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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Alternative Groups



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In surveying the academic scene, especially the humanities, one can easily get carried away by the negative. But there are spots of light, and they deserve more attention. One is the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, a scholarly organization founded around 20 years ago. It started as an anti-Modern Language Association, when arguments over the canon, politicized curricula, and race/class/gender themes reached the public eye. But for the last few years, the ALSC has settled into a fairly apolitical identity, and its members come from all across the spectrum. What characterizes it most importantly is a focus on literary study as a practice with its own integrity–not disconnected from political and social matters, but not exhausted by them either.

The annual convention is in San Francisco this year, in October, and the list of panels gives an idea of the outlook. We have discussions of John Donne, Graeco-Roman lyric, science fiction, literature in K-12 classrooms (I’ll be on that one), and many others, along with several seminars with a dozen or so speakers speaking for around 5 minutes each.  The discourse isn’t aimed at specialists, but at anybody with an abiding interest in literary history and experience.

For more information, the web site is www.bu.edu/literary.

Academic Theories Affect the Real World



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Stanley Kurtz’s article at the Weekly Standard, “Polygamy versus Democracy,” concerning the movement aimed at legalizing polygamy and other forms of sexual connection, is stunning in more ways than one. It is most instructive to see how 19th-century America fought Mormon polygamy and took a firm and principled stand for monogamous marriage as an essential aspect of constitutional democracy, as the proper form for male-female bonding and for the rearing of children in a society built on the sanctity of the individual. 19th-century Americans realized that American ideals, though universal, require specific underlying social and cultural forms in order to be preserved.

The authors of “The Future of Family Law: Law and the Marriage Crisis in North America,” published by the Institute for American Values in 2005, and available at their website, also tell of trouble in family matters. Family law is changing focus altogether, they write. Marriage is no longer being seen as the pre-eminent social institution for bonding between the sexes and rearing children, but as only one of many types of “close personal relationships” that adults can form.

The authors marvel at how quickly these developments took place: “A particular school of thought openly aimed at re-conceptualizing marriage first took root in the academy in the 1980s. By the late 1990s it had come to dominate fashionable academic theorizing on sexual intimacy” and is now transforming “family law from its historic role as the protector of marriage into something very close to its antagonist.”

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The Academy in Crisis



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Steve Balch has written an excellent essay on the crises in American higher education. It is available here, and I strongly recommend it.

Diversity Mania



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Mike Adams, professor of criminal justice at UNC-Wilmington and wielder of one of the sharpest pens around, takes on the new Diversity program at the University of Oregon here.

It is amazing how far universities have gone in pursuit of the chimera of “diversity” when those efforts so clearly detract from their educational mission. The problem, I think, is one that Thomas Sowell discussed in his book Conflict of Visions. Most college administrators seem to have the “unconstrained vision” of people who think that it’s possible to do everything. They believe that they can give their students a superb education and at the same time combat social division and inequality, promote better health, stimulate economic development, etc. Just focusing on education would be too limited and boring a role for these people.

Re: British Teachers Cut Ties to Israel



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The American Federation of Teachers says the boycott of Israeli academics by a British union representing professors creates a “dangerous precedent” by setting up political litmus tests for academics to pass to keep from being boycotted.

 

Good for the AFT, which might also have objected that the British union does not similarly penalize repressive countries such as North Korea, the Sudan and Iran, all of which trample academic freedom and fundamental human rights.

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The FBI and UCI Muslim Student Activists



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Frank Mickadeit writes that the feds are conducting an intense surveillance operation to detect potential terrorists in Orange County and that part of their program involves studying activist Muslim student organizations at the University of California at Irvine. 

When asked whether citizens should be concerned about these groups, the FBI agent answered, “That is another tough question to answer.” She did tell Mickadeit that the FBI is aware of large numbers of Muslims at UCI.

Yale’s Smitten with a Smearer



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Yale is said to be about to hire the oratorically gifted Middle East “historian” Juan (“We don’t give a rat’s *** what Ahmadinejad thinks about European history or what ******* speech the little **** gives”) Cole.

According to Joel Mowbray, Cole, when challenged about his various shortcomings, mindlessly “smears” instead of debating, and plays loose with facts. For example, in an antiwar column, he contended that the Middle East Media Research Institute is possibly receiving large funding from Israeli military intelligence. Unable to document his assertion, he had no choice but to admit his error.

 

And on what did Cole blame reports that laws mandating Jews and other religious minorities wear distinguishing badges were being discussed in Iran? “Black psy-ops operation,” he said, suggesting that these stories were fabricated to discredit Ahmadinejad. 

Time to distinguish scholarship from smears, Yale.

Re: Heresies To Consider



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Tom Reeves has hit the nail squarely on the head. The notion that everyone needs to go to college is false and merely saddles us with higher costs, a watered down educational experience, and what Professor David Labaree calls “credential inflation.”

Here’s a good quotation from Labaree’s book How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning,

When students at all levels see education through the lens of social mobility, they quickly conclude that what matters most is not the knowledge they attain in school but the credentials they acquire there. Grades, credits, degrees — these become the objects to be pursued. The end result is to reify the formal markers of education and displace the substantive content….The payoff for a particular credential is the same no matter how it was acquired, so it is rational behavior to try to strike a good bargain, to work at gaining a diploma, like a car, at a substantial discount.

One Collapse Upon Another



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More campuses are making entrance tests such as the SAT optional, and those that have done so are seeing an increase in student enrollment and diversity.

I tend to agree with the judgment of Bruce Harvey, as posted in the comments on Inside Higher Ed:

This is all about money. Declining enrollments are closing public schools in some locations around the U.S. The pool of eligible college students will continue to decline. The result is the specter of declining freshman class size. But there is as yet little change in the size of the higher education establishment. The small exclusive liberal arts colleges are the first warning of a coming decline or collapse of that establishment. It appears that the number of applications grows when the SAT/ACT filter is removed. More applicants mean more possibilities for discretionary admissions which means keeping up the enrollment which means continuing cash flow from tuition via DOE grants and loans which means keeping administrators and professors on the payroll . . . . [This is about] desperately needed cash flow . . . . I hope the GRE is NOT abandoned. I think you should expect a decline in GRE scores in a few years highly correlated to undergrad schools and student cohorts that did/did not utilize the SAT filter.

Because the funding of education remains “seat”-based as opposed to performance-based, we continue to see–like the folding of a stack of cards–the collapse of educational standards at all levels.

Targeting Israel and the West



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The decision by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, one of Britain’s two professor unions, to call for a boycott against Israeli academics and universities unless they disavow its “apartheid policies”, has been rightfully denounced as an affront to the free exchange of ideas, comity among scholarly truth-seekers and, not least of all, common decency. But it is also a most ugly instance of that habit of collective stigmatization now second nature in academe. White Guilt may not seem a very threatening concept when applied to cosseted, non-lacrosse playing, middle Americans, but when–with effortless mutation–it is visited upon a nation of Jews, things turn ominously dark. A demonized majority may, as a whole, seem safe from immediate danger, but it can be sliced and diced to isolate fragments for exemplary treatment. This is an especially inviting maneuver when victims can be cut out on the basis of thinly disguised prejudice.

A yellow-badge mentality shines through the justification given by boycott proponent Mona Baker for targeting Israel in a world filled with brutal oppression. It is valid to focus on Israel, she argues, because “Zionist influence (that is Israeli influence) spreads far beyond its own immediate areas of dominion, and now widely influences many key domestic agendas in the West.” Yet it would be a mistake to attribute too much to the lingering influence of the Protocols. While it gathers what strength it can from historic antisemitism as an intellectual phenomenon, radical academe’s hostility toward Israel is more a miniature of its general assault on free institutions and bourgeois civilization. Each makes an inviting target, immoderately successful, but easily attacked–rhetorically at least–without much cost or risk.

Our campuses specialize in raising elites whose weapon of choice is moral aggression, climbing in status on the bent backs of those they can shame. Lacking the warrior ethos, they seek easy marks. Western Civilization, both wealthy and tolerant, is their immense target of choice. But Israel, a most conspicuous and successful outlier, gets lavish treatment as well. Needless to say, the danger is far greater and pressing for a small country poised on the knife’s edge, but the issue of survival is shared.     

Getting In



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From Inside Higher Ed:

Do you want your daughter to get into Harvard? Get yourself to an art museum. But if your daughter doesn’t want to go, don’t worry about it. That’s because there is a correlation between parents who visit art museums having their children end up at highly competitive colleges. There’s no correlation between visiting art museums and ending up at a top college yourself.

Heresies To Consider



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Retired history professor Thomas C. Reeves is thinking “heretical thoughts” about higher education. Notably, he asks, is the “crush for diplomas necessarily a good thing? Is it always a prudent investment for the individual and for society…?

“Unabomber”-Incubating Prof?



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The Texas Academy of Science recently presented a prestigious award to Eric Pianka, a professor at the University of Texas. At the award ceremony, Pianka characterized human beings as a “scourge” on the Earth, called for a police state to mandate sterilization of all Americans, and expressed hope that the lethal Ebola virus would mutate into a form that might kill 90 percent of the human race.

Writing in Environment News (in an article reprinted by the Heartland Institute (www.heartland.org), James Taylor observes that Pianka’s remarks “eerily” recalled the Unabomber manifesto, in which Ted Kasczinski called for an end to technology and the death of people who affect the Earth’s environment.

And how did Pianka’s audience of university students, scientists, and professors react to this diatribe? Astoundingly, according to this report, he received a nearly unanimous standing ovation.

Taylor quotes one member of the audience as follows: “Must now we worry that a Pianka-worshipping former student might someday become a professional biologist or physician with access to the most deadly strains of viruses and bacteria? … I still can’t get out of my mind the pleasant spring day in Texas when a few hundred scientists of the Texas Academy of Science gave a standing ovation for a speaker who they heard advocate for the slow and torturous death of over five billion human beings.”

Can the strain of anti-humanism in the academy get any more bizarre?

A Shout-Out to Our Brothers



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At least two efforts currently being undertaken by fellow Phi Beta Cons bloggers deserve attention.

First, our colleague David French headed off to Army basic training on Sunday. (As you may have read in The Chronicle, David felt called to join the Reserves and use his Harvard legal training to support our country in the JAG Corps.) He will be away from his wonderful wife Nancy and their two children (who, might I add, will be the flower girl and ring bearer in my wedding!) for several weeks. Those readers who are in the business of praying would do well to say a few for the French family.

And, getting back to higher ed policy, our blog-mate Joe Malchow is currently taking the insiders up at Dartmouth to task for ham-handedly canceling an election as part of what he calls “a concerted effort [that] has been concocted to interdict future petition trustees.” (For background on the alumni trustee battles, see Duncan Currie’s excellent piece in “that other magazine.”) Joe’s posts over at Dartblog (see here and here) are both must-reads. Do not miss them.

Re: Scandal of the Day



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That story really underscores a trend in American ”higher” education at nonselective schools: take anybody.

Several years ago, the vice provost for undergraduate studies at Temple was frank enough to admit that academics at his school “went slack” in the mid-90s, “when Temple decided to open its doors to all and sundry in order to pay its bills.”

At many institutions, the financial imperative so dominates that they will admit woefully unprepared students (many of whom are not, contrary to the NY Times story, “eager”) and then go to considerable lengths to keep them enrolled to the flow of revenue continues. The poor students think that they are getting the piece of paper that will give them admittance to the good life, but often they end up in exactly the kind of job that other high schoolers get.

Too Catholic for Catholic School



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A student speaker gets booed during commencement at the University of St. Thomas for doing the unthinkable–defending Catholic teaching at a Catholic school. Colleen Carroll Campbell has the story here .

Re: British Professors Seek to Cut Ties to Israeli Scholars



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This is the third time since 2002 that British academics have gone on record to censure and isolate Israeli academics.” Phyllis Chesler has it covered here .

British Professors Seek to Cut Ties to Israeli Scholars



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InsideHigherEd reports

By a vote of 106-71, one of Britain’s two faculty unions on Monday adopted a policy under which its members are urged to avoid contact with Israeli universities or professors unless they demonstrate their opposition to various policies of the Israeli government with regard to Palestinians.

. . . the provision has . . . infuriated many academics in Britain and elsewhere because it effectively sets up a political litmus test for Israeli academics (if they take certain stands, they are OK to deal with), and the idea of subjecting academics to political tests offends standards of academic freedom in Britain, the United States and elsewhere.

Scandal of the Day



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Your daily dose of outrage: Two percent of college students haven’t completed high school. And a lot of them receive government aid. Now, I’m not a big one for certification or licensing of any kind, but something tells me that the vast majority of these students haven’t gotten their high-school diplomas because they don’t deserve them:

It is a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland idea. If you do not finish high school, head straight for college.

But many colleges — public and private, two-year and four-year — will accept students who have not graduated from high school or earned equivalency degrees.

And in an era of stubbornly elevated high school dropout rates, the chance to enter college through the back door is attracting growing interest among students without high school diplomas.

That growth is fueling a debate over whether the students should be in college at all and whether state financial aid should pay their way. In New York, the issue flared in a budget battle this spring. …

The existence of such students — eager, yet at high risk for failure — exposes a split in education policy. On one hand, believers in the standards movement frown on social promotion and emphasize measurable performance in high school.

At the same time, because a college degree is widely considered essential to later success, some educators say even students who could not complete high school should be allowed to attend college.

Read the whole depressing story here.

Bolivarian U.



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Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has created a university to educate millions of pliant state worker bees cut out of the same ideological cloth.

“Unfortunately, the government is using education as a political tool,” commented opposition leader Julio Borges. “The Bolivarian University is just another vehicle, a bridge, to politicize the population.”


Sound familiar? This nation’s campuses are of course filled with entire programs openly propagating similarly collectivist social activism. So thank you, American academe, for setting such an example for developing nations such as Venezuela.

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