Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

More on Viewpoint Discrimination at Johns Hopkins


Here’s a firsthand account from Jered Ede, editor of the The Carrollton Record.

Viewpoint Discrimination at Johns Hopkins


Last month, several hundred copies of a conservative student newspaper, The Carrollton Record, were stolen at Johns Hopkins University. According to FIRE, instead of treating the theft as a crime and an act of mob censorship, administrators banned the paper’s distribution in dorms while allowing other student publications to continue distribution there. Moreover, some staff members face a harassment investigation for printing an article in the paper.


“Theologian” Drops Bible for The DaVinci Code


…and President Reagan gets whacked as well. Read more.

Zarqawi: A Cog in “A Well-Oiled Machine”


Although Zarqawi can do us no more harm, the West has no broader strategic counterstrategy to eliminate the vast Islamic fundamentalist “infrastructure” or “mindset and its enablers,” according to Youssef Ibrahim. The brains in this infrastructure are:


Ibrahim’s point is that eliminating “the foot soldiers” like Zarqawi is insufficient to winning this war and thus that the fight must be “ratcheted up.” We mist also fight this ideological “factory” by renewing “demands for democratic reforms and civil societies in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Persian Gulf…These demands are essential weapons in the fight.”

If U.S. higher educators were of a different mettle, they would be leading the charge against high-placed Islamist brainwashers. They’d also be agitating for liberal reform in the Middle East. As things stand, however, our universities and academic organizations enable the enablers by not refuting jihad apologists on campuses and by accepting funding from the well-oiled jihadist machine.

Engage Berube et al


The blog hosted by Penn State professor Michael Berube is one of the most popular sites of academic commentary on the web. Berube ranges from posts on politics, conservatives, and academic freedom to cultural theory, movies, and the professorial life, and dozens of commentators weigh in on each one. I think it’s worth a look, as are several of the other liberal academic commentaries to be found, such as The Valve and Crooked Timber. Yes, Berube is a solidly to the Left, he slips into sarcasm too often, and he’s made several of the contributors here the object of criticism. But amidst all that there are some substantive points, and even if you disagree with them, it is important to know what the other side’s thinking.

This is, I would say, a creeping problem for younger conservatives. One of the strengths of conservatism in recent years has been that conservatives have understood their antagonists better than liberals and progressives have understood conservatives. Because the education system has been oriented toward liberal traditions and progressive attitudes, the history, literature, and civics that one read in class were aligned accordingly. So, students were more conversant with Mill, Marx, Dewey, the New Deal, and the Great Society than with Burke, de Tocqueville, and Hayek. But as conservative ideas and values have become dominant in areas of politics and economics (though not in the arts and humanities), I see a trace of complacency spreading among groups such as the College Republicans. It’s understandable, to be sure, but one of the first things I tell them is that they must continue to read The German Ideology and Dewey’s democracy writings. And if they really want to understand our popular culture, take a look at The Greening of America.

It would be worthwhile to compile a list of classic liberal/progressive works that would parallel the list of conservative/libertarian works compiled by National Review. These would be the works that are an index of the Left-of-center mind. What are the books that are the shaping forces of liberalism?


AAU_ Nonsense


Much has been posted on this blog about the AAUP and their recent working paper, “Americans’ Views of Political Bias In the Academy and Academic Freedom.” But another organization starting with AAU should also be on everyone’s radar screen.

Last week, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) came to Washington, DC, for their
National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. The focus of the conference was combating sexual harassment on campus. The AAUW’s recent sexual-harassment push started in January with the release of a study claiming that nearly two-thirds of university students (both male and female) have been sexually harassed. If that were true, I’d be outraged, but the study is severely flawed. It uses an overly broad and inaccurate definition of harassment, leading to inflated and shocking statistics. My organization, the Independent Women’s Forum, has been critical of the study, as has the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. As I pointed out last week in an op-ed, there are many problems with the study:

According to the AAUW, sexual harassment includes unwanted “sexual comments, jokes, gestures, or looks.”  More specific examples included in the report including “being flashed or mooned” and guys calling each other “gay.”  This behavior may deserve rebuke, but it’s a far cry from the jeering cat-calls or torment I imagine when I think of sexual harassment.
In fact, just more than half of the harassed students “were upset by their experience.” The report admits that “the top reason that students gave for not reporting sexual harassment is that their experience was not serious or ‘not a big deal.’” Fifty-nine percent of the harassers thought their actions were funny.

In other words, half of students who were “harassed” weren’t upset by the experience and more than half of the “harassers” didn’t have ill intent.  Of course, legitimate harassment is horrible and must be dealt with, but much of the findings in the AAUW report are simply not harassment.

Motivated by these misleading statistics, the AAUW is hoping to develop sexual - harassment policies to combat the problem.  What does a AAUW-type policy look like?  Take a look at the nonsense passing for a sexual misconduct policy at Gettysburg College.  The policy uses a similar, overly broad definition of harassment, like the AAUW study.  As a result, innocent acts like hugs become criminal.

Does the Public Oppose an Academic Bill of Rights?


As Anne notes below, the agenda of the American Association of University Professors is self-evident from its spin of their polling results. Although 38 percent of Americans believe that political bias in the classroom is a “very serious problem,” the AAUP is more concerned about trumpeting the fact that 80 percent of respondents disagreed strongly or somewhat with the statement, “The government should control what gets taught in the college classroom.” This response and others like it should be taken as evidence that Americans oppose David Horowitz’s proposed Academic Bill of Rights, according to the AAUP’s General Secretary, Roger Bowen.

While those at the AAUP may think that this poll serves as ammunition against the Academic Bill of Rights, asking whether the government should “control” what is taught does not accurately represent the bill. Horowitz has claimed, “There is no enforcement proposed in the Academic Bill of Rights. This would be up to the institutions that adopt it.”

It would be interesting to see polling numbers on support for what the Academic Bill of Rights actually says, but one has to wonder whether such a bill of rights would do much good if there is no real enforcement.

As a matter of principle, conservatives should be the last ones to support the expansion of the government to address the problem of political bias in the classroom. And even if enforcement were feasible, does anyone doubt that the first to be punished would be the few conservatives on university faculties?

A truly conservative solution to the problem would be for students to publish instances of bias online. There is already a popular website,, that allows students to comment on their professors, but the site is woefully inadequate for describing bias because it limits comments to no more than a few short sentences.

An improved website dedicated to exposing bias would enable conservative students to know exactly what they were getting into before they register and show left-wing professors that free speech is a two-way street.  But there’s no doubt that if conservatives were to speak out in such a manner, they would be derided as intolerant “McCarthyites” conducting a “witch-hunt” and crusading against “academic freedom.”

Refining the “Dispositions” Debate


In “Comptency-Based Education and the NCATE Banana Peel,” Mitchell Langbert makes a distinction between useful and desirable competency-based teaching about interpersonal skills, politics and power (which cannot be assessed objectively and should not be utilized in a punitive way) and NCATE’s espousal of assessment of students’ “social justice dispositions” (used to penalize them for “wrong” ideology). Consider here these subtle differences.

Education or Schooling?


UNC-Wilmington plans to begin a new doctoral program aimed at eliminating the supposed shortage of school administrators in North Carolina. Read about it here.

That is emblematic of one of the big problems in higher education — the assumption that taking a lot of courses and earning a degree is the way to become competent at doing something. You will find some excellent school administrators who never took a single class in any “education” course and you’ll find some bad ones who have fancy degrees, elegant doctoral robes for academic ceremonies, and of course the extra pay that is usually automatic with an advanced degree.

Adding education doctorates is another instance of the overselling of higher education.

The AAUP’s Spin Zone


At a panel Friday morning entitled “The Faculty, the Press, and the Public,” the AAUP unveiled a working paper entitled “American’ Views of Political Bias In the Academy and Academic Freedom.” Based on a survey of 1000 Americans, the report attempts “to assess the extent to which conservative critiques of the professoriate inform American public opinion, as well as to understand how Americans feel about academic freedom and tenure.”

Noting that only 8.2% of people surveyed believe that “political bias” is the biggest problem in higher education, the AAUP claims that proves the American public’s broad confidence in higher education. But close examination of the survey results reveals that this claim amounts to sheer spin. In fact, the AAUP’s report suffers from the same sort of “echo chamber” insularity and self-absorption that has become characteristic of the modern academy. The survey results, combined with the unwarranted optimism of the report, amount to a remarkable indictment of the academy. Together, they prove that the studies of curricular disarray and pervasive classroom politics done by ACTA and other organizations are truly making their way into the public consciousness. They also prove how resistant the AAUP is to this realization.

Let me highlight just a few of the poll’s more disturbing findings.

–58.4% of the American public has only some or no confidence in American colleges and universities (12.8% of this number is composed of liberals and moderates).

–23.4% says quality of teaching and learning is the biggest problem facing higher education, second only to concerns about cost (within this group, 10.2% say the greatest problem in higher education is low educational standards, 8.2% say it is political bias, and 5% say it is incompetent professors).

–45.7% says political bias is either a very serious problem or the biggest problem facing higher ed (26.9% of this group identifies as Democrat).

–60.2% believes higher ed is suffering from low educational standards.

–61.8% says professors are distracted by disputes over such issues as sexual harassment or the politics of ethnic groups.

–82% wants to modify or eliminate tenure altogether.

Rather than grapple with this disturbing information, the AAUP concentrates on the question of whether critics of political bias in academe are merely stirring up “a tempest in a teapot.” Observing that confidence in higher education is high among everyone but the elderly, the uneducated, conservatives, and Republicans (all groups whose opinions, it is implied, matter less than those of everyone else), the AAUP concludes that there is neither a serious problem with higher education’s public image nor that this problem may have something to do with real problems in the higher education system.

AAUP General Secretary Roger Bowen deepened the demographically dismissive quality of the survey in an op-ed published Friday in Inside Higher Ed. Glossing over the troubling numbers cited above, Bowen used the poll’s breakdown of opinion by age, education, and political affiliation to declare that all is well in higher education, and that only the geriatrically, intellectually, and ideologically challenged will be persuaded by studies such as ACTA’s “How Many Ward Churchills?”: “ACTA’s message, according to our survey results, will appeal primarily to the elderly, those with low levels of educational attainment, conservatives, and Republicans,” he writes; “‘Churchill,’ as metaphor, resonates, then, with unreconstructed Cold Warriors, with conservatives, Republicans, and people who have not attended college or university.” Bowen concludes that “the public generally likes the professoriate as it is” and that the work of organizations such as ACTA will not resonate with it. But Bowen can only make such claims by ignoring what the AAUP poll actually shows.

Spinning and whitewashing and defining issues away, the AAUP is missing a point that ACTA has been making for a decade: It is not the public’s job to intuit the special worth of colleges and universities. The AAUP poll shows that, far from affirming higher education, the American people are saying “Enough.” Unless our colleges and universities take immediate steps to become publicly accountable, and unless they renew their commitment to rigorous academic standards and academic freedom for all, they risk losing the public support and special protections that they now take as a given.

The academy can’t afford to keep overlooking those basic truths. And the AAUP can’t afford to keep encouraging the academy to overlook them.

NCATE’s “Fly-By-Night” Dispositions Testing


Mitchell Langbert states that NCATE never had any realistic, validated competency measures to use in the dispositional assessment of prospective teachers and thus its advocacy of such evaluation in the past has been “nonsense.” Langbert contrasts such “spurious” claims with how dispositional assessment is carried out in business schools.

More on NCATE and “Social Justice”


As I noted earlier, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education announced to an Education Department committee that it would drop references to “social justice” in its glossary of desirable attributes in prospective teachers.


This matters not, however, because the council said it would not interfere in education schools which include social justice in the curriculum. Thus Anne is correct when she said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that “[r]emoving social justice doesn’t eliminate the issue of imposing disposition on teacher candidates.”


But the booby prize in this important debate surely goes to George A. Pruitt, a committee member who commented, “I’m struggling to find how this is a radical agenda…I’m saddened by the notion that our children need to be protected from ‘social justice.’”


And I’m saddened that the clueless Mr. Pruitt sits on a committee with the power to eradicate indoctrination in socialism–the meaning of “social justice” in “progressive education” circles–from our teacher-preparation schools. 

Taking Notice of Job Notices


Last month Mark commented on Erin O’Connor’s critique of faculty job applications geared to candidates with “a particular phenotype, a particular set of preferences, and a particular set of non-scholarly commitments.” David followed up by noting that the assumptions underlying such job postings can perhaps be challenged in court.


Relatedly, Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, observed in The Chronicle of Higher Education that such advertisements frequently single out minority and female candidates as particularly welcome.


Clegg reminds colleges that it is generally illegal under Title VII “to print or publish…any notice…relating to employment…indicating any preference…based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” He specifies how this and numerous other corrupt university hiring practices are illegal.


Clegg also says that “legal challenges concerning faculty hiring…the next big front in the battle against racial preferences…are mounting.” (See “Faculty Hiring Preferences and the Law,” May 19.)

It is unfortunate that we must increasingly invoke the law, as opposed to academic leaders’ sense of responsibility, to spur higher-education reform. But so it is.

The Dubious Value of Value Neutrality


Nature abhors a vacuum whether physical or moral. The equation of the modern university with “science”, which for most of the twentieth century constituted the prevailing intellectual reflex, created a moral vacuum embodied in the phrase “value neutrality.” Since no institution can long survive without some moral grounding, the abandonment of traditional liberal and religious commitments led not to “neutrality,” but to the ascendency of radically illiberal ideals. My reflections on this process and possible lines of remedy appear in “The Dubious Value of Value Neutrality,” in this week’s Chronicle Review..

America’s Hgher Education “Advantage”


Here is another of the repetitious studies lamenting that the U.S. is “losing its advantage” in higher education, meaning that some other nations are spending more money and graduating a larger percentage of students. These things always suggest that something bad will happen economically unless we regain the top spot. The trouble with that argument is that economic success doesn’t really hinge on the amount of formal education that citizens have.

Allah, yes; God, no?


The Thomas More Law Center is asking the Supreme Court to review a Ninth Circuit decision allowing the Excelsior School in Byron, California, to continue teaching a three-week course in Islam, in which students take Muslim names, participate in Muslim rituals like fasting, use phrases like Allahu Akbar (God is great), imagine themselves Muslim soldiers or pilgrims, and play jihad games, among other activities.    

The court said that these activities do not constitute teaching religion, but only teaching about religion. This is the same court that forbade the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance because of the phrase “under God.” Let’s hope the Supreme Court takes the case. 

Tenure’s Real Consequence


The otherwise poignant Inside Higher Education story about Professor Yves Magloe, dismissed from Pasadena City College as a result of misunderstandings arising from his bipolar condition, contains a tangential but revealing comment. Another Pasadena faculty member, Hugo Schwyzer, reflecting on his role as one of Magloe’s defenders, notes apropos tenure, that it allowed him “to be an advocate without risk.”

Most academics and observers of academe view tenure in its putative role of allowing professors to speak freely about issues of general controversy. Tenure does, of course, sometimes facilitate such freedom. But as a device promoting wide-ranging intellectual discourse it has clearly been a failure. Debate in almost every other intellectual marketplace–including the mass media for all its tilt and spin–is far more open and diverse despite tenure’s absence. Either the protections of tenure are overwhelmed by other stultifying factors, or it actually promotes stasis, conformity, and group-think.

In any event, tenure’s chief outcome is just what Professor Schwyzer lets slip. It allows professors to take on their administrations with far less risk than would be faced by any other type of staff. Put another way, its principal effect is on institutional governance not scholarly debate. It creates a system where administrators can be fired but faculty, for all intents and purposes, cannot, where administrations are transient, but faculty is forever. Those deploring the protections tenure gives to outrageous cranks like Ward Churchill, might do better to refocus their gaze on its more collective impact. Any sensible reform of tenure must start with a consideration of its consequences for the university as a constitutional system and the balance of power that exists within it. 

Commencement Day


From a wrap-up in NYT:

Dr. Resnik was one of many commencement speakers who spoke out against what they consider a growing belligerence in American foreign policy. Others condemned war, racism and poverty.


Judith Resnik, speaking at Bryn Mawr College, made the weirdest claim:

I do not think that either the world or my own country has been torture-free since the Renaissance.

There wasn’t torture during the Renaissance

Book Report


The new Publisher’s Weekly previews The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges, by Daniel Golden:

A heavy-hitting, name-naming exposé by Wall Street Journal deputy bureau chief Golden concludes that Ivy League admissions offices do not practice meritocracy. Instead, top-drawer schools reward donor-happy alums and the “legacy establishment,” which Golden defines as “elites mastering the art of perpetuating themselves.” Moreover, the “preference of privilege” enables wealthy candidates to nose out more deserving working- and middle-class students, especially new immigrants and Asian-Americans. Golden backs his assertions with examples comparing the academic records of entering students: e.g., Al Gore’s son was admitted to Harvard despite his shabby record, although a better prepared Asian-American was rejected at all Ivy Leagues because he was “unhooked” (in admission parlance, not well connected or moneyed). Asian-Americans, notes Golden, are the “new Jews,” for whom a higher bar is set. Golden tracks shameful admissions policies at Duke, where the enrollment of privileged but underqualified applicants has helped elevate the school’s endowment ranking from 25th in 1980 to 16th in 2005; Brown is skewered for courting the offspring of entertainment industry notables. Golden suggests reasonable, workable tactics for resurrecting the antilegacy campaign in Congress (led by Senator Kennedy) and devotes a laudatory chapter to the equitable admissions practices at Caltech, Berea College (Kentucky) and Cooper Union (New York City). (Sept.)

The Fix Is In


Over at FIRE, William Creeley notes that Dartmouth may have some company in trying to fix elections.


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