Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

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.

Immunity from Criticism?


Academics (such as professors Mearsheimer and Walt, authors of the conspiracy-theory driven essay, The Israel Lobby) can dish out the criticism but “howl with umbrage at being judged,” says Dan Pipes. In a revealing exchange of letters, the two authors attack Pipes’ website, Campus Watch, as intended “to discourage [academics] from engaging in open discourse about the Middle East.” Pipes refutes them, pointing out that Campus Watch “critiques Middle East studies…with an aim to improving them.”

Instead of answering criticism, academics such as Mearsheimer and Walt try to deflect attention from it by tarring it as an assault on academic freedom. 


Who Are the Real Fundamentalists?


Down here in Nashville (I live just outside the city in beautiful Columbia, Tennessee, home of the world-famous “Mule Day“), the local news has been dominated by Belmont University’s battle with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. In what is becoming an old story, Belmont — after receiving more than $50 million and untold thousands of students because of its formal affiliation with the Tennessee Baptists — wants to declare its independence. It seems that a bit of local prestige and financial stability is all that is required to cause a school to wave goodbye to its heritage and join the dysfunctional academic mainstream.

While the story is interesting on its own terms, I was particularly struck by a quote in this article about the controversy. Commenting on Belmont’s efforts, the good Rev. David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at Emory University said, “I think fundamentalism and higher education are not compatible and that’s what’s going on here.”

This statement is simultaneously ludicrous and correct . . . both in ways that Key does not intend. It is simply ludicrous to suggest that fundamentalism (in the sense that Key surely defines it) is incompatible with higher education. In fact, it was “fundamentalists” who brought higher education to this country, founding little-known schools like Harvard, Yale, and literally hundreds of other colleges and universities across the country.

But there is a sense in which Key is correct. Fundamentalism is destroying American higher education, but it is the secular fundamentalism of the radical left. I went to two functionally religious schools, one Christian, the other not. Yet dissent and debate were far more welcome and encouraged at my Christian undergrad than they were at law school. In fact, at law school, dissenters were shouted down, threatened, and sometimes punished. I received written messages like, “I want you to die you f***ing fascist” simply for adopting pro-life positions. Others who dissented from the leftist orthodoxy on homosexual issues found their faces pasted on gay porn and then posted in the hallways. Satirical law review parodies led to calls for speech codes.

As my friend (and ADF colleague) Jordan Lorence often says, our secular universities are really the church schools of the left. To borrow his analogy, mission statements are the new Apostle’s Creed, diversity training (and increasingly the courses themselves) functions much like Sunday School, and speech codes are the equivalent of anti-blasphemy laws. In general, an outspoken atheist at a conservative Christian college is far more likely to enjoy stimulating, civil debate than is an outspoken conservative Christian at one of our elite secular colleges.

Whatever Helps You Sleep at Night


Over at FIRE’s blog, there’s news of a group of students who are pushing for the quashing of a pro-life display on their campus. A quote from one of the students involved provides a perfect example of how would-be censors have evolved to operate in the unique environment on campuses today. Quoth the student: ”I felt that I was being targeted by hate speech via the display and knew other people who felt the same way…”

Statements like this are commonplace, and are crafted to convince predominately left-leaning students and faculty that what’s being advocated is not really censorship, but rather the protection of innocent victims from some type of harm via “verbal assault,” to use a phrase that adorns some college policy manuals. 

In addition to the PR aspect of this phrasing, it also demonstrates an attempt by leftists to rationalize their own opposition to free speech. They’re not just trying to convince others that they’re not calling for censorship–they’re trying to convince themselves. Many of those on the left, especially on college campuses, like to fancy themselves as open-minded, free-wheeling, anti-authoritarian underdogs. So, when they find it convenient to mobilize the disciplinary machinery of the academy to stifle a viewpoint that they find distasteful, they have to convince themselves that they’re not really aiming to stifle anyone’s free speech–they’re just dutifully protecting some poor defenseless victims (usually women and minorities) from an assault by vicious white Republican males.

Legal or Illegal: Depends on Your Point of View


The folks at the Daily Princetonian have done for themselves a
stunning end-of-week editorial, exalting Princeton for admitting
students whom they scare-quotedly refer to as “illegals” and advising
that this policy not change.

The board opines that “The University is under no legal obligation
to report any applicants or students who are in the country
illegally,” but recognizes that “many would point out that at
the end of the day, the University still has an obligation to report
rather than reward students who break the law. After all, there are
thousands of qualified, law-abiding students who the University
rejects each year, and we would like to think that, for certain
crimes, the University would report a student to the proper

That position is not fundamentally unsound. Schools let many crimes
go: Underage drinking, drug use, copyright violation, &c. But since
universities like Princeton are in the business of providing an entire
life–housing, nourishment, vocation–for its customers, shouldn’t an
illegal presence in the United States be among the most eagerly
reported crimes for a university?


Piece of Paya


My running choice for a Nobel Peace Prize is Oswaldo Paya, the Cuban democracy activist. Columbia University is giving him an honorary law degree next week–a wise and inspiring choice–but Fidel Castro won’t let him leave his island paradise in order to accept it personally.

Here’s what Paya’s citation will say:

Engineer, journalist, activist, tireless campaigner for human rights and advocate for the people of Cuba, you represent the aspirations of millions around the world yearning for freedom and democracy. Based on the Cuban constitution itself, your Varela Project – a peaceful civic initiative to gather signatures across Cuba for the establishment of a free and democratic citizenry – is a model of civic activism. At great personal sacrifice and despite nearly constant surveillance and harassment, you have remained committed to non-violent dissidence and political change. You embody a life of principle in practice and we are proud to celebrate your extraordinary dedication to peaceful, democratic values by conferring on you the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Dreaming of Risk: Another Institutional Review Board Anecdote


In The Three Pound Enigma (Algonquin Books, 2006), a recent book on brain science, author Shannon Moffet describes the work of Dr. Bob Strickgold, a researcher at Harvard Medical School. Strickgold studies the effects of daily experience on dreaming, and, in order to provide subjects with the sensations he hopes will turn up in nocturnal reverie, exposes them to some high-intensity virtual reality. In the case of the author, a video-game simulation was employed that involved scooting down a ski slope.

But before stumbling onto the virtual approach, Strickgold had been deterred from this research by the anticipation of how his Institutional Review Board might react to an experimental design based on risky activity. Moffet quotes him as saying how “every time I thought of putting in an application to our human studies review board to take novices downhill skiing or white-water rafting, I just laughed”.

Presumably, Strickgold would have been approaching normal adults with some idea of the hazards involved in skiing or white water rafting — activities that beginners undertake all the time just for the thrill. Presumably too, Strickland’s protocol would have required him to explain these risks in detail to ensure complete awareness. Yet he still imagined that his IRB — with not just kicks but science at stake — would nix his application. Using fully informed consulting adults in an activity otherwise widely enjoyed would not pass muster — or so he concluded.

Perhaps there’s a case to be made for academic risk aversion when it comes to concussions and contusions. Would only that cultural trauma evoked a similarly heightened concern.

Re: Re: Anti-Israeli Art Removed at Brandeis


Alston, no, no, no. You misread me. I did not favor removing the art at Brandeis.


Rather, I was highlighting campus extremists’ hypocrisy when their tendentiousness is criticized. One of its favorite techniques is to pretend highmindedly that their one-sidedness advances debate and that they are open-minded to others’ views, when the contrary is true. Extremists are of course free to propagandize on campuses, but our colleges ought not to be propaganda swamps but places where real debate flourishes. To this end campus administrators need reminding that, among the finite number of campus events possible, they need not approve in the first place close-minded, partisan campus events.


Finally – a point I neglected originally to make – propagandistic art (the political and sexually “transgressive” varieties so in vogue at present) is usually ugly and boring, so, yes, I would be “positively glad” if such art (of left or right) disappeared from fine arts departments and campus exhibits.

Newspaper-Friendly Legislation Moves Forward


The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) reports that two pieces of legislation that seek to protect student newspapers are passing through the California legislature without difficulty. For more on the story, see “CA Bills Seek to Protect College Journalists.”

A Step Forward in Liberal Maine


Score one for Intellectual diversity in Maine, where the Republican Party has chosen to approve language supporting such pluralism on Maine’s college campuses in the 2006 Maine Republican Platform. Kudos to the party’s dynamic young leaders Nathaniel Walton and Dan Schuberth.

I Hereby Request Verbal Consent To Initiate An Embrace Forthwith


Hugging requires consent at Gettysburg College, FIRE tells us. Or else ’tis sexual assault.

GWU Honors Annan


UN Secretary General Kofi Annan may reign over a cesspool of corruption and double standards at the United Nations but one place where he need not account for the oil-for-food and other scandals is the college lecture circuit. Last week he received a standing ovation at George Washington University, where he gave a lecture and received an honorary degree.

The Left Devours Its Own


In a long lamentation about how academic leftists are ill serving leftism, Todd Gitlin, a leftist professor at Columbia University, actually makes some good points about these academics and new ways in which they might approach reality.

For example, after the obligatory derogation of President Bush, America’s Christian roots, the war in Iraq, and so forth, Gittlin suggests that the left engage in the following soul-searching: “the academic left’s ignorance of main currents of American life, their positive tropism for foreign saviors, their reliance on intricate jargon, their commitment to keeping up with post-everything hotshots of “theory” from more advanced continents.”

He excoriates one leftist professor for preaching “root-and-branch class-based revolutionism — a variant of the old-time religion” while not critically addressing “Stalinism or Maoism…or the actual Soviet-style policies of that stylish icon, Che Guevara.”

Gittlin even admits the hypocrisy of leftist icons Michel Foucault and Edward Said hypocrites, noting disapprovingly “that Foucault supported the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini and Said went silent on Saddam Hussein’s assaults on Iran and the Kurds….”

And he concludes that “the academic left is nowhere today.” “[I]ts faith-based [factless, uncritical] politics has crashed and burned. It specializes in detraction. It offers no plausible picture of the world.”

That one of the left’s own should so acknowledge its tendentiousness, vacuity and mean-spiritedness constitutes, to my mind, progress.

Look (Out) for the Union Label


Stefan Gleason of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation writes
here about the recent University of Miami case where the school
has capitulated to a demand by a union that it go along with a “card check”
campaign, which means that the targeted employees (janitors) won’t actually
get to vote on unionization in a secret ballot, but instead the union will
be declared victorious once a majority of the workers have signed cards that
supposedly attest to their desire for union representation.  This “card
check” procedure is notoriously abusive.

Desperate for new revenue sources, organized labor has been looking more at
higher education.  Unions function best in an environment that’s free from
competition.  While there is some degree of competition among schools, it’s
not like General Motors and Toyota.

Last year, the UAW won bargaining rights at Carroll College in Wisconsin
(where I happen to have earned my BA). The trouble in all instances of
unionization is that it turns what ought to be an individual decision into
one of majority rule, thereby compelling some professors, janitors, and so
on to accept (and pay for, unless it’s in a right to work state)
representation they don’t want. That rule, part of the National Labor
Relations Act, is completely inconsistent with individual liberty and ought
to be junked.

Radical Son


A Stanford professor is suing David Horowitz .

Why Do Professors Believe Their Free Speech Shouldn’t Be Criticized?


Anyone who has spent more than five minutes on campus knows that professors can be amongst the most uncivil, condescending, and vicious advocates for their ideas and ideology. While in law school, I heard professors relentlessly mock any Supreme Court Justice to the right of William Brennan. They routinely called conservatives racists, sexists, homophobes, warmongers, classists (and those were the polite terms). When it comes to political vitriol, no one can dish it better than an outraged faculty leftist.

Why does this matter? Well, after reading Candace and John discuss the new web response to The Professors, I had to take a look. What I found was interesting . . . and revealing.

Despite the fact that much of the so-called fact-checking consists simply of denials (as any schoolyard veteran knows, the denial “am not” does not decisively refute the allegation “are too”), the thing that really caught my eye was the professors’ first (and apparently most important) response to Horowitz: “Mr. Horowitz’s book condemns professors for actions that are entirely within their rights and entirely appropriate in an atmosphere that promotes the free exchange of ideas.”

Ummm, what? That’s simply a fancy way of saying, “Mr. Horowitz has criticized our speech.” If one actually reads David’s book, they will see that he does not call for the violation of anyone’s free-speech rights. Instead, he strongly criticizes (i.e. exercises his own free-speech rights) professors for ideas and actions that are radical, destructive, racist, and sometimes functionally treasonous. If professors want to fully engage in “the free exchange of ideas,” then they must be prepared for sometimes stinging criticism. Yet strangely, when that criticism does come, they often act as if the actual “exchange” is out of bounds. To them, free speech means engaging the world in the same way that they engage their classrooms — as gurus imparting their wisdom to the pliant masses.

Juan Cole and Yale History Department


The Yale History Department has voted to extend Juan Cole an offer, although the sociology department and the Yale Center for International and Area Studies have yet to hold their votes (it’s a joint appointment).

It will be interesting to see what happens next. When the Yale Corporation hosted a member who had violated U.S. laws regarding the boycott of Israel, an alumni revolt ultimately forced his resignation.

Many alumni are already raising questions about what this means for the reputation of the Yale History Department which had once prided itself on an emphasis on traditional research and fieldwork—Cole has never been to Iraq—but which seems to have cast it aside because of sympathy to Professor Cole’s politics.

Parachutes and Ratings


While campus executives receive hefty raises and golden parachutes, and governing boards dither, little is being done to link compensation to academic performance – as reflected, for example, in international departmental rankings.

Here is a letter from a brave University at Buffalo professor, Paul Zarembka, which links to such rankings of economics departments. Many campus executives presiding over poorly performing departments continue to be paid handsomely – and performance be hanged.

The public deserves more reliable and comparative data about how all academic departments, nationwide, are progressing or lagging behind – with respect to each other and their international counterparts

Cheers for Chadsky


Michael below indicates that Professor Mark Chadsky of SUNY-Brockport has challenged the campus president to promote intellectual diversity by hiring professors with conservative views.


It is rare in the world of hothouse leftist campus politics that professors have the courage to openly petition top administrators about such urgently needed reforms of the corrupt hiring processes on campuses.


Chadsky and Filozof should be commended, and I, as a trustee of the State University of New York, join in this invitation to President John Halstead to point the way at Brockport toward greater intellectual pluralism.

Deaf Jam


The identity politics of deafness roil Gallaudet University.


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