Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

First Brandeis, Now Yale


Last spring, Brandeis University disinvited Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born author of Infidel and advocate of women’s rights in Islamic countries, as commencement speaker. Now that she is scheduled to speak at Yale on September 15, members of 35 student groups have signed a letter written by the Muslim Students Association saying that she should be replaced by someone with “representative scholarly qualifications.” The editors of NRO write about the protests elsewhere on this site, commenting that: 

…in our age of studious political correctness, where the inmates write the asylum’s curriculum, these students are happy to insulate themselves against any opinions from beyond the Old Campus Quad.

The sponsor of her talk is the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale, which is not likely to rescind its invitation.

The Rubber Stamp


One sign of the low esteem to which trustees’ governance has fallen is the Steven Salaita affair. This summer the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign rescinded an offer to Salaita to join the university’s American Indian Program. The offer still awaited final approval by the board of trustees, but the professor resigned from his job at Virginia Tech, his wife resigned from her job, and the family began packing up to move to Illinois.

As the Chronicle’s of higher education said in its latest article on the subject:  “Typically, those decisions are considered a rubber stamp.”

Going beyond the specifics of whether Salaita had a contract or not (possibly to be decided by a court), there’s a question: Should the board of trustees have the power to approve or deny faculty selection? And if it’s just a rubber stamp—a legal technicality—why even bother?


College Students Declare Bras, Band-Aids ‘White Privilege’


As editor of The College Fix, I read many different college newspapers across the country each day. With that, I have seen a dozen-plus opinion columns addressing the atrocities of “white privilege” since the start of the fall semester a few weeks ago.

Guess what I have not seen? Not ONE op-ed or editorial decrying the Rotherham rapes. Not one.

Meanwhile, here is what passes as a priority for the average college student: The “nude” colors and labels of bras and Band-Aids, recently deemed an example of white privilege and racism by the Oklahoma Daily student newspaper’s editorial board.

In their collective wisdom, they opined in an editorial this week that “bras in slightly different shades of pale peach abound, but there are few to no options for darker-skinned women and they aren’t advertised as nude-colored. … Whenever you’ve had a minor cut or scrape and gone to reach for a Band-Aid, have you every used one that wasn’t made for light-skinned people? We guess probably not because flesh-colored Band-Aids for darker-skinned people don’t seem to exist. …”

“There are subtle instances of racism ingrained into our daily lives; instances so commonplace they often go unnoticed. …We encourage all of our readers to think critically about the small instances of racial bias they encounter each and every day.”

Well, this presents an interesting problem. My husband, who is of Scottish decent, is so white that he borders on translucent, and Band-Aids are actually too dark for him. I have Middle Eastern blood coursing through my veins, and my skin is always darker than the Band-Aids and “nude” bras I own. Point is, there is no one for whom they match perfectly.

And who really cares, anyway?

Bras and Band-Aids come in all shapes, colors and sizes – based on market demands. Capitalism dictates such things, not the whims of campus intellectuals and their minions with too much time on their hands and an ax to grind. But these are the kinds of issues that take priority at college campuses today.

That 1,400 young English girls have been literally “raped by multiculturalism,” as Dennis Prager recently put it? Crickets.

Tags: white privilege , rotherham

A Ranking Worthy of the “Onion”?


The latest U.S. News Best Colleges rankings came out yesterday, but U.S. News rankings, it turns out, are something of a year-round industry. The number of U.S. News lists is vast (starting with “national universities,” “national liberal arts colleges,” going to “regional universities” and “regional colleges,” and including “top public schools,” and “historically black colleges and universities,” etc.) There’s something for everyone. 

I discovered a most unusual U.S. News ranking thanks to an Education Trust tweet. The mission of Education Trust is “closing the achievement gap,” and it singled out the U.S. News headline as worthy of the Onion: Measuring Colleges’ Success Graduating Higher-Income Students.

Indeed, one wonders, what is the point? Why would we want to know if higher-income students graduate at rates different from the average student?

I still haven’t quite figured it out, but the ranking was presented and discussed in Robert Morse’s January 2014 column. (Morse is the U.S. News Best Colleges editor.) Schools are ranked by their graduation rates for higher-income students (defined as students who don’t receive Pell grants or subsidized Stafford loans). If those rates are the same or close to the graduation rates as a whole, then the school gets a high ranking.

I guess the point is that some people want to know what the “real” graduation rate of a school is—that is, without the “taint” of low-income students, who presumably lower the graduation rate. Or maybe they want to find out which schools treat higher-income students better than lower-income ones, as evidenced by graduation success.

So we have top performers like Stanford and Wellesley, where the graduation rates of the higher-income group are exactly the same as the rates of the school as a whole. (So they are serving lower-income students well? Is that the point?)

Then there are “overperforming schools” such as Wayne State and Hollins, where higher-income students graduate at a rate greater than the overall average. (Does that mean that lower-income students are bringing down the average and thus perhaps being discriminated against?)

And then there are “underperforming” schools, where the higher-income students are not graduating at a rate as high as the average student. (Could those be the party schools?)

If you understand the importance of this listing, please tell me.

The (In)Famous U.S. News Rankings Are Out …


… and there are few surprises. Instead of ranking the nation’s liberal arts colleges on how well they provide the well-rounded education they promise, U.S. News & World Report continues to value reputation, selectivity, and alumni donations over metrics that would tell us whether students are actually getting what they pay for. If you have any doubts about the relative values of status versus actual performance in these rankings, consider that 22.5% of a school’s ranking is tied to its reputation, while just 7.5% is tied to its (6-year!) graduation rate. Or that just one of this year’s top ten national liberal arts colleges requires a course in U.S. history or government.

Perhaps it would be better to stop giving the U.S. News rankings any attention at all. But, alas, news is news.


Just What’s in that “Ivory Tower”?


A documentary about the problems of higher education, “Ivory Tower” has gotten quite a lot of attention. It was screened for the UNC Board of Governors and has gotten plenty of media attention. Is it any good, though? In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Jesse Saffron discusses the movie’s strengths and weaknesses. In his view, the presentation is not really balanced, as critics don’t get much time to really explain the growing disparity between the cost of college and the educational value of attending, while establishment voices have more time to lament that government funding is down and schools are “corporatizing.”

Moreover, director Andrew Rossi wastes time on the tempest in a teapot over tuition charges at Cooper Union. Worse still, he ends his film with a shout-out to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s nutty plan to let those who have college debts refinance them cheaply. That seriously undercuts “Ivory Tower’s” claim to objectivity.

Nevertheless, the film raises many of the issues that need to be discussed and may spark useful debate.

The Crusade against Christian College Students


The California State University system will no longer provide support – financial or otherwise – to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship because it refuses to allow non-Christians to lead its campus groups. That means the 23-campus public university system, which enrolls roughly 450,000 students, has dealt a huge and highly discriminatory blow to its most active student-led Christian campus organization statewide. 

The decision is based on so-called “all-comers” policies, which force officially recognized campus clubs to accept student leaders who do not hold their core beliefs if those campus groups want to receive funding from the student government, discounts on university room rentals, recognition in campus announcements and directories, and similar perks. It’s done in the name of anti-discrimination, with little to no regard for the First Amendment or freedom of association. 

“It is essentially asking InterVarsity chapters to change the core of their identity, and to change the way they operate in order to be an officially recognized student group,” Greg Jao, national field director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, said regarding the Cal State University dictate.

“While we applaud inclusivity, we believe that faith-based communities like ours can only be led by people who clearly affirm historic Christian doctrine,” Jao adds. “The policy exempts sororities and fraternities from gender discrimination; we believe there should be a similar provision for creedal communities.”

Put more bluntly, “how can we effectively teach people?” Ashley Pierce, a Bible study leader in the Chinese Christian Fellowship at California Polytechnic State University, recently said in an interview with The College Fix regarding the edict. “It’s a stupid rule; it has no place in Christian groups.”

Pierce said the policy forces her campus group to accept non-Christians in leadership positions that require faith-based elements such as praying and evangelism.

“Their job is to lead prayers, lead Bible studies, in some cases preaching,” Pierce said. “If you’re an atheist or agnostic, you’re going to have struggles, but you won’t have Christian struggles. You can’t give real-life examples and pour into it as someone living the faith would.”

But it’s a growing trend on campuses across the nation, including at Vanderbilt University, Tufts University and Bowdoin College, which have approved similar policies.

Tags: All-comers policy , Christian college students , discrimination

The College Degree Is the New High School Degree


A new report from the data analytics firm Burning Glass reveals that, increasingly, employers are viewing a college degree as a screening tool in the hiring process. As a result, professions that didn’t formerly place emphasis on postsecondary education now do. For example, while 20 percent of insurance clerks hold a bachelor’s degree, now 45 percent of insurance clerk job advertisements require one. 

One crucial reason for this shift is that, as the supply of college graduates has ballooned in recent years, employers have found that they can be much pickier during the hiring process, and especially during this rough economic period. 

Catherine Rampell, who analyzes the report in this opinion piece for the Washington Post, writes:

[College] grads are landing in positions that probably don’t use the skills they’ve piled up thousands of dollars in debt to acquire, and many high school grads and college dropouts are being shut out from the first rung of the career ladder altogether. The resulting damage to all these workers’ career trajectories could last for many years to come.

The Burning Glass report is important, but it will probably be ignored by politicians and higher education policymakers. Railing against degree inflation would contradict their claims, repeated ad nauseam, that college is a building block of the 21st century American Dream and something that should be pursued by all high school graduates. And as long as parents and counselors around the country continue to encourage millions of students to attend college without regard to its costs and benefits, we shouldn’t expect degree inflation to go away anytime soon.

Tepid Defense of Free Speech at Berkeley


Exemplifying the tendency among many academics to take a cautious, wishy-washy stance on free speech, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks of UC-Berkeley recently sent a communication to the entire university community entitled “Civility and Free Speech.” He stated that free expression of ideas is a “signature issue” for the school — but then backtracked, writing that everyone must bear in mind that free speech can lead to “division and divisiveness that undermine a community’s foundation.” Oh, oh. His felt need for a happy Kumbaya community clearly trumps his commitment to robust debate.

Greg Lukianoff of FIRE has a sharp WSJ piece about this. He writes, “After decades of campus censorship, students have been taught not to appreciate freedom of speech, but rather to expect freedom from speech.”

The meaning of Dirks’ admonition is that anyone who might dare to criticize leftist shibboleths — for example, arguing that “affirmative action” is a bad policy, or that Obamacare is counterproductive — should keep their ideas to themselves. Saying such things could make some sensitive people feel that they aren’t “safe and respected.”

A Trenchant Criticism of College Faculty


H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) left us with a voluminous oeuvre chock-full of quote-worthy observations that are as irreverent and thought-provoking as they are incisive and sagacious. Here’s an excerpt from his essay “The Golden Age of Pedagogy,” published on June 6, 1927, in the Baltimore Evening Sun:

The stray student of genuine intelligence must find life in the great rolling-mills of learning very unpleasant, and I suppose that he seldom stays until the end of his course. He must see very quickly that the learning on tap in them is mainly formal and bogus – that it consists almost wholly of feeble nonsense out of text-books, put together by men who are unable either to write or to think. And he must discover anon that its embellishment by the faculty is almost as bad – that very few college instructors, as he encounters them in practice, actually know anything worth knowing about the subject they presume to teach. Has the college its stars – great whales of learning, eminent in the land? Well, it is not often that an undergraduate so much as sees those whales, and seldom indeed that he has any communion with them. The teaching is done almost exclusively by understrappers, and the distinguishing marks of those understrappers is that they are primarily pedagogues, not scholars. The fact that one of them teaches English instead of mathematics and another mathematics instead of English is trivial and largely accidental. Of a thousand head of such dull drudges not ten, with their doctors’ dissertations behind them, ever contribute so much as a flyspeck to the sum of human knowledge. 

It’s amazing to think that such a biting and caustic passage was written in 1927, long before the rise of such fields as critical theory, gender studies, women’s studies, social justice, environmental sustainability, etc. What would the “Sage of Baltimore” have to say about today’s academic environment? 

Public Universities and the First Amendment


I recently argued that the contretemps between the University of Illinois and Professor Steven Salaita should not be turned into a First Amendment battle, but instead treated just as a matter of ordinary contract. In this post, my good friend Neal McCluskey contends that where public institutions are involved, hiring or firing decisions where speech is involved must implicate the constitution’s protection for freedom of speech.

Neal’s argument is based on this proposition: “We cannot allow government institutions to favor one person’s speech over another, which it would do in choosing which professors to hire.” Because such institutions can’t possibly hire all who apply, there must be some favoritism. If an opening in an English department, say, elicits 50 applications, most from radical feminists or Marxists but a few from non-political or even libertarian scholars, some point of view is necessarily going to lose out. I think that the First Amendment should be reserved for cases where government affirmatively tries to stop people from speaking for punishing them for having done so in ways the rulers don’t like. The First Amendment shouldn’t be understood to mean that no government employee or person seeking government employee can ever suffer adverse consequences due to something he said or wrote.

I agree completely with Neal that we could and should cut this Gordian Knot by getting government out of the education business. Until that time, however, I think it entirely fitting for public colleges to specify in the employment contract that speech or writings that go beyond the pale of civilized discourse, or are for any other reason inappropriate in the classroom, can be subject to penalties up to termination.  If a professor goes off on tangential rants in class, for example, that can be grounds for sanctions. We should leave such matters to judges and juries applying common law standards. Faculty members would have to be mindful of the possibility of breach of contract if they go “too far” but schools would have to be similarly mindful if they determine to mete out punishment. Professorial speech isn’t so infinitely valuable that it deserves “iron dome” protection under the First Amendment.

Salaita: Academic Freedom Martyr, or Hoist with His Own Petard?


People have been looking closely at the academic work of Professor Salaita since the controversy over his unhiring by the University of Illinois put him in the spotlight. In this Volokh Conspiracy post, George Mason University law professor David Bernstein looks into some of Salaita’s writing, book reviews in particular. They do not show an objectively, scholarly mind at work, but rather a hothead who simply can’t tolerate anyone who disagrees with him. His hiring as a scholar in American Indian studies becomes still more puzzling.

Professors, Weep


(An item from the “how things have changed” department.)

This post from “The Art of Manliness” reprints a 1948 magazine article about young men’s back-to-college wardrobe.

Your clothes for college will fall into four general categories: class and campus, sportswear, dress-up suits, and formal wear. …

Odd jackets and slacks are worn at colleges from coast to coast and will be your everyday campus uniform. Shetland type tweeds, corduroy and camel’s hair are popular for sports jackets. If you’re going to school in the south you can substitute gabardine, linen, seersucker or cotton cord. …

Suits worn at eastern universities have narrow shoulders and are straight-hanging, with little waist suppression. In the mid-west, broad-shouldered suits are preferred, with full chest. In the west, college clothing goes casual, the California influence being apparent in long point collar shirts, leisure jackets and cardigans. In the south you’ll need gabardine, cotton cord or seersucker suit. Summer formals are worn—white jacket and black trousers.

(Photos included.) H-T to Susan Lewis.

The Right Attitude


A recent Washington Post article by Brigid Schulte tells the story of Quint Gribbin, a 25-year-old whose entrepreneurial mindset helped him find job opportunities in a gloomy economic environment. 

After graduating from William and Mary with a physics degree, a job offer he had received from a defense contracting firm was rescinded because of a budget shortfall. So, in the months and years that followed, Gribbin worked as an intern in a physics lab, at a skating rink, for a political campaign, and even had a short stint as a technician in the fracking industryHe saved up a bit of money and decided to wait for what he considered to be a more fulfilling job.

While crashing at a friend’s house for an extended period, he brushed up on his statistics skills, read a few novels, took a physics course, and searched the Internet for job and career openings. He discovered and became interested in the field of data analytics, and thanks to a friend’s connection, was hired as an intern by a start-up firm in Baltimore. That internship led to a full-time gig. 

Like many other millennials, Gribbin’s parents and high school counselors had told him to “follow his passion.” But they also encouraged him to be “mobile” and recognize that he is “easily replaceable.” Rather than feel entitled because he had a physics degree from a top university, Gribbin worked at unsatisfying jobs, increased his human capital, and expanded his network. He showed initiative and took risks in a volatile labor market. 

Gribbin believes that his willingness to embrace change and be flexible in terms of his career choices is an asset, and something that is more valuable in this rapidly changing economy than job security or home ownership or an investment portfolio. “Success is being able to help the people around you more than you need help from them,” says Gribbin.

That’s pretty good advice for unemployed and underemployed workers with college degrees, big expectations, and lofty passions.

Read the full article here.


Prove It!


As George Leef points out in the previous post, the claim by Jamie Meriotis that education is necessarily the pathway to prosperity is wrong. The pathway is effective use of human capital. In many cases that includes getting a bachelor’s degree, but not always.

I urge readers to look at the two maps that Meriotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, provides in his Huffington Post article to show that education equals wealth.

One of them gives the education degree attainment of the single richest person in each state (just one person, by name). What does that tell us? Fourteen percent, by the way, are listed as dropouts.

The other shows the percentage of each state’s residents who have at least a two-year degree and the average income for the state. As far as I can tell, the connections are “all over the map.” They are meaningless unless one takes other factors, such as population growth, into account.

I don’t think that Meriotis is actually trying to make any substantive claims with his maps, however. Rather, he’s trying to get people to agree with him and he’s using colorful insignia to do it. He says as much: “These connections are important because the narrative around prosperity matters.”

It’s just a narrative.

The Party Line from Lumina Foundation


Lumina Foundation has a mission of greatly increasing higher education “attainment” (its goal is for 60 percent of Americans to have college degrees by 2020) and no evidence that we have already oversold higher education ever gets in the way of its cheerleading. As Exhibit A, consider this piece by Lumina president Jamie Merisotis on Huffington Post. He repeats the old canard that education is “the path to prosperity in America.”

Nonsense. Having a college degree to your name is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for prosperity. Lots of people who don’t are doing well, while lots of people with degrees are struggling. Ignoring those obvious facts is essential, however, if you run an organization with a ridiculous mission.

Actually, the path to prosperity is to make the best use of your human capital. Formal education can help to do that, but the point where the cost of more seat time starts to exceed the benefit the individual derives from it varies greatly from person to person. For many people, that is short of a college degree, and much of what goes into a college degree does little or nothing to improve the person’s level of skill and knowledge.

The old central planners in the Soviet Union thought that they could boost their nation’s economy through targeted investments — steel, heavy equipment, and also education. What they didn’t understand (or couldn’t admit) is that laissez-faire allows the spontaneous order of the free market to make the best possible use of resources. Lumina is following in their footsteps, insisting that the path to prosperity is to put more and more people through the higher education mill. That can’t work either.

Let the Good Times Roll


Last month, Syracuse University was designated as the number one “party school” in America by the Princeton Review. Now, the dipsomaniacs matriculating there are making a pother because of a recent and relatively minor restriction on their raucous debauchery.

The students have been prohibited from partying at a hedonistic haunt called “Castle Court,” which is the parking lot of an apartment complex near campus. There had been instances of students dangling precariously from apartment balconies, starting fires in the parking lot, breaking glass, etc. The prohibition reportedly came at the behest of university officials concerned about students’ health and safety. 

A melodramatic YouTube video published Tuesday, which already has 45,000 views, features audio clips of Syracuse students protesting the university’s decision. Here’s a transcription of one female student’s vacuous bleating:

Like, [at Castle Court], it’s not about going to one frat and having one sorority be there and then two of them enjoying themselves together, it’s about us all coming together. Whether you’re in a sorority, whether you’re in a fraternity, or whether you’re not, it’s about being together as a university and showing school spirit and enjoying ourselves all together, which is like the most important thing about being in college. [It's about] being together, being around people who make you feel good and who want to have a good time.

Got that? Like, college is about showing school spirit and enjoying oneself. Totally. 

If you have the stomach for it, watch some of the videos on this YouTube channel (which published the video above) and you’ll get a good feel for the offensive combination of superficiality, ignorance, and bumptiousness now prevalent on many college campuses. 

My takeaway from this case and the videos is not that we should start campaigning for asceticism and temperance on the part of college students, but rather that we should be more critical of the parenting styles and K-12 schools that influenced them during their formative years.     

Aspiring Adults Adrift


The team of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa have written a follow-up book to their 2011 Academically Adrift. This one is entitled Aspiring Adults Adrift and the message is not encouraging. I suggest this short Wall Street Journal video, in which Daniel Henninger discusses the book with Professor Arum. Key point in my view is Arum’s contention that colleges mostly treat students as consumers and “do everything to keep them happy.” The problem, of course, is that keeping students happy blends very poorly with rigorous academic work. Thus, we have large numbers of graduates who lack the skills, attitudes and disposition necessary both for success in the labor force and also to be responsible citizens.

Some Common Sense about “Dirty Money”


On August 28, Inside Higher Ed ran an interesting story about Professor Cynthia Jones of Texas-Pan American entitled “Dirty Money.” Professor Jones, who teaches philosophy, dissents from the common academic notion that taking money from allegedly bad sources (e.g., the Koch brothers) is ethically wrong. She argues that so long as the source can’t dictate research results, there is no reason to refuse a grant or donation.

That supposed ethical problem arose a few months ago when the United Negro College Fund did not turn down $25 million from the Kochs, money it will use for more scholarships. (I wrote about that controversy in this piece.)

I particularly liked Professor Jones’s point that it is ridiculous to gripe about funding from private sources and blissfully accepting government funds: “It’s amusing that we think government money is somehow clean but private money is somehow dirty.” Sadly, though, she doesn’t quite nail the point down with the observation that government money comes via coercion against taxpayers, but only complains about how the state government in Texas is “ethically suspect.” The most squeaky clean, ethically upright government ever still gets its money through force, while private sources obtain theirs through voluntary processes.

Resistance Fighter


Cary Nelson, humanities professor, author of “Manifesto of a Tenured Radical,” and labor union organizer, has been taking on a new, and I would say, a more positive role. He’s opposing the growing movement against Israel known as “Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment” (BSD)

One wing of that movement is trying to get academics “to work towards the cancellation or annulment of events, activities, agreements, or projects that promote the normalization of Israel in the global academy.” It is having some success in at least raising the issue; several fringe professorial associations have signed on to the boycott, and the Modern Language Association has debated a condemnation of Israel for hindering the entrance of scholars into the West Bank.

Nelson has also been one of the few academic defenders of the University of Illinois (where he works) in its contretemps with Steve Salaita, whose job offer was rescinded when his vicious tweets against Israel surfaced. 

Most recently, Nelson wrote an article on Inside Higher Ed probing whether or not the BDS and related anti-Israeli movements are anti-Semitic. He says that they are: 

While the BDS movement undoubtedly gathers some conscious anti-Semites into its fold, the way in which it more broadly assigns the traditional pariah status of Jews to the Israeli state is equally troubling. Debates about BDS resolutions and petitions often invoke the standard tropes anti-Semitism has deployed, notably that BDS opponents are organized and funded by an international Jewish lobby, an accusation that surfaced during the Modern Language discussion of its 2014 resolution condemning Israeli visa policies.

He’s probably right: Anti-Israel viewpoints undoubtedly reinforce traditional anti-Semitism and vice versa. I wonder, though, how much of the hostility to Israel comes from Ivory Tower leftists simply because they champion causes that sound compassionate, especially when supported by their “groupthink” colleagues, and who have a deft ability to screen out reality.



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