Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Faculty Affirmative Discrimination


A couple of items on the open secret of affirmative discrimination in faculty hiring. There’s my piece this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education. And InsideHigherEd reports today:

In reports issued this weekend, the AAUP faulted the way professors were treated at Greenville College and New Mexico Highlands University–and the nature of the findings may be surprising. At Greenville, a liberal arts college in Illinois that is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church, the AAUP is backing a professor who was fighting what he saw as a willingness of the college and its faculty to move away from religious orthodoxy. At New Mexico Highlands, the association is backing professors whose tenure cases reinforced the views of some on the campus that Hispanic candidates were being favored and that affirmative action goals were denying promotions to deserving white candidates.

Systematic Indoctrination


The incidents noted here at Phi Beta Cons and in the popular media leave many people wondering how such crackpot attitudes could thrive on college campuses. This is because people don’t know just how lengthy, overwhelming, multi-layered, and delicate is the process by which a young adult goes from undergraduate to tenured professor.

Consider one step in the advance: the job market in the humanities.

There is no more miserable creature on earth than the post-doc looking for a job.  You’ve spent your twenties reading books and writing papers, taking classes from advisors who wonder when you’ll be off their hands.  You have no prospects, and you can’t do anything else.  You can barely pay your rent, but every hour at a part-time job derails your ambitions.  At the annual scholarly convention, you join a thousand other wannabes scrambling for a few plum appointments.  Your clothes are a bit threadbare, your posture slouches as if you aren’t sure of getting a rebuke or a reward.  Your face is wan, but your eyes dart.  In a hotel elevator you shy into the corner when the doors part and the happy ones enter—those with JOBS.  You sneak a glance at their badges to spot a familiar name.  Who knows?  Maybe you have an interview with one of them the next day.  Should you introduce yourself?  Mention that book of his that you admire so much?  Too late.  The doors open and they file out.

How did you get so gawky and tentative?  Through a fateful, unfeeling process that lasts six months.  In the summer, you spend a month getting letters of recommendation for the dossier and refining your résumé.  When the scholarly organization issues a national listing of job openings, you draft cover letters accordingly.  A month later, having spotted things in your packet that it liked, a few hiring committees write back asking for a writing sample and the dossier with letters of recommendation.  You select your best piece of work, usually a chapter of the diss, and ask the career center to send your file.  If those fare well with the committee, a month later comes a request for an interview at the upcoming convention of the scholarly organization.  Then comes the most important step in the process, an hour of conversation in a hotel room.  The committee is made up of three or four professors of different fields and ranks.  If the interview goes well, you become one of three finalists for the position, visiting the campus a month later to meet with all the faculty members, talk to a dean, and deliver a lecture.  A month after that, the winner gets a phone call from the department chair tendering the offer.

At each stage, the pool narrows.  It has to, with around 44,000 doctoral degrees granted every year.  Added to them are the thousands who didn’t get a job the year before and are trying again.  Hiring committees scan the applications, peruse writing samples and letters, and debrief after the interviews. The entire department discusses and politicks over the finalists after the campus visits.  What works well for the candidate?  Better to ask what disqualifies.  It is easier for the committee, burdened with thousands of pages of materials, to find reasons to reject.  

A cover letter that strikes the wrong tone or cites the wrong figures is ruinous.  I once read a cover letter that opened something like, “I am a Feminist Foucauldian whose research into the Nineteenth Century disarticulates the power relations of domestic spaces as they are represented and reinforced in popular theatricals and visual culture.”  Too grandiose.  A research description that doesn’t click instantly with professors gets tossed aside.  A few lines of “My dissertation examines . . .” and “dismantles prevailing conceptions” and their eyes glaze.  With a stack of files three feet high, committee members don’t have time to read all the samples and letters, and so they judge by category.  Is the topic hot?  Is the approach current?  Is the conclusion politic?

Letters of recommendation walk a fine line between approval and hype.  Everyone knows they are a genre of insincerity.  When an inflated letter by a Duke science professor made it to a university in Britain, the hiring committee contacted him to see if the letter had been forged.  “It was so hyperbolic in their eyes that they couldn’t believe it,” he admitted.  But he was only following custom.  Letter writers need to make the candidate look serious and bright (nothing less than brilliant and hyper-conscientious).

The convention interview is a balancing act.  You have 45 minutes to make the questioners feel enthused and comforted.  Affect counts more than substance, for these are professors with a full slate of interviews and no training in personnel.  When I walked into an interview back in 1988, for the first 15 minutes listened to a harangue about my advisor.  One committee member had an issue with his outlook and used me as the occasion to let it out.  I fired back, “Look, I’ve spent a thousand dollars on a flight and a room to come half way across the country to talk to you about my qualifications, and it’s pretty damn irresponsible of you to do this.”  I wish.  Instead, to my shame, I tried to grovel my way into his good graces. 

Even the good interviews can be excruciating.  Committee members are tired, bored, distracted, and wary.  Each one has a preference, and rarely do they coincide.  Candidates are desperate and inexperienced.  A career is at stake, but you can’t let it show.  He who relates best to the whole group, not to just one of them—an exciting 10-minute exchange with one prof excites the suspicion of the others—moves on to the campus visit.  While on-site for two days, you become a friend for some, a threat for others.  Identifying who has power is hard, so sounding genial to all is crucial.  You must find topics for lively conversation, but steer clear of department sensitivities and expect anything. 

All the decisions are collective, a result of majority voting.  Which candidates triumph?  Those who cause the least discomfort to the largest number of voters.  Scholars who don’t fit smoothly into ready classifications and mutter the standard pieties are hard to figure, and the hiring of a colleague is so long-term a commitment that nobody on the faculty wants to take chances. 

Professors don’t want to go to war over a hiring—you’re not that important—and so the compromise candidate, the less adventuresome and strong-minded one, survives.  It is okay to have strong opinions, as long as they’re shared by all and won’t disrupt the department.  The ardent minds are passed over, the singular intellects weeded out. 

This is conformity by passive selection.  It explains why political correctness is so dominant in a world of academic freedom, and why a few bullies are able to intimidate the rest.


Where’s My Advocate?


After reading the article linked in John’s post about the Muslim Student Association’s “Holocaust in the Holy Land” exhibit, I was struck by the following statement:

Sally Peterson, dean of students at Irvine, has worked at the university since 1974 and she said that she’s seen a gradual shift away from students tensions based on race to the point today where issues of religion, international affairs, or ideology can set off a controversy–and are more likely to do so than issues of race.

Well, of course. Even the most cursory review of history reveals that we are not simply divided by race, and religious or ideological divisions can be far more profound (just ask Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot what they thought of their “ideological” opponents). In fact, the entire article represents yet another example of the abject failure of radical multiculturalism. The reality is that multiculturalism has made civility and unity more elusive because it is based on a ridiculous fantasy . . . that we can all get along.


We can’t, and we won’t. One of the critical triumphs of the American republic has been the creation of a system where differences are not assumed away but instead channeled into peaceful dispute-resolution mechanisms (such as democratic elections or legal processes). In other words, competing religions, ethnicities, ideologies, etc. have a hope of success without resorting to the street and without resorting to the force of arms. The emphasis is not on vague, ambiguous, values like “civility” or “diversity,” but instead on more hard-headed concepts like free speech and due process. In other words, the message is: “Your view may not prevail, but you will always have a chance to persuade.”


The university Left, in its utopian quest for an ambiguous concept of “social justice,” forgets human nature. When campuses opened up to people of different races, religions, and ideologies, conflict inevitably resulted. In the face of this conflict, the university decided to take sides. When the issue was primarily about race, taking sides seemed to make sense. After all, we fought a civil war over the issue of race, and in the Fifties and Sixties the interests of leftists and many conservatives converged–at least for a moment. Many conservatives and leftists could agree that people of all races should participate equally in the legal structures of our republic. 


But taking sides on the issue of race (a decision I won’t argue with, but do believe should have its limits) did set a negative precedent in one sense: It created an expectation that the university will be an ”advocate” in the divisive issues of the day. So advocacy on issues of race leads to advocacy on issues of gender, which leads to advocacy on issues of sexuality, and war and peace, and economics, and . . . In other words, the expectation is that the university cannot and will not act as a relatively neutral entity that (much like the rest of American democracy) creates an opportunity for equal participation in the process, but instead that the university will decisively take sides. In other words, campus interest groups don’t just ask, “Can I speak?” They ask, “Where’s my advocate?” 


And so, that is where we are today. In the era of Chief Diversity Officers, GLBT Offices, Women’s Resources Centers, and other creations of the multi-culti Left, the university stands directly against the essential goal of channeling inevitable differences into neutral dispute-resolution processes and actually takes sides in substantive disputes. This further polarizes the culture that multiculturalists claim to wish to unite, and pushes true civility and real diversity further and further from reality.

Question: How Many Ward Churchills Are There?


Answer: Ward Churchills abound. Tomorrow the University of Colorado will announce the results of its lengthy investigation of ethnic-studies professor and political agitator Ward Churchill. But regardless of whether Churchill is found guilty of academic misconduct or exonerated of the charges against him, our national interest in what Churchill represents should not end with the conclusion of his own scandalous story.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has just released a report on the “Ward Churchill phenomenon” that shows how widespread the problem of politically extreme professors is in this country.

Focussing on publicly available online course descriptions, departmental web pages, electronic syllabi, and online course materials, “How Many Ward Churchills” studies how instructors at the nation’s top colleges and universities describe their teaching philosophies and frame their courses. The result is a disturbing window into an academic culture that–despite frequent protests to the contrary–actively cultivates politically one-sided teaching and openly dispenses with the ethical imperative to respect students’ academic freedom to learn about all sides of the issues.

The report offers a number of ways colleges and universities can address the issue of politically skewed classrooms, including post-tenure review, institutional self-study, hiring administrators who are committed to intellectual diversity, and reviewing hiring and promotion practices to ensure that scholarship and teaching–not ideological litmus tests–are the foundation for lifelong teaching.

Most broadly, ACTA urges students, parents, alumni, trustees, elected officials, and concerned citizens to make the intellectual climate of higher education their business–to demand better information about what is happening in colleges across America and to exact more accountability from the colleges and universities they support.

The Need for Performance-Based Research


A former engineer and untenured professor, who prefers to go unnamed, has responded to my posting Parachutes and Ratings, which supports linking compensation in academe to performance. In the following email he correctly observes the need also to link publicly funded academic research to the good it produces for the public: 

While I would acknowledge the effort put into academic publishing, does it not frequently consist it so much one-sided, politicized, navel-gazing, especially in the “soft” disciplines? That is, can you imagine an objective, fair article on “faith-based,” i.e., unscientific social work in the mainstream, Democrat-controlled sociology journals? Or a cold, hard and balanced view of public education in the education journals? What is needed is serious consideration of what real, authentic public benefits have been derived from taxpayer-supported academia, notably the benefits that result from grants from the National Science Foundation and NAS. Producing theoretical research of interest to only theoreticians does NOT benefit the public.  As a former engineer, I am hard-pressed to think of any lab in the world – commercial or otherwise — where researchers are given carte blanche to intellectually wander where they want. Rather, there has to be some positive outcome. To think otherwise is to live in some world of delusion. If that is the world some academics want, let them fund their own useless research. Taxpayers do NOT want to fund pipe dreams.


The “Nature” of Lavish Compensation


The University of California has been plagued in recent times by revelations about millions of dollars in hidden benefits and perks given to some of the system’s highest paid employees. Compensation policies were circumvented or waived, and UC President Robert Dynes has admitted not fully disclosing to the university regents his pay decisions.


Most interesting to me is Dynes’s comment that these stealthy compensation decisions were “the nature of the practice.” With all the furor about college costs, isn’t it about time to scrutinize compensation policy and find out how widespread such practice is in other institutions?

Fighting Over the Pot of Gold


Indiana State University’s faculty senate has approved a vote of no confidence against the institution’s president, citing his “insensitivity” for getting a large raise in the middle of a budget crunch. The head of the university’s board said the vote “set a divisive tone” (See “Faculty Group Voted No Confidence in President of Indiana State U. by Paul Fain, The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 5).


More such intramural squabbling does not surface, I believe, because institutions are often upping the financial compensation of all “key players.” Thus the latter have a collective incentive not to blow the whistle on each other’s compensation. In other words, mum’s the word when everyone is getting an increased piece of the action.


There is a great need for boards to get serious about employee compensation, which should entail linking it to performance and productivity. The public cannot rely on university employees themselves to act as watchdog and point the finger at each other. It is not generally in their interest to do so.

No Deal for NKU Professor


The Northern Kentucky University professor who is in hot water for her role in the destruction of an on-campus pro-life display has not been extended the same community-service deal offered to complicit students.

The assistant county attorney said professor Sally Jacobsen’s alleged role in the vandalism was different due to her status as an authority figure.

Fair and Balanced?


At UC-Irvine, the Muslim Student Union this week hosts a program called “Holocaust in the Holy Land.” One of the sessions is titled “Israel: The Fourth Reich.”

In a news story, one student summarizes the MSU’s views:

Kareem Elsayed, a student who is a former president of the Muslim Student Union, said in an e-mail interview that “the pro-Zionist media has allowed for the monopolization of the term ‘holocaust’” to refer to what the Nazis did to the Jews. But he said that there have been many holocausts, and that the group looks to link Israel to the Nazis for specific reasons.

“We are using this title to emphasize the fact that the apartheid state of Israel has moved from oppressed to oppressor,” he said. “We refer to the apartheid state as the fourth reich to emphasize the fascist and oppressive policies, and genocidal tendencies, of the apartheid state.” Those who criticize the use of language linking Israel to the Nazis “are using the issue of the name as a cloak to cover their true intentions of silencing anyone that would reveal the realities of the oppression of the indigenous Palestinian people.”

Deaf Enough?


Is the incoming president of Gallaudet U. deaf enough ?

At Gallaudet University, the world’s only university for the deaf, a bomb threat kept the front gate shut for graduation ceremonies on Friday and families and guests detoured away from protesters’ tents scattered over a lawn, in signs of the tensions that have gripped the campus over the selection of the next president.

Jane K. Fernandes, the provost for academic affairs, was chosen to take over the top job next January, but a loose coalition of faculty members, students and alumni oppose her appointment. They say that she does not appreciate the primacy of American Sign Language at Gallaudet and in deaf culture and that she lacks leadership qualities.

Since the board chose Dr. Fernandes last week, the faculty has issued a vote of no-confidence in her; the chairwoman of the board has stepped down, citing “aggressive threats” she has received; and the board has spent the last few days not celebrating the end of another academic year, but holed up with protesters and mediators. …

Some of the criticism of Dr. Fernandes has focused on her fluency in American Sign Language, which she learned only at age 23. Early in the protest, one flier attacked Dr. Fernandes because “her mother and brother are deaf” and use spoken language. Dr. Fernandes has dismissed this as criticism that she was not “deaf enough.”

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice


Century College in Minnesota seems to have given up on free academic inquiry. An e-mail from the college’s vice president lays out a new policy for bulletin postings. Keen readers will recall that a bulletin board is exactly where Professor Karen Murdock posted the twelve Mohammed cartoons several months ago, whereupon she was promptly censored. The new rules impose significant restrictions on what can be posted, and allow administrators to censor certain types of content.

Illegal Benefits


Peter Kirsanow’s article at NRO earlier this week calling attention to illegal immigrants getting tuition breaks was most welcome.  I have never understood why many conservatives have been so vociferous in support of illegal immigration.  (I question their support even of massive legal immigration too, under the present reign of multiculturalism, diversity, and constitutionally endorsed racial preferences, but that’s another story.)  When Rudy Giuliani was mayor of NYC, he vehemently insisted on illegal immigrant rights.  He got downright nasty with people who called his radio program to protest illegals getting all sorts of protections, benefits, and sanctuary from the state and city.  When Proposition 187 was being debated in California, conservatives leaped into print to denounce it.  This has been very puzzling to me.  Conservatives are supposed to believe in national sovereignty and the rule of law.  

Gauling Higher Ed


No wonder French students are always protesting:

There are 32,000 students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris, but no student center, no bookstore, no student-run newspaper, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system.

The 480,000-volume central library is open only 10 hours a day, closed on Sundays and holidays. Only 30 of the library’s 100 computers have Internet access.

The campus cafeterias close after lunch. Professors often do not have office hours; many have no office. Some classrooms are so overcrowded that at exam time many students have to find seats elsewhere. By late afternoon every day the campus is largely empty.

Sandwiched between a prison and an unemployment office just outside Paris, the university here is neither the best nor the worst place to study in this fairly wealthy country. Rather, it reflects the crisis of France’s archaic state-owned university system: overcrowded, underfinanced, disorganized and resistant to the changes demanded by the outside world.

And they apparently aren’t interested in fixing what’s broken:

The practice in the United States of private endowments providing a large chunk of college budgets is seen as strange in France. Tuition is about $250 a year, hardly a sufficient source of income for colleges.

But asking the French to pay more of their way in college seems out of the question. When the government proposed a reform in 2003 to streamline curriculums and budgets by allowing each university more flexibility and independence, students and professors rebelled.

They saw the initiative as a step toward privatization of higher education that they feared would lead to higher fees and threaten the universal right of high school graduates to a college education. The government backed down.



A dustup at Boston University over a dean’s resume:

The dean of Boston University’s College of Communication, John J. Schulz, has acknowledged that he misstated information on his academic résumé when he wrote he was one of only two Oxford doctoral students to win approval of their dissertation in social studies in 1981.

Schulz also had written that he was among 19 students who presented dissertations during the same period when he earned his doctorate from the English university. In fact, Oxford’s social studies faculty awarded 30 such degrees in 1980-81 and 41 in 1981-82, according to the university.

For details, see the Boston Globe.

A Solemn Warning from a Student Leader


Campus activists should follow the example of defense expert Richard Perle and support student dissidents in Iran. Perle just met with pro-democracy student leader and author Amir Abbas Fakhravar, after his escape from an Iranian prison.


U.S. students need to hear Fakhravar’s message: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is going in the direction that heads straight on to war with America.”

“I quit”


An adjunct at BC quits over Condi Rice.

“Eureka” in Montana


Doubts about supporting state university administrators in the style to which they have become accustomed are seeping in – and in unlikely quarters.


Here, Montana’s Democratic governor Brian Schweitzer calls recent salary hikes for top university system administrators “raises to big shots.” And, regarding over-compensation, he makes a point that needs to be raised throughout all public higher education: “I simply don’t buy that we . . . pay [people] three quarters of a million dollars more and suddenly, ‘Eureka!,’ Montana becomes a world class university center.” 

Duke Photos


I read the Washington Post article on the Duke scandal that was mentioned on our list a few days back. It was  not the most informative piece. 

The article is mainly about how the all- black college that the dancer attended is united in support for her. According to the article, her supporters dismiss the digital photos that seem to provide alibis for the accused. These supporters say that such photos can be manipulated and doctored. But among the photos are those that show one of the accused withdrawing money from a cash machine when he was supposed to be involved in rape. 

Can such photos taken at cash machines be doctored? Is there any evidence that they have been doctored? Why would the bank manipulate photos to favor the Duke students?  The reporter didn’t bother to check and supply this information but just reported what may well be magical thinking. Also, the article says that the supporters “saw a photo of a black woman lying on the floor as white men stood around her holding cups of beer.” Is there such a photo? At that point I wasn’t sure if what the dancer’s supporters “saw” is an actual photo or an image they have formed in their minds. 

This is bad reporting. On another note, there was an additional piece of information of which I was unaware, that the house at which the party took place was rented by three lacrosse captains and was owned by the university. 

Unruly students


The New York Sun reported a couple of days ago on a public school teacher in New York City being taken out in handcuffs after a scuffle with a student. The teacher asked the student to remove his hat in class, in compliance with the school rules.  The student refused and the teacher removed the hat, and the student attacked the teacher and the teacher tried to restrain the student, causing him to fall and suffer minor injuries, and so on.  

The union is defending the teacher and will supply him with a lawyer.  This is why I can’t support those who find the unions to be the problem in the schools today.  True, the unions do stand in the way of many good things, but they also defend teachers when no one else will.  Sometimes conservative analysts make it seem that students and teachers are the victims of the teachers and their unions, when it is often the other way around.  

Teachers have a miserable job in many school districts with disrespectful and unruly students, and disrespectful and unruly parents as well, and the schools don’t back them up.   Without the unions the teachers would be lost.  Conservatives interested in education should focus more attention on the problem of discipline in the schools, and I think they would find more teachers rallying to other conservative ideas.  I don’t think vouchers and school choice and charter schools are enough of an answer to this crucial problem of discipline. 

UNC’s Jihadi


In March, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mohammed Taheri-Azar (an Iranian), attempted to run over a group of students with a rented car. He’s now in jail awaiting trial and has been writing answers to questions posed by reporters from the school paper, The Daily Tar Heel. As you can read here, he feels perfectly justified and does not believe that he deserves any punishment.

I wonder where he got the idea that if you think you are part of an aggrieved group, you are entitled to do anything to anyone you perceive as part of the oppressor group.  Certainly, his UNC studies did not disabuse him of this dangerous groupthink mentality.


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