Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

“Whiteness Studies”


I argue here that it’s educational malpractice.

Why did Yale turn down Juan Cole?


David White has an excellent article out today giving the inside scoop on why Yale rejected Juan Cole.  Cole’s blog had some role in waking people up to poor methodology and a penchant for polemics, but it turns out that Yale’s thumbs down had a lot more to do with scholarship and the search committees’ process than Cole’s politics.


Shame on the Brooklyn Public Library


…which has no qualms about acquiring books such as Empire, a paean to extremism by the Duke professor Michael Hardt and the Italian terrorist Antonio Negri, but which so far has refrained from adding to its collection Melanie Phillips’s book Londonistan, which one of its directors calls “potentially incendiary.”


Roger Kimball describes the book as “brilliant,” “harrowing” and brave, and he summarizes it as depicting:

…the ways in which radical Islam has established itself in England. The book carries endorsements from such well respected experts on the subject as Natan Sharansky, Daniel Pipes, and Steve Emerson. It has been widely reviewed here and in England, to admiring praise from those (like me) who regard radical Islam as a terrible threat, and to sometime hysterical consternation from those who believe that Islam is a religion of peace or who at least cannot bear the spectacle of anyone actually defending Western civilization (that’s capitalist, Christian civilization) against its enemies. Last week it was the Communists, this week it is the mullahs: the bottom line is that in the battle of Us against Them, We are always to blame.

How dare our own libraries try to hinder the public from learning about this most grievous threat to Western civilization. I urge concerned citizens to express outrage on this matter to the Library.

Lobbying In Alabama Colleges


…goes by different handles.


The Birmingham News has been looking into financial affairs in Alabama’s system of two-year colleges. Recently it published an article about how some colleges have spent close to $2-million on lobbying, in defiance of a 2003 ban on the practice. How did they get away with this? By simply labeling lobbying  “consulting, research, grants development, or strategic planning.”


The News also says most of these “planners” had close ties to campus administrators, including Roy W. Johnson, who was ousted last month as chancellor of the system (The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 13); it also describes a bond-issuing deal with a system vice chancellor’s brother, the sweet deals Mr. Johnson made regarding his new home, and the surprising number of Mr. Johnson’s family members who have earned wages or contracts within the system.


In face of allegations such as these we must wonder just how much such deception and nepotism pervade our public higher education systems. And kudos to investigative journalists, such as those at the News, for bringing such practices to light.

ROTC and the Chattering Class


While perusing ACTA’s blog, I ran across this item highlighting an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education by 2LT John Renehan.  Entitled “Why I Serve,” the column is worth reading in full, but this portion I found particularly interesting:

Such broad absence from service on the part of the country’s elite cannot be justified by its opposition to the Iraq war. The wisdom of invading Iraq is irrelevant to the question of what we should do there now–and many people in both main political parties agree that a U.S. military presence in Iraq remains critical. What we have here is a bona fide national burden, and the privileged classes have largely excused themselves from it. 

No recruiting effort, however heroic, can fundamentally change that. It can only be done by individuals, influenced by ideas, choosing to influence others–by persuasion or (most persuasive of all) by example

In my own (admittedly limited) experience in the Army Reserve, it is not exactly the case that the “privileged classes” have excluded themselves from service.  In fact, the officer corps is largely made up of people from middle class and upper-middle class backgrounds, and it tends to contain some of the most well-educated, motivated, talented, and intelligent people you’ll meet.  It is not even the case that the military is no longer reflective of the wider population.  As I’ve pointed out before, the military is far more diverse — both racially and ideologically — than any elite university. 


Unfortunately, we tend to get the impression that the military is somehow alienated from American culture because the one subset of our privileged class that DOES shun the military — the bicoastal chattering class — has disproportionate control and influence over the media, our universities, and other cultural institutions that transmit knowledge and information.  Military service is alien to them, not to the rest of us.   My own experience is illustrative of the difference.


I made the decision to join the reserves when I lived in Philadelphia (I was president of FIRE) and primarily interacted with the so-called “cultural elite.”  When I told my friends of my decision to join, they were universally supportive, but for many I was the only person they ever knew who had enlisted.  When I moved back to Tennessee, I moved in the same socio-economic circles, but the attitude was quite different.  I wasn’t “special” or “unusual” anymore.  The attitude was less “Why are you doing that?” and more “What took you so long?”


Can Anything Be Done About Miserable Courses?


That is the question Professor Walter Williams asks in his column today.  He sees the problem with foolish, politicized courses (which would be bad enough with highly educated students, but as Williams points out, many college students today struggle with literacy and have a very weak foundation of basic knowledge) as rooted in the unwillingness of trustees to step in when they need to.  Williams suggests that boards of trustees should hire an ombudsman whose job would be to carefully evaluate the school’s curriculum and report to them.  Most trustees are too busy to do that on their own. I think that’s an excellent idea.


When they get down to oversight, a good rule of thumb for trustees would be to say that courses will be about the teaching of bodies of knowledge in academic disciplines.  Of course, that leaves room for theories and opinions, but rules out courses that are nothing but theories and opinions, such as “The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie,” which Williams criticizes.  If professors want to spout off on their own ideas, they have academic journals and blogs for that.  Undergraduate courses ought to be devoted to the dissemination of knowledge.

Faculty Unions


According to this story on Inside Higher Ed, the issue of faculty unionization — whether professors are to be regarded as “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act and therefore able to form a governmentally-recognized union — is still very much undecided after an appellate court’s reversal of a decision by the National Labor Relations Board.


The problem here is the assumption that the faculty members who want union representation are forbidden to have it unless the legal decision goes their way.  That’s not the case.  Nothing can legally prevent any number of professors from creating their own union and asking some other union for assistance in bargaining if they want it.  Unions that are not certified by the National Labor Relations Board, however, do not get two enormous boosts that certified unions do: exclusive representation (in other words, the union becomes the exclusive representative of all the workers in the “bargaining unit,” whether they want it or not) and mandatory bargaining (the employer is compelled by law to bargain “in good faith” with the union). Those authoritarian provisions of the National Labor Relations Act are unjustifiable and ought to be repealed. Ideally, Congress would junk the whole of the NLRA, but that’s not about to happen.


Professors who feel sufficiently aggrieved that they want union representation should not think that everything depends on the decision as to their “employee” status under the law. They should be and are free to form a union in any event.  Could a union accomplish anything without the benefit of federal coercion of workers who prefer independence and of employers who don’t want to engage in collective bargaining? That was the circumstance prior to the passage of the NLRA in 1935. Unions existed and bargained on behalf of their members under the common law. The old saying that you can get more with a gun and a smile than with just a smile applies here.

Middlebury’s Arabic Morass


Many Middle East Studies academics say they teach and don’t indoctrinate. Usually, it’s he-said, she-said between academics and outside observers.  Now, an instructor at Middlebury breaks the silence to give an inside account of how indoctrination occurs.

FIRE on Fredonia


Here’s FIRE president Greg Lukianoff and vice president Robert Shibley on the attempted censorship of professor Stephen Kershnar at SUNY Fredonia:

While free speech too often comes under assault on campuses these days, President Hefner’s brazen attempt to control a professor’s public speech is in a class by itself. Kershnar should get the promotion he merits and Hefner–or anyone else who seeks to use the office of university president to silence opinions they dislike–should be out of a job.

The whole sordid affair seems to be threatening the Hefner name with the stain of disreputability. Read the rest of the op-ed here.

Al Qaeda’s Strategy


A 2004 al-Qaeda Strategy Manual can now be downloaded at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center website here.

The translation of this manual by al-Qaeda strategist, Abu Bakr Naji, was completed in May by the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University.

As responsible American citizens who value freedom, I urge you to carefully review this document.  The more we know about the enemy we are facing, the better we will be able fight its attempts to destroy Western civilization.  We are facing one of the greatest threats to American security since the Cold War.   

We must arm ourselves with information.

Is the College Bubble About to Burst?


That’s the prediction in a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Why? Demographics: “Fueling the current college admissions frenzy are the ‘baby boomletters’ born in the late 1980s and early 1990s. By 2009, the last of them will reach college age, heralding the first sustained decline in the number of graduating high-school students in nearly two decades.”

I have no reason to doubt the numbers. It will probably be even worse as more people figure out that many of the academically “disengaged” students who now leave high school gain very little from college coursework that doesn’t require them to develop their intellectual abilities.

The Arab Street at Georgetown U.


Last week, I participated in a forum at Georgetown University that brought together a handful of American college students and a group of 20 college students from different Arab countries throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

The Arab students have been sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative to spend time this summer at Georgetown learning about American culture and politics.   Amidst the recitation of anti-American talking points during our discussion on American and Middle Eastern politics, there were signs of hope.

“What makes American government better than those of countries in the Middle East is that even the president has to follow the law,” said a young woman from southern Lebanon.  “You can have a constitution and elections, but it doesn’t matter if no one follows the law.”  She’s getting it, I thought.

But about ten minutes later, the same Lebanese girl became indignant when I expressed my wish that the Lebanese government itself could crush Hezbollah.   She told me that she supported the Cedar Revolution and that Hezbollah was merely a defensive organization protecting Lebanon.  And she informed me that it was the only thing protecting her family from indiscriminate Israeli bombings.   “I don’t support any civilians being killed, but if I have to choose to protect my family or someone else, I will choose my family,” she said.

Despite my efforts to make the self-evident case against Hezbollah, the 20 Arab students in the program, a mix of Shia and Sunni with a few Christians interspersed, seemed to be in unanimous support of Nasrallah and his ilk.

I realize such support is not uncommon in the Middle East, but it was especially disconcerting to hear this response from students who have been brought to the US to learn about the principles of American government.

Heartbreakingly Naive


Over the weekend, the New York Times published a lengthy article about a Minnesota mega-church pastor, Gregory Boyd, who had publicly disowned conservative politics.  While the church lost 1,000 members, Pastor Boyd did gain a glowing profile in the New York Times.  The Times, often hopeless on religious issues, is however spotting a real trend in evangelical politics — an increasing re-examination of the evangelical church’s commitment to social conservatism (Jonah highlighted the same trend this weekend).  Money quotes from the Times piece:

There is a lot of discontent brewing,” said Brian D. McLaren, the founding pastor at Cedar Ridge Community Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and a leader in the evangelical movement known as the “emerging church,” which is at the forefront of challenging the more politicized evangelical establishment.

More and more people are saying this has gone too far — the dominance of the evangelical identity by the religious right,” Mr. McLaren said. “You cannot say the word ‘Jesus’ in 2006 without having an awful lot of baggage going along with it. You can’t say the word ‘Christian,’ and you certainly can’t say the word ‘evangelical’ without it now raising connotations and a certain cringe factor in people.

Because people think, ‘Oh no, what is going to come next is homosexual bashing, or pro-war rhetoric, or complaining about ‘activist judges.



Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.

I have two quick responses about this.  First, it is difficult to accept the moral seriousness of a person who will characterize abortion as a mere “sexual issue.”  The issue in abortion is not sex, but death, and I can think of few entities better suited than the church to address issues of life and death.  Moreover, most serious people recognize that “homosexuality” is also not a mere “sexual issue.”  Homosexuals certainly see it as something more than sex, and anyone who thinks that sex is the only issue needs to read more.

Second, this approach is just naive.  Some people will always “cringe” in the presence of devout Christianity no matter how palatable and inoffensive the political views of the church.  While any movement should be open to criticism and self-examination, the Boyd/McLaren critique flies in the face off recent history.  The decades leading up to the emergence of the so-called “religious right” were hardly the golden age of Christianity.  In fact, the religious right emerged largely because every single leading social indicator regarding the health of our families and culture was heading into the toilet.  

If Boyd and McLaren want to see a contemporary laboratory for their approach, they need look no further than the college campus.  Evangelicals in the academy have taken all of the Boyd/McLaren lessons directly to heart.  Acting with the best of intentions, campus evangelicals have focused tremendous efforts on racial reconciliation and service to the poor.  They have rejected any focus on the so-called “sexual issues” to the extent that it is difficult to find any Christian fellowship of any size on any campus that is directly involved in pro-life advocacy or even talks much about same-sex “marriage” or homosexuality.  At some schools, campus evangelicals will even march in “gay rights” parades and join homosexual activists on various political projects.

Has this effort caused a new evangelical golden age on campus?  Far from it.  In fact, campus Christians are battling for survival.  As the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute found (see page 3), student faith practices dramatically decline during the college years, with 52% attending church regularly at the start of their freshman year, and only 29% attending by the end of their junior year.  Even as fewer kids attend services, universities are dramatically ramping up their efforts to eject the Christian presence from campus.  Dozens of colleges have banned or attempted to ban Christian student organizations from campus unless those organizations pledge to open themselves up to non-Christian members or leaders.  Some of the banned groups had marched with homosexuals at “gay rights” events.  But no matter; if they wanted to maintain a distinctively Christian leadership, they were “discriminatory” and had to go.

Our college campuses show what the world would be like if the left had absolute control of the agenda and of policy, and it is a world where dialogues run one way, fundamental rights no longer exist, and even the most accommodationist Christians are shoved to the sidelines unless they abandon all of their principles.  Pastor Boyd should take note.

Three Cheers for the Trustees at Temple U.


The Board at Temple University is the first in the nation to adopt a statement, as reported in The Washington Times,  “protecting students from ideological discrimination and outlining grievance procedures against faculty bias.” 

I have long tried, to date with no success, to persuade the State University of New York Board to adopt a similar policy. Perhaps it and other higher education institutions will now follow in Temple’s footsteps.

Adventures in Feminism


Last week, I traveled up to Albany for the National Organization for Women’s 40th anniversary conference .  IWF commentary on the radical feminist shenanigans can be found here (including conference reports, op-eds, and podcasts.)

Here are a few quick feminism-in-higher-ed points of interest from the conference:

-There were not a lot of young people at the conference, but there was a disturbing trend among the young women in attendance: every sentence seemed to begin with “In my women’s studies class…,” then they would repeat some feminist talking point they picked up in college, as if they’d been brainwashed by the coursework.  There was also a big push among these people to bring women’s studies classes to high schools.

-A male presenter said he applied to law school as “a radical lesbian trapped in a man’s body.”  It’s straight out of a Mike Adams’ column, but it’s real.  Tthe law school had enough sense to reject his application. 

-Not surprisingly, multiple presenters bashed former Harvard president Larry Summers.  A 40th anniversary video even announced the goal that someday “1/2 the professors in math and science will be women.”

College Prep


Here’s an article from the Cincinnati Inquirer about a growing problem for universities: remediation. It reports that in 2003, 41 percent of Ohio high school graduates who went to Ohio public colleges enrolled in a remedial math or reading course during the freshman year. Other states report similar numbers. Higher ed is now doing more and more of the work formerly done by high schools, and it’s a huge drain on resources.

More on Wisconsin’s Kevin Barrett


ACTA’s Charles Mitchell had a great article on the Kevin Barrett situation in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over the weekend:…one can sincerely wonder why a university would hire someone who claims that the collapse of the World Trade Center was an “inside job” in the first place.

Fortunately for Barrett, UW-Madison apparently discovered that he is a fair teacher and does not indoctrinate his students. But, unfortunately, the administration’s response since then has been remarkably tone deaf.

If the university does not reverse course – which it can, easily – the present melee will continue to escalate and, even worse, occur again.

Read the full article here.

Conservatism in the Times


Here’s an article in the New York Times about conservative programs for college students. Although it overstates their prevalence–”Everywhere young conservatives turn there are conferences, seminars and reading lists that promote figures from the movement’s formative years”–the mere fact that the Times reports on such meetings without a sneer and a chuckle is a sign of progress..

Duke Lacrosse Prosecutor Admits Some Mistakes


Drudge links to an article in which prosecutor Mike Nifong admits that some of the criticism he has faced for his handling of the Duke lacrosse rape scandal is “undoubtedly justified.” Nifong is still standing by his case, though, despite some minor problems:

… there was evidence he hoped to have in the case, such as DNA, but… it didn’t pan out.

“There were things we hoped to have in terms of evidence that we ended up not having,” Nifong said.

Well, shucks.

The Battle of Princeton and Academic Freedom


Jack Kemp (not the politician) suggests that today’s professoriate have a a thing or two from the American Revolution’s Battle of Princeton: 

Nassau Hall (1756), the principal structure of the college, changed hands three times during the American Revolution’s Battle of Princeton, and the engagement ended within its walls.

One can only imagine how modern day professors who protest ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corp) on campus, would have reacted to both the British and American armies being on their campus and exchanging fire. Their theoretical world met the real world. At that time the professors got to see first hand how they owe their academic freedom to criticize The Crown–and the American Revolutionary government and army–to that battle. Perhaps the final stages of The Battle of Princeton should be reenacted each year on campus to remind the professors where their academic freedom comes from.


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