

He also has a less serious proposal for taxing colleges. If we could implement his skin in the game idea, that would be quite enough.


The Envy of the World -- NOT


I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard someone say that America’s higher ed system is “the envy of the world.” At its best, American higher ed is superlative at a few notable things, such as educating top-level researchers. That, however, tells us nothing about the results at the great mass of our colleges and universities, which are not trying to train contenders for Nobel prizes, but just trying to impart some useful skills and knowledge to the masses of students who enroll. How do they do at that?

Not well, argues Kevin Carey in this New York Times piece published Saturday. While many of us assume that America’s colleges and universities are excellent (probably because we heard that claim repeatedly), that’s a mistake. “America’s schools and colleges and actually far more alike than people believe — and not in a good way,” Carey writes. “The nation’s deep education problems, the data suggest, don’t magically disappear once students disappear behind ivy-covered walls.”

The data to which Carey points is a recent international study of adult knowledge, the Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Just as the well-known PISA shows that American school students mostly lag behind kids of similar age in other countries when it comes to language and math abilities, PIAAC shows that our college grads also, on average, are comparatively weak. Carey observes that American college grads “look mediocre or worse compared to their college-educated peers in other nations.”

That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Our higher ed system has suffered from dumbing-down, grade inflation, students and parents with an entitlement mentality, and administrators who are far more interested in degree attainment than learning. Of course other countries where those pathologies don’t exist or are less pronounced are going to make the U.S. look bad.

Do-It-Yourself Education


You probably know about the Rate My Professors website, but what about Koofers, Blinkness, or MyEdu?

These are students’ planning tools, for good and for ill. Rose-Helen Graham, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, explains them here. For example:

  • Blinkness lists which courses at a specific school have the most A’s
  • Koofers not only gives a course’s grade distribution;, but describes how many and how hard the exams are; what the homework is; and whether or not the professor grades on a curve
  • MyEdu lets you generate your semester schedule and then tells you what your GPA is likely to be.

Go figure.

UNC and Duke Peacefully Collaborate


Two two great North Carolina rivals can also cooperate on academics. In today’s Pope Center piece, Duke professor Jonathan Anomaly writes about the joint program in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).

PPE programs are not new — they go back some 90 years — but have been growing rapidly in the US in the last decade. The Duke/UNC program began ten years ago and is very popular with students who want a serious academic challenge. Understanding public choice theory is a large component of PPE and in my view, nothing does a better job of getting students to abandon leftist shibboleths about government than that.

Unequalizing College Admissions


Test-optional admission has become an unfortunate trend in higher ed. In recent years, Smith, Brandeis, Wesleyan and other schools have declared that they will make submission of SAT or ACT scores optional for applicants, considering items such as high school work samples and subject test scores in their place.

ACTA has expressed concerns about such policies in the past, pointing out data showing that SAT and ACT scores correlate with performance in college courses and with retention and graduation rates. We have therefore urged schools to avoid getting swept up in enthusiasm for test-optional policies.

Even schools that go test-optional, however, will still consider standardized test scores if they are submitted. Sarah Lawrence College used to refuse to look at any scores, but they reversed that policy in 2012.

Now, Inside Higher Ed reports, Hampshire College has decided to go “test-blind.” Frustrated that many applicants have chosen to submit scores despite its test-optional policy, Hampshire will no longer look at scores as part of its admissions process. Hampshire College has a unique pedagogical model—traditional tests aren’t part of its curriculum. But its refusal to consider the test scores of students who wish to submit them raises even more concerns than a test-optional policy would.

Though it is often forgotten today, the SAT served as an early democratizing force in higher ed. Academic aptitude, rather than a student’s family background or the reputation of her high school, became the operative factor in college admissions. Even today, standardized tests can identify students who may have had poor teachers or guidance counselors but possess strong academic aptitude. Research has shown that concerns over inequity resulting from access to test-prep courses are overblown and that the SAT and ACT remain useful methods of predicting college performance.            

Standardized tests have increased in importance as grading standards in high school have weakened.  Between 1996 and 2006, the percentage of SAT test-takers with A-range grades rose from 36% to 43%, and the percentage of test-takers with grades in the C-range decreased from 15% to 11%. However, the same period saw a modest decline in SAT scores among students with A-range grades. As far as the ACT is concerned, in 2010 only 25% of the test-takers could meet all four ACT College Readiness benchmarks. Grade inflation is so notorious that several prestigious companies ask college graduates (!) for their SAT scores, deeming them a more reliable predictor of talent and potential than their college transcripts.

College admissions tests are not dispositive measures—but they remain useful. Making them optional is worrisome enough. Robbing students of the chance to prove their talent is worse.


Seattle’s New $15 Minimum Wage


T.J. Jan, a student at Seattle Pacific University, weighs in on his city’s huge minimum wage hike from $9.32 to $15, and explains why students and recent grads are likely to be hit hard by the sharp increase.

Apparently, there’s a neighboring city, just south of Seattle, where they’ve already tried it:

What about the neighboring city of SeaTac, home to the region’s main airport, which raised its minimum wage to $15 effective this year through a ballot initiative?

It hasn’t worked as beautifully as believers would have liked. Scrapping benefits like 401(k) plans and vacation time, and putting additional burdens on consumers such as higher parking costs, are ways that businesses in SeaTac have sought to save money.

If you work in Seattle, there’s a good chance your employer will have to take away benefits and employee lunches or raise costs in order to raise your wage. They might close or replace you altogether. Want to compete with a burger machine that can make 360 “gourmet” burgers in one hour?

Not only does a higher wage make job applications and interviews more competitive – it raises overall structural unemployment, which is affected by things like minimum wage, unemployment benefits and healthcare benefits.

At nearly $6 above current levels, the new minimum wage will radically affect structural unemployment. Unfortunately, that’s probably going to be students and recent graduates…

Click here to read the full story.

The Big Higher Ed Problem (According to Dave Leonhardt)


New York Times writer Dave Leonhardt argues in this piece that our biggest higher ed problem isn’t the level of student debt, but rather the fact that lots of young people accumulate college loan debts but never get their degree. Could he still not understand that just because a student earns the degree (while piling up still more debt while doing so) that does not ensure good employment or that fabled “college earnings premium”?

He goes on to write, “Those dropouts point to some of the big flaws that our higher-education system does have. Many colleges graduate fewer than half of the students they enroll — and resist policy makers’ attempts to hold them accountable for their results.” The problem there is obvious: colleges don’t graduate students; students either earn the right to graduate or they don’t. Among those who don’t, a large percentage shouldn’t have enrolled in the first place because they’re academically ill-prepared and not engaged with college-level work (such as it is). To hold schools “accountable” would merely encourage more grade inflation and watering down of the curriculum.  Then, more students would graduate, but the graduates wouldn’t be any more likely to succeed in finding worthwhile employment.

How Much Influence does Education Really Have?


That old question is brought to mind by the revelation in Cato@Liberty post by Roger Pilon that the woman who spearheaded the huge increase in minimum wage in Seattle holds a doctorate in economics from North Carolina State. The faculty at State is strongly non-interventionist and I doubt that any course would have taught that businesses don’t care about wage costs. Nevertheless, she got her degree and has gone on to a career in political activism.

Academically Adrift by Arum and Roksa showed that for many undergrads, education goes in one ear and out the other. Apparently that can also occur among grad students.

Henry Manne Tackles a Myth


Many Americans have been conditioned to believe that for-profit enterprises (or any sort, but particularly in education) are suspect if not downright immoral, whereas entitles organized as “non-profit” are presumptively good. The latter supposedly put the interests of the people they serve above the interests of the greedy shareholders. Behind the smokescreen of noble intentions, the people who run non-profits often operate far more in their own interests than any profit-seeking enterprise could.

All of that pertains to today’s Pope Center Clarion Call by law and economics scholar Henry Manne. In the piece, he takes severe issue with a recent paper by Robert Shireman, a zealous opponent of for-profit higher education. Shireman’s paper makes the case that for-profit education requires far more strict regulation than non-profit because administrators in non-profit schools can be trusted not to put their own interests first. Professor Manne argues strongly that the difference between for-profit education and non-profit education is a mirage.

One point I would add is that the evident scams we see in both the for-profit and “non-profit” sectors stems from the easily availability of government funds. Where individuals spend their own money on education, whether at for- or non-profit entities, they’re pretty good at making sure they receive sufficient value for their money. Otherwise, they quickly go elsewhere. Milton Friedman’s point that no one spends other people’s money as carefully as he spends his own applies with great force here.

It’s Not the Same Old Story


Stalin’s show trials appear to be the favored model for university inquisitions to punish white males for daring to engage in sex with female students. After all, guilt or innocence is not the objective. The goal is to instruct others to play by Party rules or risk the gulag or execution.

This modus operandi  was  demonstrated in the lacrosse player sex scandal at Duke in 2006, and today in the case of the Duke senior from Australia, expelled three weeks before final exams for “non-consensual” sex with a freshman female. Similar to Duke president Richard Brodhead’s abandonment of the Lacrosse players, the accused Aussie is left swinging in the wind, his life ruined by innuendo.

Female accusers are quite aware that once they point the finger, the male is presumed guilty of whatever she chooses to say. In this case, an 18-year-old freshman female hangs around a bar until closing, returns to a fraternity house with a male she just met, and afterwards claims the sexual act they both committed was forced. Although the Durham police ruled that use of force was “not applicable,” Duke’s Office of Student Conduct naturally believed the female and kicked the male off campus, withheld his diploma, and endangered the job waiting for him  on Wall Street. Quite disingenuously, the expulsion punishment was not published in the school’s Community Standard In Practice, an oversight the Student Conduct quango glossed over by expelling him anyway and ruling to prevent him from completing his degree

The accused Antipodean was treated like a victim of the Soviet purges, with the exception he was not tortured and forced to sign a fake confession. But he is indeed a victim of a kangaroo court designed to enforce gender warfare by feminists and radical faculty. Fortunately, the legal system outside Duke’s Ivy Tower was brought to bear to force Duke to allow the senior to take his exams while the case is adjudicated.

But he had to hire a legal team and fight to protect his reputation from a female whose story was not believed by the police. It’s double jeopardy of a different stripe to subject a student to a parallel justice system. And it’s going on at colleges and universities across the nation, enabled by faculty and administrators at war with men.

The Weapons of Sexual Assault


More of Senator Claire McCaskill’s hearings on campus sexual assault were aired on C-SPAN yesterday. When the subject of drinking came up, there was a chorus of repudiation from the attending activists that alcohol should be a consideration in fighting sexual assault. It was a troubling response. One panelist let out that alcohol is a “weapon” in the crime, not the crime itself.

Okay, but given that we know the majority of assaults occur when the woman has been drinking, wouldn’t it make sense, if you want to prevent trouble, that you would advise women to abstain or limit their intake? Wouldn’t that take the “weapon” out of the assaulter’s hands? One almost gets the impression that the desire is to increase the number of victims and “survivors,” so as to increase the urgency of sexual assault activism.

When prevention was mentioned in the discussion, it was in connection with preventing serial assaulters. Is this the typical profile of a young man who commits assault in the campus context, that he does so serially, a Hugh Hefner-type, preying on woman after woman, plying them with alcohol to pave the way? Or is it more often true that many of those accused of assault are, like the victims, freshmen and sophomores, unused to living with the opposite sex in the intimacy of coed dorms, perhaps also unaccustomed to the free flow of alcohol, and just stumbling toward the sexual fulfillment that they have been promised in their orientations and college literature? This wouldn’t excuse assault, of course, but it would point to the way that many policies, supported by feminism and other progressive movements, make it more possible.

Who Needs $10 Million? Not Brooklyn College


Brooklyn College has rejected $10 million from Charles and David Koch to create a financial center, according to the New York Post. The business school is being cagey and not actually admitting that it had an offer from the Koch brothers, but the evidence is pretty strong. My hat-tip to Ian Tuttle of The Corner, whose blog post also links to other stories about negative reactions to the Koch brothers’ gifts.

One of those is the brouhaha over the Kochs’ $25 million gift to the United Negro College Fund, which George Leef discusses on

American Exceptionalism Means that America Is Exceptional


Byron York on Bill Bennett’s show this morning said that the various defenders of the Iraq War have been criticizing Obama’s policies, but have not admitted their own mistakes in planning and executing that war. This is true and will interfere with the American people’s willingness to accept any further American activity regarding Iraq and may also influence future elections.

The main error was not to see the importance of a country’s underlying culture as the major factor in its capacity to create liberal self-government. And this factor directly bears on our interests here, in upholding the importance of teaching the liberal arts in order to protect and convey our culture in its totality to future generations. You can’t just be reading the Founding documents again and again.

The proponents of the Iraq War took the rhetorical idea of freedom as a universal value to the extreme–insisting that freedom as we understand it is instantly politically realizable by every nation on earth. The influence of Leo Strauss may have been operative here, with his repudiation of “historicism.”

Ironically, the Iraq War proponents invoked American exceptionalism in our invading to bring democracy abroad, but then seemed to forget just how exceptional America is, with its legacy of Anglo-Saxon and Judeo-Christian traditions. At that point, the proponents tended toward thoughtless, condescending lectures and pep talks that Americans were not to think that other nations weren’t as capable of freedom as we have been–in other words, that we were not exceptional!

Outstanding Article by Peter Schuck on Affirmative Action


It’s in National Affairs, and it’s really, really good.  Here’s the powerful conclusion:

The public opposition to race-based affirmative-action programs on cam­pus is amply justified. Affirmative action defies — indeed flouts — equal protection and other liberal values. It rests upon a diversity rationale that is theoretically incoherent and in fact produces little if any of the diversity value that alone might justify it (and then only under a dubious rationale). It cannot satisfy the constitutional tests that the Court has laid down and reaffirmed as recently as last year. It has failed to increase its political support in the nation after four decades of energetic advocacy. It fosters corrosive racial stereotypes, poisons race relations, and encourages opac­ity, dissimulation, and even evasion by its administrators and advocates.

And if that were not enough, affirmative action seems to grievously harm many of its supposed beneficiaries — not to mention the non-preferred groups who are disadvantaged by the practice.

We are far from putting America’s history of racial intolerance and injustice behind us, but affirmative action fails to rectify these evils and instead harms both our students and our society as a whole.

Boost for Greensboro -- or Another Urban Revitalization Program that Will Flop?


In today’s Pope Center article, Harry Painter examines a public/private partnership that would build a “shared space for all seven postsecondary institutions in Greensboro.” Proponents say that the project would give downtown Greensboro (North Carolina, that is) a big lift and more “college town” feel.

Perhaps, but as Harry writes, the site has long been vacant and despite quite a lot of traffic, has never attracted investment by people or institutions with money at risk.

Will this project recover its costs? We might recall that the famous (infamous, rather) New London redevelopment project that led to the eminent domain seizure of Suzette Kelo’s house, was also supposed to revitalize an urban area. After the land was taken, the project fell through. Given that higher education is in such a state of flux, I’m skeptical that this project will work nearly as well as envisioned.

“Unique” College Courses or Puerile Nonsense?


Nina Friend, writing for the Huffington Post’s education section, has compiled a list titled “The 12 Most Unique College Courses.” While perusing descriptions of classes such as Tree Climbing (Cornell University), The Art of Walking (Centre University), and Stupidity (Occidental College), some readers may find that they object to the author’s use of “unique” in the compilation’s title. 

Faculty, who are often in control of curricula, create half-baked, trendy courses to lure students to their departments and satisfy their penchant for “scholarly” esotericism. Friend’s compilation places the spotlight on that degenerative academic trend. Read the full list here


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review