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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Boycott Update



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The movement by British professors to boycott Israeli colleges and scholars has returned with a vengeance.

A Time and Place for Condemnation



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Semester after semester, at UC’s Irvine campus, Muslim student groups equate Israel with Nazi Germany and use Holocaust language and imagery to criticize the Jewish state.

 

Jewish students say they understand that “the university has to protect free speech and can’t stop [these groups’] programs”; however, they also point out “the university has its own free speech” and wants university leaders to speak out against these events. “Silence,” they say, sometimes makes a statement.” Another observer notes: “Jews here have no issue with questioning Israel’s policies. But this is about things that incite hate and that make people feel unsafe.”

 

Campus administrators and trustees should set an example by engaging in these debates in a civil and principled way. When called for, they should also condemn false and vicious propaganda–and all the more so in the increasingly irrational and precarious Middle East campus wars.

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Christina Strikes Again



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Title IX, advises Christian Hoff Sommers, should not be wielded as an academic weapon.

U.N. Exposed



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Kofi Annan is delivering commencement addresses on campuses while Eric Shawn is not, but the author of the new book U.N. Exposed can offer graduates greater insight into how the United Nations actually works than the secretary-general can.

The Volokh Verdict on Churchill



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Eugene Volokh delves into the details regarding Ward Churchill’s false assertions, misrepresentation of sources, and plagiarism–“part of a pattern and consistent research stratagem to cloak extreme, unsupportable, propaganda-like claims of fact that support Professor Churchill’s legal and political claims with the aura of authentic scholarly research by referencing apparently (but not actually) supportive independent third-party sources.”
 

He concludes that the University of Colorado “need not keep a dishonest scholar on board, even if the complaints about the scholar were motivated partly by the complainers’ hostility to the scholar’s viewpoints.”

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Bollinger Does Something Right



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We’re so used to bad news from the politically correct Columbia University of Lee Bollinger, super-champion of affirmative action, that it comes as a shock, albeit a pleasant one, to see that Columbia awarded Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá an honorary degree yesterday.  Payá could not be there to accept the degree because he was not allowed to leave Cuba, but Bollinger read his citation in his absence, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

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 nonviolent dissidence and political change. . . .
Bollinger might have added what the Cuban dissident wrote in a letter to the Columbia president, that he, Payá,  was there in spirit and so were ”all of my colleagues who are now in prison for defending the rights of Cubans, and all those in Cuba who struggle peacefully for democracy, reconciliation and the guarantee of the rights of all people.”

Just a Footnote?



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Isn’t that what Doris Kearns Goodwin said?

Just A Footnote?



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After reading Charles’s post below, I read John K. Wilson’s defense of Ward Churchill with great interest.  I knew the academic Left would begin a pro-Churchill counteroffensive in short order, but I was curious as to what the spin would be.  Now I know: “It’s just a bunch of footnotes!”

I have to give Wilson credit (full disclosure: I have met John at several conferences and find him to be a very smart and fair ideological opponent), this is a great angle.  ”It was just a bunch of footnotes!” is not just a great PR theme, it also immediately puts the university in the unenviable position of explaining how important accurate citations are to the academic process.  Not only is this argument eye-glazingly dull, it also inadvertently makes Wilson’s point for him.  
 How could that be?  Aren’t accurate citations and support in many ways the backbone of scholarly research?  Well, if Churchill’s case is going to fit into the leftist line that the academy is under a “hard right” counteroffensive that threatens basic constitutional rights, they will have to “constitutionalize” Churchill’s case.  And the only way to do that is to claim that he received worse treatment than other professors who committed the same (or even worse) offenses.  John does this quite effectively when (in the comments section under his article) he trots out the example of a Chicago professor who published a graduate student’s book review word for word under his own name . . . and kept his job.
 Tenure has been so abused for so long that it won’t be hard for the Left to bring up five, ten, or thirty examples of horrific misconduct (sometimes involving even physical assault) that went unpunished by termination or suspension.  Yet even if these examples help preserve Churchill’s job, conservative critics need to keep their eyes on the bigger picture.  Every example of unpunished misconduct further proves ACTA’s (and many others’) point that persistent bad behavior will lead to a response that will strip faculties of their cherished self-governance and independence.  It is simply a fact that professors are not the only ones with academic freedom.  Institutions — like state universities and their governing boards – have academic freedom as well.  In fact, as a matter of law, institutional claims of academic freedom are far stronger than individual claims.  And state universities may begin to exercise their academic freedom to do something radical — like impose high standards for their professors.

And, given the silly and unsupported ideological advocacy that passes for scholarship in hundreds of academic departments, perhaps rigorous standards could have more real-world impact than anything else we can do.

Fact Checking 101, Part 2



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The most disturbing moment of Wilson’s article is when he blatantly misrepresents the report’s own words for an audience who, he seems to expect, will not be checking his sources. He writes that “ACTA threatens that academic freedom will be revoked from colleges unless they start censoring their professors and ban such courses.” But nowhere in the report does ACTA call for anything like censoring professors or banning courses. What the report does do is urge academic officials to address–voluntarily, and in their own institutionally appropriate way–the question of intellectual diversity and professors’ obligation to respect students’ academic freedom to learn about all sides of controversial issues. The report recommends such measures as institutional self-study, the hiring of administrators committed to intellectual diversity, the careful vetting of job candidates’ work to ensure its integrity, the vetting of personnel practices to ensure their integrity, post-tenure review, and–most importantly–the fostering of robust debate on campus.

 

Here are the concluding paragraphs of the study, which follow directly from the sentence Wilson quoted to support his claim that ACTA is endorsing censorship:

 

Ultimately, greater accountability means more responsible decision-making on the part of academic administrators, more judicious hiring on the part of departments, and more balanced, genuinely tolerant teaching on the part of faculties. It also means acknowledging–openly and unapologetically–that education and advocacy are not one and the same, that the invaluable work of opening minds and honing critical thinking skills cannot be done when professors are more interested in seeing their own beliefs put into political practice.

Finally, it means defending the academic freedom of even the most militantly radical academics. Our aim should not be to fire the Ward Churchills for their views, but to insist that they do their job–regardless of their ideological commitments. We must insist that, in their classrooms, they teach fairly, fostering an open and robust exchange of ideas and refusing to succumb to a proselytizing or otherwise biased pedagogy. Only then will their ideas be subject to debate; only then will they and their students learn to defend their positions in the marketplace of ideas. Only then will other views challenge, complicate, and even displace theirs. Only then can we hope to create a truly diverse academy.

 

Far from advocating censorship or the banning of classes, ACTA is advocating transparency about what professors teach; far from trying to silence politically engaged professors, ACTA is defending their academic freedom while at the same time reminding us all that 1) academic freedom does not mean freedom from criticism or freedom from accountability; and 2) students have academic freedom too. It’s worth noting that when the Ward Churchill scandal first broke in the winter of 2005, ACTA defended Churchill from those who sought to fire him for his speech.

 

No wonder Wilson is wary of definitions of research misconduct that include egregiously misleading citation. His own argument, at least in this instance, depends on it.

Fact Checking 101, Part 1



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Writing at InsideHigherEd, John K. Wilson argues that the University of Colorado investigative committee’s extremely overbroad definition of research misconduct is “opening the door to a vast new right-wing witch hunt on college campuses that conservatives could easily exploit across the country.” ACTA is exhibit A in Wilson’s McCarthyesque scenario:

 

The far right is already pursuing leftist academics for expressing their views in the classroom. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni just issued a report on “How Many Ward Churchills?,” proclaiming that “professors are using their classrooms to push political agendas.” ACTA’s alleged proof that Ward Churchills are “common” on college campuses is a survey of course catalogs and syllabi, objecting to classes that mention social justice, sex, or race. (The ACTA report denounces a University of Colorado class on “Animals and Society” because it “[e]xplores the moral status of animals.”

 

ACTA threatens that academic freedom will be revoked from colleges unless they start censoring their professors and ban such courses.Colleges “must also recognize that if they do not take swift and decisive action, they risk losing the independence and the privilege they have traditionally enjoyed.” According to ACTA, “students, parents, trustees, administrators, and taxpayers have a right to be concerned. They also have the right to raise questions, demand answers, and compel action.

 

Wilson goes on to denounce David Horowitz and to signal the “harrowing possibility” created by the Colorado committee’s “irresponsible claims,” arguing in effect that the standard of scrutiny established by the committee is going to do more to damage scholarly integrity–by opening scholars to attack–than to secure it. Concentrating on how the Colorado committee read Churchill’s footnotes, Wilson sets aside the questions of Churchill’s plagiarism and ghostwriting to focus on how the committee has set a precedent for treating garden-variety sloppiness as research misconduct.

 

Leaving aside the merits–or the lack thereof–of Wilson’s argument about footnotes, it’s interesting to examine the integrity of his own citations and characterizations in this article. There is much that could be said on that front, but for the sake of brevity I will simply focus on Wilson’s portrayal of ACTA’s recent study, as Wilson’s own rhetorical techniques leave much to be desired. There is much to observe on this more local front as well–Wilson’s introductory ad hominem attack (evoking “right-wing witch hunts” and then equating ACTA’s report with such by using it as supporting evidence for this extreme characterization), Wilson’s skewed portrayal of what the ACTA report actually says about college courses, Wilson’s slippery manner of eliding the meaning of ACTA’s phrase “compel action” with David Horowitz’s ABOR campaign (ACTA’s work is distinct from the ABOR).

President Bush, Bilingualism, and Biculturalism



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President Bush is disappointing some of his supporters with his stance on immigration.  But I’m afraid that that he has always been something of a supporter of bilingualism and biculturalism.  I know this may seem confusing and also contradictory of some aspects of his education policy.  But here is what he said as a presidential candidate in 2000: 

We are now one of the largest Spanish-speaking nations in the world.  We’re a major source of Latin music, journalism, and culture.  Just go to Miami, or San Antonio, Los Angeles, Chicago or West New York, New Jersey … and close your eyes and listen.  You could just as easily be in Santo Domingo or Santiago, or San Miguel de Allende.  For years our nation has debated this change.  Some have praised it and others have resented it.  By nominating me, my party has made a choice to welcome the new America.
He did not exlain why the rest of us should be happy about this, however.

Do We Need Journalism Schools?



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In this excellent piece in the Journal, Jonathan Last expresses skepticism.

Great concluding paragraph:

If America’s universities were providing students with adequate academic
instruction, instead of pumping out degrees in pseudo-subjects like
“communications,” then J-schools wouldn’t need to adapt at all.  They could
simply shut down.

Churchill’s Mythology



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John Miller correctly pointed out earlier this morning that John K. Wilson has published a denunciation of ACTA’s new report How Many Ward Churchills? In order to place Wilson’s critique in context, readers might want to know that he’s also written a book called The Myth of Political Correctness.

No, seriously. Click the link. It’s a real book.To borrow from David’s recent post, this is the equivalent of penning a tome dubbed The Sky Is Not Blue. So if you read his piece, bust out the salt. I’d use more than a grain.

A True Legislative Loss



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Among the victims of the bloodletting in Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary was a promising young Republican legislator and Marine Corps veteran, Gib Armstrong. Unlike most of the losers, Armstrong was no hack. Quite the contrary, he was responsible, almost single-handedly, for getting Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives to launch an inquiry into the politicization of the state’s public university system, which, through his persistent and perceptive questioning, developed some real traction. As a rule, Republican legislators aren’t notable for their grasp of higher education’s cultural damage. Armstrong was a sterling exception and courageously made it an issue. In the course of so doing he acquired many enemies in the higher education establishment and was the subject of a particularly unflattering profile in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education.

Be on the lookout, higher education’s apologists will try to spin his defeat as a repudiation of the hearings, and of criticism of political correctness in general. It was nothing of the kind. Armstrong had the misfortune of being caught up in a statewide voter backlash against a legislative pay raise–the university inquiry invisible during his campaign.

Of course, if the voters had given Armstrong the credit his efforts deserved the outcome would have been different. Let’s hope he soon returns to public life.       

“We Shall Never Surrender”



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The professoriate begins to rally around Ward Churchill:

By stretching the meaning of “research misconduct” far beyond its true definition, and by supporting the suspension and even dismissal of a tenured professor for his use of footnotes, the Colorado committee is opening the door to a vast new right-wing witch hunt on college campuses that conservatives could easily exploit across the country.

The author of these words, John K. Wilson, says that one of the leaders of the witch-hunt is ACTA:

The far right is already pursuing leftist academics for expressing their views in the classroom. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni just issued a report on “How Many Ward Churchills?,” proclaiming that “professors are using their classrooms to push political agendas.” ACTA’s alleged proof that Ward Churchills are “common” on college campuses is a survey of course catalogs and syllabi, objecting to classes that mention social justice, sex, or race. (The ACTA report denounces a University of Colorado class on “Animals and Society” because it “[e]xplores the moral status of animals.”)

ACTA threatens that academic freedom will be revoked from colleges unless they start censoring their professors and ban such courses. Colleges “must also recognize that if they do not take swift and decisive action, they risk losing the independence and the privilege they have traditionally enjoyed.” According to ACTA, “students, parents, trustees, administrators, and taxpayers have a right to be concerned. They also have the right to raise questions, demand answers, and compel action.

J-School Scam



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Jonathan Last, on the worthlessness of journalism as an academic subject.

Feminist Zealots in the Department of Education



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Christina Hoff Sommers has an excellent piece in USA Today on the continuing efforts of feminist zealots in the Department of Education to bring about “gender equity” in all fields of study.

Further evidence that the nation would have been better off if the federal camel had never been allowed to get its nose into the educational tent.

One-Sided Union Rag



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The March/April edition of the (union) AFT’s “On Campus” critiqued David Horowitz’s 101 Most Dangerous Professors.  Editor/author Barbara McKenna also touted a letter signed by all members of the Brooklyn School of Education criticizing history professor KC Johnson – for his audacity in speaking out against the school’s handling of the dispositions issue.

Since McKenna’s article attacked Johnson without even having interviewed me about the issue, he defended himself in a letter to the editor. McKenna refused to publish it, on grounds it “dispute[d] other information we collected from students and employees at Brooklyn College.”

Writes KC: “This approach to journalism is certainly novel: speak only to one side, overlook even all published material from neutral sources on the case, and then decline a letter to the editor on the grounds that it contradicts material published in the original article.”

I too was mentioned in this edition of the AFT rag, but knowing that those who dissent from its party line can’t get a fair hearing, I did not bother to respond.

Re: Mansfield on Summers



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George says: “Unfortunately, Summers won’t have the opportunity to continue his project of curricular improvement at Harvard and it’s very hard to find efforts in this direction at other schools.”

And he is exactly right, but what’s more, I think it is becoming clear that higher education is a very unique industry in the way leadership shuffling at one firm affects another. In most any other industry, a renegade reform movement such as Summers’, which is successful to a point and then cut off for political reasons, would inspire peer executives to take up the mantle at their own firms. Summers had demonstrated direction, motivation, a road map to success, and had driven Harvard some meager distance down that road. Now? Fellow college presidents are hushed. Summers was squelched and that has undoubtedly discouraged other university leaders who may have been guided by him. Another unhappy result of what is basically mob rule.

Back to Unruly Students



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Candace is of course right about the legal system granting so many rights to students that teachers are at a terrible disadvantage in trying to enforce discipline and order in their schools.  NR had a good article on this by Richard Arum, “Sparing Rod, Spoiling Children: The Impossibility of School Discipline,” October 11, 2004.  Teachers can even be held individually financially responsible for violating students’ “rights.”  

And, as with sexual-harassment legislation, in order to avoid getting dragged into the legal system and opening themselves to lawsuits, many school districts have initiated elaborate grievance procedures for students on the sub-legal level that virtually grant them the rights of adult citizenship.  The slightest transgression on the part of a teacher can result in months of hearings, procedures, appeals, etc.  It’s a crying shame.  But still, given the givens, and how hard it is for teachers nowadays, is there any wonder that they cling to their unions? 

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