Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

The Yale Taliban


The War on Boys


Much has been said in the media over the past few weeks over the “boy crisis” in the American education system.  A new study by Education Sector says that there really isn’t a war on boys.  The Washington Post and New York Times were quick to praise the study and cry foul against those of us who are concerned about the boy crisis.  Christina Hoff Sommers , Kathleen Parker, and John Leo all provided good commentary against the study, showing that there are serious problems with how the American education system handles boys, regardless of whether you label it a “crisis” or not.

Most of the debate deals with K-12 education, but higher ed should play an important part in this debate.  Already girls make up 57% of college students (a figure that continues to rise).  Girls are more likely to attend a 4-year institution and graduate once they get there (for every 100 women who earn a bachelor’s degree, just 73 men get one).  All the while, sex-specific programing is designed to help women on campus, as if they are a vulnerable minority rather than a clear majority (think women’s centers, women’s studies, Title IX rulings, etc.).  This isn’t necessarily a reason to panic, but it’s enough of an issue that we should keep a close eye on it — the “boy crisis” debate cannot be limited to K-12.


Another AAUP “Lapse”


According to Webster’s, one definition of “lapse” is “a fall from a higher to a lower state.”

This is undoubtedly not what the president of the American Association of University Professors, Cary Nelson, had in mind when he recently acknowledged “a more-than-regrettable lapse in [the organization’s financial] record keeping.” (See The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Director of Finance Quits Professors’ Association After Major Delay in Annual Financial Report,” June 6.)

More regrettable is the AAUP overall “mission lapse” – its longstanding fall from its once high place as defender of academic freedom without bias to the lowly rungs of upholder of a political double standard in the name of “free expression” (as criticized by the Capital Research Center and a host of others).

Now it would appear that the group can’t even get its bookkeeping straight – one more sign that the AAUP needs a through overhauling. Or perhaps it has outlived its usefulness.

Edwards Again


John Kerry’s running mate, former North Carolina senator John Edwards, lets loose with his populist ideas on higher education here.

Among them, why the U.S. ought to guarantee public higher education just like K-12, that colleges should have “diversity across the board,” that higher education is absolutely crucial to success today, and that it’s bad, bad, bad, to give tax cuts to the rich when we could be spending more to get students into college.

Very dreary stuff. Edwards is evidently warming up for another try in 2008.

Re: Sulzberger


Candace has a real talent for linking to some truly infuriating items. What is most amusing/frustrating about Sulzberger’s apology regarding the war is his rather obvious assumption that the war represents a burden or tragedy for those students. In the unending quest to recapture the glory years of their Vietnam opposition, the aging radical Left continues to try to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Iraq is not Vietnam, either in military reality or domestic experience.

During the Vietnam War, students faced the very real possibility of being involuntarily called to serve, fight, and die in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Their interest in the conflict was very real and immediate. Not so now. Now, they graduate to join a roaring economy with absolutely no prospect of being ordered to fight. That is not to say that these students do not have a right to their opinions regarding the war or that their expressions of support or opposition should not be taken seriously (assuming their arguments contain some shreds of rationality), but the Vietnam comparisons are both ridiculous and dangerous. 

The reality of this war is that the success of the efforts undertaken by those who voluntarily risk everything depends a great deal on the resolve of those who risk little or nothing. When the Sulzbergers of the world treat the new generation as if they are inheriting some kind of American tragedy, he not only feeds their narcissism, he helps sap what little resolve they had to support their fellow citizens in a deadly struggle against indisputably evil and vicious opponents.

So what Sulzberger is really apologizing for is a culture and political system (even if it is dogged by the same corruption that has dogged politics since, well, forever) that gives those students the opportunity to enjoy unparalleled freedom and prosperity even as it fights a battle they never have to join. In other words, they are supposeddly oppressed by a nation that demands so little from so many because a few sacrifice so much.


More Higher-Ed Overselling


In an op-ed in today’s Raleigh News & Observer, two young writers who work for Campus Progress give us a typical piece of the sort of overselling that the higher-education crowd loves to engage in.


First, we get the assertion that the GI Bill, by subsidizing college
education, “helped spur the rise of the middle class.” It will be news to
the two writers, but there was a large and growing middle class prior to
World War II.  Most of the people in it (like my grandparents) did not have
college degrees, but they took their high-school learning (probably
equivalent to if not superior to today’s college education) and combined it
with learning on the job (where most useful education has always taken
place) to lead lives that were far more comfortable than those their parents
had known.  The GI Bill didn’t create or even do anything to expand the
middle class. What it did was to make an additional four years of formal
education more commonplace. The primary effect of that has been tremendous
credential inflation, with employers now insisting on BAs or even master’s
degrees for entry-level positions that bright high school grads could learn
to do.


Second, we’re told that college is becoming prohibitively expensive for lots
of students. Supposedly, lots and lots of them are choosing to forego
college. There is no proof offered for that assertion and the evidence that
does exist, a study by Jay Greene and Greg Forster, found that in 2001, hardly any
student who was qualified to enroll in college did not do so. Now, it’s true
that because higher-ed costs have risen faster than government subsidies for
it, students are accumulating more debt than previously. All right, but why
is that a matter of political concern? So it takes longer and requires more
belt tightening on the part of students to pay off their loans — how does
it follow from that that other people should be compelled to foot part of
the bill?


Third, the authors want to have government toss more money into higher-
education subsidies. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that this will cause
colleges to further up their tuition rates. It certainly doesn’t occur to
them to suggest that we ought to find ways to lower the inflated cost of a
college education.


Finally, the piece carries an implicit assumption that it’s a good thing for
everyone to have more education; that a college education is a “tool kit for
building a better life.” They should tell that to the large and growing
number of kids with college degrees (and big debts and wasted years) whose
low literacy and cognitive skills enable them to get only “high school”

History Flunkies


In light of David’s and Carol’s posts about historical knowledge, it’s worth rehearsing some of the findings of a study of factual historical knowledge from a few years ago. It was commissioned by ACTA and was entitled “Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.” The instrument was a multiple-choice test administered to seniors at the top 55 colleges, with the questions drawn from a basic high-school curriculum. The major finding was that 81 percent (!) of the seniors received a grade of D or F. Some questions:

·        Only 60 percent identified the half-century in which the Civil War took place

·        Only 60 percent knew which document established the separation of powers

·        Only 49 percent identified Tocqueville as the European who traveled and wrote about the U.S.

·        Only 34 percent identified the U.S. general at Yorktown

·        Only 23 percent identified James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution”

·        Only 22 percent identified the Gettysburg Address as the source of “Government of the people . . .”

And so on . . .

Sulzberger to Students: Surrender


As background on its criticism of The New York Times for disclosing information about a secret government program to track the financing of terror suspects, The Wall Street Journal editors cited the remarkably inappropriate and irresponsible “apology” to students by Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger in his recent commencement address.


His generation, said Sulzberger:


The Journal judiciously observes that “someone who speaks this way to college seniors has as a major goal not winning the war on terror but obstructing it.”


Wallow in pacifism in time of war, the publisher recklessly instructs impressionable students, and never mind the dangers to life and liberty facing them. Never mind patriotism and a sense of loyalty to country. Relatedly, Sulzberger holds forth the promise of a painless, utopian society that has never existed and never will. Disdain self-sacrifice for the common good, he implicitly urges, and instead tend to one’s own narrow, narcissistic self-interest.


Sulzberger’s message is unfortunately standard on today’s campuses. Day in and day out students are bombarded with variations of his defeatist, self-absorbed, demagogic and partisan “wisdom.”


Thanks to such “role models,” many in this generation will not know why or how to defend themselves against their mortal enemies.

Cradle to the Grave?


Now that all our fireworks have been fired and our flags are once again carefully folded and boxed up for the next 4th of July, we can pause to ask ourselves: Do we really care about our history? It’s obvious that we should. It looks as though we don’t.


Last Sunday I went with my family to visit the Cradle of Aviation Museum, near Roosevelt Field (Lindbergh’s point of departure on his groundbreaking flight to the Old World). The museum has a brilliant aircraft collection that runs from modern planes like the F-14 and the A-10 to World War II planes like the P-47 and the great carrier plane, the F6F Hellcat. The common historical thread in all the aircraft is their manufactureres–the planes on display were built either by Republic or Grumman, the two famous Long Island-based aircraft companies.


The display at the Cradle of Aviation was a fascinating mix that includes–in addition to the aircraft–models, engine cutaways, open cockpits to peer into, bits of rocketry and an Apollo command module and two Grumman lunar modules.


And despite all the museum had to show, the vast galleries, the main room, and even the “Red Planet Café” were nearly empty. A museum that could hold thousands (and had certainly spent thousands) didn’t seem to take in more than two dozen people during the two and half hours I was there. Indeed we were almost outnumbered by the museum guides, who were touchingly eager to explain anything to us.


I have heard that this museum is in danger of closing. It’s not hard to see why. An Islanders hockey game at the Coliseum next door generates far more interest.


But we ought to look at our history while it’s still there for us to look at.

More 9/11 Conspiracy Theories


Another professor is under fire for statements about the 9/11 attacks. Inside Higher Ed reports that the University of Wisconsin is taking a close look at a course on Islam taught by Kevin Barrett. Barrett is a member Scholars for 9/11 Truth and a founder of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth. Barrett caught the eye of the school when he appeared on a radio show and stated that the United States planned the 9/11 attacks as a way to start a war in the Middle East.

Understanding Freedom


One of the most stirring records of a young person’s coming to understand the Declaration of Independence and the meaning of freedom as defined in the American experience comes from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie, from her series of children’s books based on her own childhood in the early days of the settlement of the prairie.

Laura and her sister Carrie hear the Declaration recited at the Fourth of July celebration in their prairie town. They knew it by heart, “of course,” we learn (“of course!). But now Laura has a sudden insight into the words as never before:

She thought: Americans won’t obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences. No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. Why (she thought), when I am a little older, Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn’t anyone else who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good. Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free. It means, you have to be good. “Our father’s God, author of liberty–” The laws of Nature and of Nature’s God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God’s law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.
“Our father’s God, author of liberty” is a line from “America,” by Samuel F. Smith, the patriotic hymn that begins “My country, ’tis of Thee,/Sweet Land of Liberty/Of thee I sing.”

I wonder if even a fraction of young people today possess such a deep understanding of freedom, or, on the other hand, would be able to give their own account of it, if they find they can’t agree with Laura’s God-centered interpretation.

In Pursuit of True Happiness


In a lecture at Hillsdale College on John Adams, David McCullough pointed out that when Adams and the other Founders wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men possess the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” what was meant by “happiness” was not “longer vacations or more material goods,” but, rather, “the enlargement of the human experience through the life of the mind and the life of the spirit.”

Further, McCullough explains, “they knew that the system of government they were setting up wouldn’t work if the people weren’t educated.” As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

More on ROC-NY, UTS--Plus CUNY’s Involvement


In response to my post, “Seminarians–For Heaven’s Sake–Involved in a Shake Down?,” former New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco writes:

Thanks for picking up my article on ROC-NY.  I am not surprised that your eye caught this piece given the involvement of the City University of New York and the Union Theological Seminary, an affiliate of Columbia University.  It seems to me that both of these fine institutions are being used by the leaders of ROC-NY.  While I applaud the pro-bono mission of the CUNY law clinic known as Main Street Legal Services, Inc., it strikes me that this taxpayer-funded institution is overstepping its mission when representing the disguised union-organizing goals of ROC-NY.  Just imagine the outrage if Main Street Legal Services were to represent pro-life demonstrators outside an abortion clinic.  The law clinic shouldn’t be allowed to represent ROC-NY when the latter organizes picketing outside restaurants in New York.  Moreover, a look at ROC-NY’s 2005 filings reveals that they took in over $787,000 in contributions.  It seems to me that they could well afford to pay for their lawyers.

The role of UTS appears to be more subtle, but no more appropriate.  One of the restaurant chains under attack, The Fireman Hospitality Group, actually brought charges against ROC-NY before the National Labor Relations Board.  ROC-NY agreed in a settlement to discontinue demonstrations (picketing) outside Fireman-owned restaurants.  Shortly after the settlement was agreed to, UTS students started demonstrating in front of the very restaurants that ROC-NY agreed to stop harassing.  Eyewitness accounts reveal that ROC-NY leaders are actually leading these “worship services” which, by the way, don’t require any permits from the City.   

What stimulated my interest in all of this is how ROC-NY is taking advantage of its nonprofit status.  But once one researches this matter, one finds that the organization is successfully manipulating not only its legal status, but CUNY, UTS and the NLRB. 

I think that if the IRS or some of the organization’s benefactors started asking some questions, ROC-NY would change its tactics.

Miller’s No “Mealy-Mouth”


Secretary Margaret Spellings directed Charles Miller, who heads the national commission on higher education, not to be “shy or mealy-mouthed” in producing its report on reforming campuses.


To his credit, Miller took Spellings at her word. Against resistance from some members, the commission has produced a no-nonsense draft report, and he’s got the establishment flustered, to judge by descriptions of its reaction in The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education.


One member decried the report as being “more negative than it needs to be…” Another complained that the process involved in creating it was “bollixed.” Another fretted (as rendered by The Chronicle) that the document’s “get-tough tone could backfire, alienating, rather than engaging and inspiring, academe.”

Alienate away, Mr. Miller! Whatever your final report, the academy will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the reform table.

Feminism on Campus


Accuracy in Academia’s July issue of Campus Report just came out with a spotlight on women’s studies and IWF’s Carrie Lukas.  If only I could make Carrie’s Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism required reading for women’s studies majors…

Twenty-five Square Miles Surrounded by Reality


That’s how the city of Madison, WI, is often described. As a Cheese State native and full-time Badger fan, it pains me to know that UW is such a haven for extremism, as David French notes below. In 1970, anti-war radical Karlton Armstrong bombed a University building, killing physicist and father of three Robert Fassnacht. Armstrong served only 7 years of his 23 year sentence and now owns a popular restaurant in Madison called the Radical Rye. Sadly he had to close down the bar upstairs called Che’s Lounge due to low profits. Such a dedicated Marxist.

“Armstrong’s as opposed to war today as he was back then, but instead of bombs he makes fruit smoothies,” says one Madison newspaper. If you live in a culture that accepts a man like that, Professor Barrett’s outrageous claims seem mainstream. My little sister will be going to Madison this fall for her first year of college. To stem the brainwashing she’s bound to go through, we’re exchanging books on a monthly basis.  To start, I will be reading the first Harry Potter book, and she has been given The Party of Death

The Small, Small World of the Assistant Professor


In his response to Todd Gitlin’s piece against the academic Left in the recent Chronicle of Higher Ed, Lee Siegel acknowledges that “the academic left inhabits a Cloud-Cuckoo Land totally divorced from real-world politics,” and that the professors can be “intellectually appalling and pedagogically offensive.” But he ends by trivializing the campus-bias problem, saying that all Gitlin has “succeeded in doing is throwing to the right another pretext for ringing the alarm bells over a left-wing menace on campus.”


Once again, one must go into the actual circumstances and atmospheres of the academic setting to understand the problem. Think about what life is like as an assistant professor in the humanities. For those graduate students who earn a decent job and retain a grain of idealism, joining a department is the beginning of a great career. The servility of graduate school is over, and the chance to pursue research, build a student following, and challenge colleagues may commence. Soon enough, though, the young professor learns that he has joined something like an extended family. They’ve been together for years, watching each other grow and decline. They gather in cliques after meetings, office neighbors remember betrayals from the previous decade, older figures recount their professional history (often entertainingly), and other assistant professors mark you as confrère or foe.


The disputes sometimes disgust and sometimes fascinate, but you keep mum. Senior colleagues control your fate. They sit in on classes and file reports on your teaching, assign you to different committees, and review your publications. Most important, in five years’ time they will vote on your promotion. Junior professors walk a tightrope. They impress the tenured with their discernment, but don’t apply their scrutiny to them. They plunge into departmental duties, but not so much as to constitute a power grab. They attend conferences and follow professional trends, but not to the point of open careerism. They must appear dedicated but innocuous.


Teaching should be a place for high standards and serious inquiry. In the department meeting, you go with the flow, but in the classroom you choose the books, run the discussion, set requirements, and assign grades. Your enthusiasms for the subject matter are reflected in a weighty syllabus, substantive lectures, and strict grading.  But the other pressures of scholarship and service are acute. When the tenure year arrives, you know that good teaching means little in the decision. Why, then, spend hours crafting good lectures and assignments?


Grading is another problem. New hires leave graduate school believing in hierarchy. After all, you bested others in landing a job, and you consider the ranking of minds a responsibility.  With the first batch of papers and exams, the grades in the “C” range, the students get more annoyed than you expected. Some come to your office to complain, others sit in class and sulk. Discussion lags, and you ruminate all weekend over how to improve the climate. If you don’t let up by the end of the semester, a few students send letters to the department chair, a parent makes a phone call to the undergraduate dean, and student evaluations come in with searing comments.


And, also, there is the occasional ideologically based peer pressure. A friend tells me of a not-so-subtle example at University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Each Fall, a program entitled “S.A.F.E. Training” invites faculty to attend an orientation session designed to identify people “who are willing to be a source of support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and transsexual people on campus.” Those who participate are identified as allies with a S.A.F.E. triangle on their office doors.


The swirling politics and pressures affect the mind of the untenured professor. You are what students, colleagues, and administrators think you are. The tenure review comes in a few years, and success depends on what they say about you. And so you worry about the student evaluations, overinterpret a remark at a faculty meeting, and try to focus on converting the dissertation into a book manuscript. The habitat weighs heavy on your concentration, and many end up making a melodrama of their uncertainty. The ideas that fire your scholarship are reduced to an hour a day at the computer. The rest of the time you commiserate with other junior professors, fend off students, and scan the journals for conferences that will look good on the résumé. The bureaucracy becomes your mindset, and dealing with it your focal point.  The mental horizon shrinks to the politics of the department. A few new profs become outspoken, but conformity and parochialism infect the rest.

The Cost of Extremism


I read with interest the item linked in Jonah’s post on Morgan Reynolds, former Bush administration official and now 9/11 conspiracy theorist. It’s hardly surprising that he has received warm welcomes on campus. Schools like the University of Wisconsin-Madison have become such havens for extremism that no one bats an eye when fringe lunatics can draw approving crowds of hundreds. 

It is always hilarious to hear mainstream academics launch into tirades against conservative efforts to open up faculty hiring and end ideological discrimination. ”If you make us consider everyone,” they say, “then we have to hire crazies like flat earthers or Holocaust deniers.” Or, in the more sedate language of the American Association of University Professors’ response to the Academic Bill of Rights: 

So, for example, no department of political theory ought to be obligated to establish “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives” by appointing a professor of Nazi     political philosophy, if that philosophy is not deemed a reasonable scholarly option within the discipline of political theory. No department of chemistry ought to be obligated to pursue “a plurality of methodologies and perspectives” by appointing a professor who teaches the phlogiston theory of heat, if that theory is not deemed a reasonable perspective within the discipline of chemistry.
In other words, to hold back the hypothetical wave of unemployed Nazi philosophers and phlogistonians (is that a word?), we need to preserve an academic structure that allows real people like Norman Finkelstein and these characters to flourish and bask in the adulation of radical masses.

P.S.  Jonah, after your impressive response to the human regurgitator, I will slink back to my corner. For now. But I have my “Absurd Internet Video Guy” prowling the nether regions of the web to bring further challenges to the reigning NRO champ. Stay tuned. 

In the Ring, It’s Horowitz vs. Steinberger


Reformer and political scientist thrash out the meaning of the Academic Bill of Rights and the issues surrounding it – in the most substantial debate on the subject ever.

Ultimate College Accessory


If Moms and Dads are looking to get their kids something nice before they head back to college this fall, new cell-phones with built-in Breathalyzers are sure to be all of the rage on campus. Not only will you keep junior from driving drunk, you can help protect his dignity:

The LP4100 also allows users to set up the phone so on certain nights and after a certain time they do not call certain people in their phone book. Think ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.

If you have a blood-alcohol level over .08, the phone will not let you dial that person. So it not only promotes sobriety, but chastity–and probably your dignity, as well.


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