Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Let the Light Shine on Colleges’ Performance


Charles Miller, chairman of the federal higher education commission, is on target when he says there is a “serious records gap” on the country’s campuses. The commission’s endorsement of a national database that would track students’ performance throughout their academic careers – specifically, financial as well as transfer and graduation rates – is a positive step forward. Objecting that this system is “Orwellian” as it would violate student privacy is a red herring as students would not, and should not, be identified by name. To improve academic achievement and cost-effectiveness in higher education, we need accurate, accessible data. In its absence many universities can continue to cover up poor performance and financial waste.

Insularity Breeds Self-Preservation


Here’s a piece at on what I argue is the suicidal weakness of campus politics today. It isn’t the Leftward tilt, or the closed bureaucracy, or the parochial discourse. Rather, it’s the lack of fair play, the double standards, the inconsistency with which rules and regulations are applied, and tolerance and diversity celebrated. Here, the focus is on an overt discrepancy between, on one side, the bold critique wielded by professors against the language used by outsiders and the credulous acceptance of the language used by themselves.


The “Hey Ho” Cadres Bar Bush


Stanford University students recently blocked President Bush from speaking on campus – a ho-hum media story, even though the student activists and others raised a big ruckus .

A Call to Protect Western Art from the Islamization of Europe


From Jihad Watch Board President Hugh Fitzgerald :

Already statues have been vandalized by Muslims…in both France and Italy. [Such] destruction…and hence part of the histories of Infidels, that so many Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists in the Middle East, in North Africa, in the Balkans and southeastern Europe, in Central Asia and Hindustan and in southeast Asia know well, now has come to Western Europe…What will happen to the churches, to the frescoes (including that which Muslims have been taped planning to destroy in Bologna)…? Has any organized association of museum curators, or of art scholars, even dared to think of organizing a conference on the protection of art in Europe, and the prohibitions of Islam against sculpture of all kinds, against paintings of living creatures?

What about those who fund foundations that will pay to rescue Roman mosaics from the rising man-made floods that covered Zeugma…but have a new kind of inundation to deal with, the flood-tide of Islam’s adherents, who to the extent that they take their Islam seriously, can only threaten Western art, as they once not only threatened, but managed to destroy, so much of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Greco-Bactrian monuments, stupas, manuscripts, temples, artifacts…?

Fitzgerald calls upon people of courage – art historians, museum directors, et al. – to raise this pressing matter publicly. In particular, he asks that someone relay the message to Professor James Beck of Columbia University, who is known for his defense of Italian masterpieces.

Professor Beck, Mssrs. Philippe de Montebello and J. Carter Brown, and other luminaries of the art world, are you listening? Time is of the essence.

Campus Eco-Terrorism


Are you aware of the extent to which our colleges are targeted by, and breeding, a cadre of criminal eco-terrorists funded by far-left environmental groups?


When Extremists Attack


 For the last few days I’ve been following the strange story of University of Arizona adjunct professor Deb Frisch ‘s outrageous threats against Jeff Goldstein.  For those who haven’t followed this bizarre tale (and a big tip of the hat to Michelle Malkin, who is without peer in tracking leftist moonbattery), “professor” Frisch wrote a series of truly abusive messages in which she threatened Jeff’s two year old son and seemed to advocate that he be sexually molested.

 I hesitate to paint with a broad brush in response to this latest example of truly bizarre behavior from a leftist academic, but outrageous personal attacks and threats are disturbingly common on campus.  I am lead counsel in the Alliance Defense Fund’s lawsuit challenging Georgia Tech’s speech codes and its blatant discrimination against religious organizations.  The plaintiffs, Ruth Malhotra and Orit Sklar, filed the case after the university had engaged in a campaign of censorship — shutting down the College Republicans’ “diversity bake sale,” censoring a protest of the Vagina Monologues, and warning Ruth against any future expression of that kind.  All of this censorship was done in the name of fostering a “tolerant” atmosphere on campus.

 And what happened to Ruth and Orit after the lawsuit was filed?  They were immediately subjected to truly intolerant abuse (including threats).  Ruth received an e-mail from a Georgia Tech address where someone threatened to “choke” her, another person started a website called “Ruth Malhotra Must Die,” lefty blogs photo-shopped swastikas on her face and clothes, and students handed out flyers on campus calling Ruth a “twinkie.”  For those who are unfamiliar with the common terms of leftist racism, a “twinkie” is a person who is “yellow on the outside and white on the inside.”  It’s the Asian equivalent of the calling an African-American an “oreo.”

 Leftist extremists are feeling threatened.  Their campus strongholds are under attack by conservatives who refuse to concede culturally vital institutions to people who hate America, hate traditional religious values, and hate virtually all of Western civilization.  Unable to defend bankrupt ideas on the merits, campus radicals respond to conservatives with vitriol, abuse, and, increasingly, threats.  While they may find this strategy emotionally satisfying, it will only further alienate them from mainstream American discourse and (ultimately) further diminish their power and influence.

Useless Credentials


My post from last Friday on the folly of thinking that it’s possible for government to somehow regulate the labor market so as to create “good jobs” for the cascades of college graduates elicited this thoughtful response from a blogger who agrees that college these days does little to enhance human capital, but is chiefly used as a screening device by employers who believe that a college credential indicates a somewhat greater degree of trainability than does a high school diploma. The “Berg” mentioned is Professor Ivar Berg, whose book The Great Training Robbery, published ca. 1970, is one of the earliest books to take a skeptical view of the idea that everyone should go to college.

More on Women in Higher Ed


Kathryn and John posted part two of a NYT feature on women in higher education this morning, which shows how smaller schools are using football to attract more male students. Make sure to go back and catch a glimpse of part one of the feature, which ran in yesterday’s NYT. Schools are using a lot more than football to attract men. When Robert Massa started as vice president at Dickinson College only 36 percent of the campus was male. Massa increased male enrollment to 44 percent by a number of methods, including highlighting Dickinson’s new physics, computer science, and math building, and by starting a program in international business. Wait a tick, is Massa implying that men have different innate differences in their preferences in academics? You bet he is. Hopefully Massa gets treated better than Larry Summers.

IWF commentary on the NYT piece from our Inkwell blog can be found here and here .

As Kathryn says , all this fewer-men-in-college stuff must be a nightmare for feminists. Well, it should be a nightmare, but so far they’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding reality. Feminist rhetoric thus far has been to deny any problem with men and simply praise the success of college women. That bad logic is bound to catch up to them eventually. No one benefits when boys fail because education isn’t a zero-sum game.

What’s Really Going on in College


This article, intended to make the point that women are surpassing men not only in numbers but in academic accomplishment, also makes an important point about the wastefulness of years in college for many (mostly male) students. They don’t care in the least about augmenting their knowledge and cognitive skills. They want to have fun and get their degree with the least amount of effort possible. What is the value in all of those easy courses students take so they can coast through college? We hear all the time from politicians and higher-ed proponents that a college education is vital because we’re in a “knowledge economy,” but many students graduate with hardly any more knowledge or useful skill than when they entered. The attitude toward learning on display in the article speaks volumes about America’s K-12 education system. Students get used to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and it carries on into college, where many schools, frantic to keep up enrollments, accommodate it.

Now they Want Men


All this fewer-men-in-college stuff has got to be a nightmare for feminists. Some more, smae piece:

 At a time when the image of major college football has been sullied by academic, recruiting and sexual violence scandals — and as some prominent colleges eliminate football to cope with federal gender equity regulations for athletics — many smaller institutions have embraced the sport. Since their football players generally do not receive scholarships and are not blue-chip recruits, officials at small colleges say the players tend to exhibit less of a sense of entitlement, leading to fewer academic and discipline problems.

Passing Game


Is football the answer?

Some small American colleges, eager to attract men to increasingly female campuses, have taken notice of how many students like Mr. Bosworth can be lured to attend by adding football teams. Officials at these colleges say football can bring in more tuition-paying students than any other course or activity — and not just players themselves.

“When you recruit a halfback, you get a few of his male friends, maybe his sister and his sister’s boyfriend, too,” said JoAnne Boyle, president of Seton Hill University. A 123-year-old former women’s institution in Greensburg, Pa., Seton Hill added football last year.

Not So Dead Language


How the web is keeping Latin very much alive.

The Academy: Reformable? Langbert Rebuts Trowbridge


I recently posted Ron Trowbridge’s rebuttal to another of my posts, “Is the Academy Really Reformable? ,” which dealt with Mitchell Langbert’s provocative blog at Democracy Project (full text here ).

Langbert has now posted a “Sur-Rebuttal” (also at Democracy Project), which I reproduce in the interest of advancing this strategic debate:

The problem for libertarians and conservatives is not just that universities are dysfunctional, rife with quackery and do their jobs poorly. Universities depend heavily on state subsidies. Even if universities were functioning properly, libertarians and many conservatives should find it difficult to justify subsidies. For if institutions are functioning well, Americans should be willing to pay for them privately, much as they pay for weddings and plastic surgery. What makes education different?

The obvious answer is that educational institutions engage in producing values, such as reflection and higher learning, that the market does not reward. But this is no longer true. To take a recent example, the nonsensical dispositional assessment techniques advocated by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education , suggest that the goals of teacher education have become largely political rather than educational in nature. The NCATE accreditation standards advocate diversity and political correctness but not education. Yet, Congress has made it clear that tax exemptions for educational institutions are not directed at organizations that exist for primarily political purposes, which universities have increasingly become.

State subsidies come in many forms, to include direct budget allocations to public university systems and, as well, grants to private universities such as through New York’s Bundy aid; the tax exemption on educational foundation trust funds that favor the most elite institutions (since they have the largest trust funds) which is probably among the larger welfare-for-the-rich schemes in American society; and grants for research, such as the unending cancer research grants that reinforce failed academic hierarchies and dismiss innovative hypotheses, as suggested in Clifton Leaf’s and Doris Burke’s article in Fortune two years ago on Why We’re Losing the Cancer War . All of these would have to end before many conservatives and most libertarians would feel comfortable with the current approach to higher education.

Hence, the libertarian (and often the conservative) solution is indeed to do nothing. That is what laissez faire means. It is only because of the massive subsidies to higher education (really transfers from poor to rich, as all working Americans are forced to subsidize the “education” of the upper third) that there is nearly so much higher education as there is. To eliminate such subsidies is the libertarian solution to the surfeit of higher education fraud that dominates the liberal arts and social sciences.

Dr. Trowbridge’s comment that the “pathologies of higher education may not rub off on students” begs the question: why is the United States taxpayer spending hundreds of billions of dollars in order to rest assured that what they are paying for will not “rub off” on the students? It is not just that much of what goes on in the social sciences is nonsense and quackery; or that our education schools are junk; or that English literature has become an exercise in crackpot economics and sociology; but rather that hardworking Americans are required to subsidize this scam.

Hence, my argument to do nothing is in fact an argument to do something really big. To end state subsidies to higher education is a massive undertaking that would require tremendous political resources to overcome the education lobby, its co-lobbies and its lackies. Such an undertaking is far more relevant and a far greater challenge than reforming education. Hence, it is not an argument for good men to do nothing, but rather for good men not to waste their time chasing windmills. I have tried a few, and have found that you cannot catch up.

Moreover, academic institutions are not reformable from outside. This is because of the nature of hiring and academic governance, which inhibits the kind of organizational change that businesses have undergone. Entire fields are dominated by junk ideology, and even those that aren’t are inevitably dominated by cliques and clubhouses that require initiation through doctoral program cronies. This is true in every field, and no outsider can change it. Therefore it is a waste of time to try.

The Skills Drop


George’s post on the workplace for college graduates brings to mind some of the recent reports from the workplace–not from academe or from researchers with little experience beyond the campus–that cite the meager talents of recent grads. One of them was by the College Board, entitled “Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . or A Ticket Out, A Survey of Business Leaders”. The Board surveyed corporate America on a range of issues related to workplace writing, and one of the consistent responses concerned the poor quality of prose written by younger workers with distinguished undergraduate degrees. “Corporations also express a fair degree of dissatisfaction with the writing of recent college graduates,” it stated, “and also with academic styles of writing, unsuited to workplace needs.” Here are a few remarks: “Recent graduates arent’ even aware when things are wrong (singular/plural agreement, run-on sentences, and the like). I’m amazed they got through college.” “The skills of new college graduates are deplorable–across the board; spelling, grammar, sentence structure . . . I can’t believe people come out of college now not knowing what a sentence is.” More than 40 percent of the responding firms offer or require training or retraining in writing for salaried employees. Think of how much the failure of colleges to produce competent writers costs corporate America each year. This report set the figure at more than $3 billion!

“Distinguished Speaker Series” on Campuses: $200,000


The University of Buffalo paid Donald Trump $200,000 to speak on campus – a fee described as “an abomination” by one critic. And TV host Conan O’Brien received $150,000 for his jocular discourse there. These two speakers were part of a series for which the university spent $702,000 over the last two years.

It’s all about “development” and “buzz” – and of course “diverse points of view.”

And, oh, it can also be top secret business: The Buffalo News reports it had to engage in “a lengthy fight” with UB administrators to obtain the fee data.

For a glimpse into the nationwide rigmarole of campus speechifying – its often exorbitant costs, sheer inanity, and perceived purposes – see “UB pays top dollar for popular speakers” by Stephen T. Watson (2/25/06, link no longer available).

A Hard Take on the Hard Sciences


Note in my posting “Is the Academy Really “Reformable?” that Professor Mitchell Langbert absolves the sciences from his hard-edged critique of academic institutions as well as of various reforms which he deems useless.
Professor Frank Tipler, a physicist at Tulane University, objects , writing to Langbert that “the physics departments at the ‘leading’ American universities have become hostile to the fundamental laws of physics” and that it appears “that most technological advance during the past two decades has come, not from university science…but from private individuals, and researchers at industrial labs.”
Tipler reinforces this grave indictment by observing “that most science articles paid for by NSF were never even cited by anyone except the author” and “that the…probability theory [used by social scientists] is designed to tend to confirm whatever the experimenter wishes to be true.”
Now who would have thought Langbert had erred on the side of optimism?

The Yale Taliban: Follow the Money


Kathryn brought early word that Rahmatullah Hashemi has not been accepted into the regular degree program at Yale. I’d like to find out more about, one, who exactly funded his past study under a student visa in at the university and, two, which alums and others not connected to Yale are now offering to help Hashemi in his probable attempt to enroll at another U.S. campus (as noted in The New York Times).

It might be illuminating to learn more about the financial backers of the International Education Foundation, which The Times says “was created to raise money to send Mr. Hashemi to Yale” and which bills itself as upholding “universal values” and providing “worldwide character education.” These aspirations – and whatever the high-minded motives of his other future benefactors – are at odds with the sponsoring of a former, unrepentant spokesman for one of the most heinous regimes in recent times, the remnants of which continue to kill our soldiers today.

More Government Meddling, Please


That’s the gist of this article by Anya Kamenetz at the inaptly named TomPaine.common sense. (I don’t think that the author of Common Sense would have much use for the collectivist notions espoused there, but no matter.) She writes that it won’t be enough to put more and more students through college unless the economy has better jobs for them to do. “If we doubled the percentage of college degree holders without adding more jobs that require degrees, we’d only create a new class of overqualified, underemployed Americans with lots of debt,” Kamenetz says.precisely what we have been doing for decades. We now find plenty of people who have college degrees doing jobs like selling Starbucks coffee.

Instead of concluding that we have oversold higher education, Kamenetz thinks that the federal government needs to do things to raise the job market up to the level that will be adequate to employ all those college grads in the kinds of jobs they supposedly should have. What does she have in mind? She doesn’t point to any particular policy as the salvation, but wonders about the benefits of, inter alia, requiring employers “to create more highly skilled jobs and train workers for them.” How would the government go about that?! The romantic pull of legislation as the solution for every possible complaint still burns brightly in the minds of leftist writers.

Kamenetz observes that the earnings gap between college educated workers and those with only high school diplomas has been widening and states that this is because high school earnings have been declining. She thinks that this proves that the government should intervene in the labor market to make things better for them, but I think there is another explanation for the “gap.” It’s largely due to credential inflation. Since so many young Americans now get college degrees, many employers have settled on the BA as a requirement for job applicants. That’s not because the work is so difficult that it couldn’t possibly be done by anyone who hasn’t gotten a degree in something, but because it’s a useful screening device. Why interview high school-educated who are apt to be somewhat less trainable when there is a large pool of college graduates to choose from? As credential inflation has spread, more and more jobs and career avenues are shut off to those who don’t go to college. They are compressed into an increasingly narrow slice of the labor market and naturally their average earnings decline relative to that of college graduates.

None of Kamenetz’s ideas about “fixing” the job market (which include such populist fantasies as raising the minimum wage, encouraging worker-owned firms, and helping the “beleaguered union movement”) will do any good for people with or without college degrees. If the people at TomPaine want to advocate something useful, they should push for higher academic standards in K-12 education and credentialing alternatives to the increasingly meaningless BA.

“Rainbow” Admissions


Inside Higher Ed has a piece today on a new approach to admissions at Tufts — one that seeks to “measure creativity and leadership potential.”

We can assess a young person’s academic capabilities with a fair degree of confidence, but there are lots of deep thinkers among college administrators who believe that they can come up with a superior student body by instead trying to measure creativity and leadership potential in 17-year olds. I think that’s delusional and the resulting “rainbow” will include students of such disparate learning ability (creativity and leadership won’t get you very far in organic chemistry) that the job of the professors will be made
harder.  Likely result: lowering of academic standards.

The Yale Taliban



Subscribe to National Review