Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Feminization of the Military?


Peter Pace said that it was his Italian blood that reared up and made him break down in tears and lose composure for about a minute at a congressional hearing the other day. I suppose so, but I wonder if the feminization of the service academies and of the military in general might also be a factor in creating a new culture of emotion in the armed forces. I can certainly understand military men needing to cry, but in a public forum? And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, no less, in a time of war? Are we overdoing the sensitivity training? 

“Gay Rights vs. Religious Rights”?


The Inside Higher Ed story that John linked below framed the Christian Legal Society’s lawsuit against Southern Illinois University as a matter of competing “rights.” Inside Higher Ed (and most media outlets) describe the case as a battle between ”religious rights” which allow Christian student groups to select members and leaders who share the mission and message of the group and so-called “gay rights” to . . . do what, exactly?


Since when has any person of any race, creed, color, gender, or sexual orientation ever had a “right” to join a private, expressive organization when he or she does not share that organization’s goals, mission, or values? This is not a “right” that exists in American law. Let’s be clear: the case at SIU (as well as the current, similar lawsuits at Hastings, Cal State, and elsewhere) do not involve competing “rights” but instead represents an assault on fundamental and traditional constitutional liberties by identity-group activists who cannot abide the existence of coherent, dissenting views on campus (or, more broadly, in society at large).


Anti-discrimination rules (at their best) are designed to prevent organizations (public and private) from arbitrarily using biased criteria as an illegitimate stand-in for actual merit and accomplishment. For example, a person’s color or gender is irrelevant to whether they can become a good insurance underwriter, a good university admissions officer, or a good state Democratic Party chair. But if a person actively seeks to ignore or defy underwriting guidelines, steers prospective students to a competing school, or campaigns for Republican candidates, they will not be qualified for their respective jobs. It is not merely a matter of common sense for organizations (especially expressive organizations) to screen prospective members for their commitment to the purposes of the group, it is a matter of preserving the fundamental integrity of the group’s message. For political groups, shared political beliefs are vitally important. For faith-based groups, shared faith is critical. In other words, the Pope should be Catholic. 


So, when universities–in their zeal to indoctrinate their students in cultural leftism — seek to stamp out dissent by demanding that Christian groups open their leadership and membership to individuals who are actively opposed to orthodox Christianity, they are not defending any group’s “rights” but instead making ideologically motivated demands that would dramatically restrict the fundamental liberties of Christians (and all other expressive organizations).


School Lawyers


Mark Oppenheimer on the “Perry Masonification of our schools” — i.e., the explosion in the number of lawyers who work for colleges and universities:

Changes in American law have encouraged that attenuation of loyalty. The expansion of Title IX rules for athletics, the constantly evolving rules about gender equality and sexual harassment and, lately, the practice of holding schools accountable for students’ mental health–suing M.I.T. for not preventing a beloved daughter’s suicide, to take a recent example–mean that there are ever more reasons to sue. On-staff lawyers are thus needed as prophylactics, advising faculty and staff on how to ensure themselves against liability. After all, as Mr. Stoner explained: “In-house lawyers are a lot cheaper. There’s a lot of specialized knowledge that you don’t want to pay $300 an hour to have someone read up on.”

Rather Rather Than Summers


Harvard kicked Lawrence Summers out of presidential office but is interested in hiring Dan Rather to teach. Writes Don Irvine:  

I suggest that Rather teach a course on media ethics, since he apparently has none to help students avoid his mistakes or investigative journalism and the importance of checking facts and verifying the credibility of sources. Maybe that would humble him a bit. Probably not.

Campus Regress


Yesterday, I attended the second annual student conference for Campus Progress, a sub-organization of the Soros-funded Center for American Progress. Prior to the conference, I had developed a personal as well as political prejudice against Campus Progress for its snide and disingenuous hit pieces on WFB and Kate O’Beirne. But I ended up meeting all sorts of liberals (oops, I mean “progressives”), even some thoughtful ones.

The Good

This is not your parents’ generation of leftists. Panelist Majora Carter told students, “Make peace with your inner capitalists.” They are indeed a kinder, gentler bunch that seems to be open to a free exchange of ideas. This civility was best displayed by a debate between Penn State Professor Samuel Richards, one of David Horowitz’s 101 Most Dangerous Professors, and Jacob Laksin, a senior editor for and researcher for Horowitz’s book. There was no shouting or personal attacks by either panelist or by the students in the audience. (Kudos to Laksin for walking into a lion’s den and holding his own.)

Paul Begala seems to have a sense of humor, sort of. Last year he was accused of saying “Republicans want to kill me” at the Campus Progress conference, something he steadfastly denies. To make light of last year’s kerfuffle and poke fun at “right-wing pseudo-journalists” (I think he must have been referring to me), Begala had two projection screens beaming messages that included, “Chavez and Castro may be commies, but they make killer margaritas” and “Raise the minimum wage to $200 per hour” throughout his speech.

The Bad

At the end of the day, I couldn’t help but conclude the attendees were simply a bunch of liberals who are trying to “reframe” the debate (see Anthony Dick’s excellent review on the topic). There seemed to be a consensus among students that “liberal is a dirty word,” hence their embrace of the “progressive” label. While they might even decide to dress respectably and shower more frequently, that which we call liberalism by any other word would smell as foul. A broad coalition of the Left was in attendance, from abortion advocates and gay marriage proponents to anti-war activists and Union reps, but Campus Progress wants to unite behind more moderate issues. Decreasing student debt through federal loans and developing alternative energy received the most attention from the event’s organizers. Yawn.

Despite a speech by Adrienne Brown of the Ruckus Society that urged students to “starve the war machine,” “break the f***ing rules,” and turn campuses into “hotbeds of sexy revolution,” most speakers emphasized moderating on rhetoric. In Sen. Barack Obama’s warm and cuddly keynote address, he urged students to cultivate a sense of empathy “even for a conservative protesting outside of an abortion clinic.” But the pro-infanticide-choice Obama, who voted against the Born Alive Infants Protection Act as an Illinois state senator, probably would have made more headway with conservatives if his empathy translated into opposition to killing infants, rather than offering a mealy-mouthed plea for niceness.

The Ugly

The left is utterly obsessed with race and sex. One of the biggest topics on a panel of bloggers was how to find more non-white men as news sources (I’m told to check out to find my daily quota). There was also a panel on the hip-hop community (I’m still not quite sure what the hip-hop community is) that included Bakari Kitwana, author of Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America. It also included Billy Wimsatt, a white guy who got on the panel for editing How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office, as well as rapper Fat Joe, who had some choice words as Jason Mattera notes below. 

But like I said, it wasn’t all bad. Earlier in the day, Michael Schweizer, a junior at Stanford and a native Iowan, told me: ”It’s frustrating that some people here think they can say anything about low income whites. They’re called rednecks, hillbillies, white trash—something that wouldn’t be tolerated for any other group.” Hip-hop panelist Amina Norman-Hawkins told me in a private interview that she was open to the idea of charter schools and vouchers.  So maybe there’s still some hope for the Left.


Hitting Harvard Where It Hurts


…in the pocketbook.


Wealthy alums are increasingly showing their displeasure at the ousting of Lawrence Summers as university president by overbearing faculty cliques. To date they have withdrawn or postponed their donations to the university to the tune of $390 million–no small change even for Harvard.


Some of these unhappy donors are rightfully blaming the pusillanimous campus board that failed to defend and support Summers.


Alums can make a big difference in restoring checks and balances in the governance of our campuses. You can bet that universities across the country will take notice of the Harvard alums who are voting with their purse for leadership and oversight.

Increasing “Access”


In a recent issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, presidential hopeful
John Edwards set forth his views on higher education, a predictable stew of
platitudes about how we have got to increase government spending so more
students can have “access” to higher education. (Subscriber site, but here
is the link.

My response is available here.



Why isn’t it a good idea to invite rapper Fat Joe to your student conference? Because he might start off with something like this, courtesy of The Washington Post:

Rapper Fat Joe, speaking on a panel yesterday at the Campus Progress National Student Conference in D.C., took the inevitable question on how he feels about the representation of women in hip-hop. “Y’all might as well throw spears at me now,” he said. “Y’all are going to throw me out, but I think they’re bitches and hos.”

Fat Joe, born Joseph Cartagena, was also asked if he would run for office. While laughing, he replied, “I don’t know. I have strong opinions about certain things, but I like to party too much.”

Last year I wrote for NRO that George Soros can pour all the millions of dollars that he wants into Campus Progress, but the Left’s support for divisive concepts such as racial preferences, the banning of ROTC recruiters from campuses, and their widespread commitment to enforcing political correctness will keep them as second-rate student activists.

That hasn’t changed, especially when the organizers of Campus Progress have added a wannabe thug and binge eater to mobilize their foot soldiers.

More on the Academy’s Potential for Reform


My post, “Is the Academy Really Reformable?”, stirred a debate between Professors Mitchell Langbert and Ron Trowbridge. Here is Trowbridge’s most recent rebuttal to Langbert’s earlier rebuttal: 

The sad thing is that I agree with Professor Langbert: I, too, would like “to end state subsidies to higher education.” I was a Vice President at Hillsdale College for 14 years, where we did not permit students to use federal grants or loans. Professor Langbert teaches at Brooklyn College, where students can use federal grants and loans. There’s a strange irony here: he’s a recipient of that federal largesse. 

Still, I agree with him on terminating state subsidies to higher education. But parents will never in a zillion years accept this termination for their kids, and politicians will never in two zillion years accept it. So what do we do in face of this reality? We try to resolve the predicament the best that we can. “Laissez faire,” as Professor Langbert uses the term here, means throwing in the towel completely, but that’s the easy way out. It’s tougher to fight the battle than to be defeatist. 

And it’s a tough battle that might be won. For the paradox of university spending is this:  the more money universities get, the more they spend and the more they expand–ergo, the more money they will need to sustain this expansion and to pay for unfunded liabilities. Ergo, the best way to reduce the cost of higher education would be to reduce, not increase, their revenues. Third party payments, e.g., from federal and state governments and donors, should be reduced. This argument will not fly well with politicians who always want to throw more money at the problem, but it’s worth a concerted effort, and I invite Professor Langbert to join in this battle. 


Nonetheless, let me reiterate that  his solution is the ideal with which I agree, I respect the argument. As Robert Browning said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp/Or what’s a heaven for?”

Ron Trowbridge

Higher Education Policy Analyst            

Texas Public Policy Foundation

Susan Sontag and the “Humanities”


Charlotte Allen has an entertaining post about female academics’ obsession with the late Susan Sontag over on IWF’s InkWell blog.

Ganji and Professor Chomsky


Iran’s most renowned dissident, Akbar Ganji, plans soon to lead a hunger strike in New York City to draw attention to the plight of political prisoners in that country. Disconcertingly, he also plans to meet with the leftist MIT professor Noam Chomsky.


As David Horowitz writes in The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, Chomsky is known for his “ferocious anti-Americanism and cavalier relationship with the factual record.” His basic message has long been that “whatever evil exists in the world, the United States is to blame.” According to Chomsky, all presidents since World War II have “’been either outright war criminals or involved in serious war crimes.’”


Ganji’s manifesto in behalf of freedom in Iran cites Karl Popper, the champion of the open society. Someone should remind Ganji before his encounter with Chomsky that the professor has been involved with neo-Nazis and holocaust revisionism and that he supported Pol Pot. Ganji should repudiate Chomsky, who perhaps above all American academic militants has advanced the closed society. 

Kirsanow on ABA Accreditation


Writing on NRO this morning, Peter Kirsanow (a member of the US Civil Rights Commission and also the National Labor Relations Board, where he appears to be interpreting the authoritarian National Labor Relations Act in a way that Big Labor doesn’t like, judging from a planned AFL-CIO protest) discusses the American Bar Association’s proposed “diversity” standards and argues that they run afoul of the Supreme Court’s rulings in Grutter and Gratz. You can read his piece here.

I know that there are a number of law schools which have never played the “diversity” game by trying to get more people from “underrepresented” groups into the student body.  Such institutions would face the possible loss of ABA accreditation under the new standards.

There is a solution that cuts the Gordian Knot: Remove all legal consequences to having ABA accreditation or not.  There is no reason why any law school should have to dance to the ABA’s tune if it doesn’t want to. “Accredited” doesn’t mean “good” and “unaccredited” doesn’t mean “bad.”

J-School Deans’ Illogic


The deans of five prominent journalism schools took to the pages of the Washington Post yesterday to defend the New York Times’s decision to publish details of the formerly secret government program keeping tabs on terrorist financing. The deans at Harvard, Northwestern, Columbia, USC, and Cal Berkeley opined that the U.S. government had not offered sufficient arguments against divulging the secrets, and that the Times–along with several other papers–was justified in printing the story:

“In the case of the stories about financial data, the government’s main concern seemed to be that the hitherto cooperative banks might stop cooperating if the Times disclosed the existence of their financial tracking system. So far, that apparently has not happened.”

The qualifiers “so far” and “apparently” indicate that perhaps even they don’t fully believe their own dubious assertion. Of course it’s quite possible that they based this opinion on information gathered from one of their many unnamed sources.  To be fair, however, the deans did concede that there are some circumstances under which the press should muzzle itself:

“There are situations in which that chance should not be taken. For instance, there was no
justification for columnist Robert D. Novak to have unmasked Valerie Plame as a covert CIA officer.”

In other words, it’s just fine to disclose top-secret programs aimed at monitoring terrorist blood money, but it’s unacceptable to print facts to rebut the false claims of an anti-war hack.  With this brand of “logic” dominating the leadership at our nation’s finest journalism schools, it’s no wonder that the media has been, and continues to be, overwhelmingly partisan and agenda-driven.

From the Gulag to the Killing Fields: That “Irrepressible Lightness”


In a searing 2003 essay, Can There Be An ‘After Socialism?,’” Alan Kors decried that darkest stain on Western intellectuals’ honor: their “pathological” failure to “demand an accounting, an apology, and repentance” for the mass murders and other atrocities committed by Stalin and other communist tyrants.


Moreover, as Adam Kirsch writes, some Western intellectuals are so morally obtuse as to continue to this day to cultishly admire such “liberators” as Fidel Castro. How incomprehensible, he remarks, that Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt could wax enthusiastic in their widely acclaimed book, Empire, about “the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist.”


In one fell swoop, Paul Hollander, in his new book, From the Gulag to the Killing Fields: Personal Accounts of Political Violence and Repression, fills this shameful historical void and gives the lie to both gullible and willful deniers of the heinous results of communist ideology. From Hollander’s vast and terrifying tableau Kirsch culls the following examples:

In Cuba, a completely sane 16-year-old student named Jose Alvarado Delgado is committed to a mental hospital, given electroshock therapy, and force-fed psychotropic drugs. In the Soviet Union, Evgenia Ginzburg is interrogated by the secret police for seven days straight, without sleep or food. In Vietnam, Doan Van Toai sees a fellow prisoner commit suicide by biting off his own tongue and choking on it. In Cambodia, Haing Ngor witnesses a Khmer Rouge soldier suffocate a pregnant woman with a plastic bag, then rip out the fetus with a bayonet.

This book should once and for all put to rest the denial and lies that infuse utopian politics. But will it? The irrepressible moral lightness of many intellectuals gives one cause to doubt.   

TU’s “Capturing” of the Classroom: Wave of the Future?


Dr. David R. Feeney, a reader, has emailed me about “TUCAPTURE,” the nation’s first large-scale, automated “academic capture system,” created by Fox School of Business at Temple University, in collaboration with media publishing giant ANYSTREAM. As described by Feeney, the Director of Digital Education at TU: 

The TUCAPTURE system automatically records every minute of audio, visuals, even video from every meeting of selected courses, for immediate webcast and podcast. Since July 2004, TUCAPTURE has spread across disciplines, colleges and campuses, giving thousands of users 24/7 access to ”class captures” via Internet, IPODs and more. Today, TUCAPTURE hosts more than 250,000 minutes of classroom recordings, with 4000 fresh minutes captured weekly from a growing number of TU classrooms, courses, seminars and events. TUCAPTURE offers the most minutes of streaming classroom media of any system of its kind in the country–more than Harvard, Princeton, UPENN, or MIT’s celebrated OpenCourseWare system. 

It has accomplished all this without new staff hires, exorbitant budgets, or tedious faculty training or tasks. Surveys of TUCAPTURE users show high satisfaction, and suggest benefits to teaching and learning. Specifically, 80% of users said TUCAPTURE improved student learning, 70% of users said TUCAPTURE improved classroom teaching, and 95% of users said they would choose a class with TUCAPTURE over a class without it. 

Feeney makes some impressive predictions about the system’s potential, some of which have relevance for higher education reformers: 

We predict that automated capture, release and “recycling” of recorded classroom minutes will have profound impact on education. We are looking for significant differences in college attendance, retention, completion, and learning. Importantly, TUCAPTURE can serve as a new resource for analysis and reform of education. Emerging “academic capture systems” like TUCAPTURE are poised to offer convenient, automatic review of what parents, students, and taxpayers are paying for… the dynamic interaction of the real college classroom.   

For more information, including examples of TUCAPTURES, visit here.

Re: Huge Victory


The happy news that David mentions from Southern Illinois today also serves as an unhappy reminder of what a poor job our colleges and universities have done in explaining the rights of free expression and free association to their students. With the amount of emphasis placed on “diversity” and other multiculturalist buzzwords, it’s easy for students to get the impression that political correctness is the ultimate trump card on campus, to which all other values–including the rights of individuals–must be subordinated.

College administrators could go a long way toward fixing this problem if they set aside even a fraction of the time that they spend on “diversity training” and other groupthink to explain the basic rights and responsibilities that are required to sustain a free society. But, of course, this assumes that administrators themselves have an understanding of these basic rights. 

The evidence indicates otherwise, as FIRE president Greg Lukianoff makes what should be an obvious point in a press release today: “A Muslim organization has a right to be Muslim, a Jewish organization has a right to be Jewish, and a Christian organization has a right to be Christian. It is not tolerance but intolerance to forbid such voluntary associations.” Universities should be ashamed that FIRE needs to keep reminding them of such simple truths. 

Champions of Free Speech


Well, that was fast.  Just a few weeks after the first media reports that the University of Wisconsin had hired a 9/11 conspiracy theorist to teach an “Introduction to Islam” class and a few days after a few politicians pressured the university to fire a non-tenured lecturer with a serious commitment to junk science, the brave university has come forward with a ringing defense of free speech. According to a university spokesperson: “We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas.” I mean, why not let him teach? After all, he’s pledged to spend “only” one week of class time on his insane theories. And I’m sure that his doctorate in Arabic more than qualifies him to explain how buildings should withstand the impact of jetliners full of jet fuel flying several hundred miles per hour.

This is just hilarious. Recall that Wisconsin was just recently (after months-long battles and an Alliance Defense Fund lawsuit against a sister school in the university system) dragged kicking and screaming into permitting RAs to hold Bible studies in their own rooms on their own time. In the logic of the university world, the idea that the President of the United States murdered almost 3,000 American citizens to start a war for oil contributes to the “free exchange of ideas” and can be taught in university classrooms. But a private study of the Gospel of John? That’s just too much.

Bad Form


The U.S. Naval Academy apparently uses a form that allows Annapolis families that want to sponsor—i.e., open their homes to—midshipmen to express a preference for students on the basis of race.  Even if you think that it’s benign discrimination for black families to want to sponsor black kids, for example, it’s a bad precedent for the federal government to get involved in facilitating racial discrimination of any kind.  Change the form.

College Accountability


A story on Inside Higher Ed today discusses the work the National Association of State
Universities and Land Grant Colleges has been doing on a system to measure
and publicize how well schools educate their undergraduates.

I’m skeptical that an accountability system that really allows students,
parents, and other interested parties to separate the wheat from the large
volume of chaff will emerge from any organization inside the higher-
education community, but this is an important objective. With the very high
costs of college, it’s crucial that students and parents be able to identify
institutions that actually add educational value, rather than merely certify
the passage of courses. For starters, it would be good to know if a school
enhances a student’s literacy. We know from last year’s National Assessment
of Adult Literacy that many college students graduate with pathetic literacy
skills (I wrote about that here) and many kids who coast through college
taking easy, stress-free courses will wind up in easy, low-pay jobs.

We have a vast higher-ed establishment that depends on people not making
informed decisions about the relationship between costs and benefits in
college. The door stands wide open for someone to step forward with a
reliable measuring rod for institutional effectiveness.

Re: Huge Victory


Here’s the Inside Higher Ed story on the case David discusses below.


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