Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Slow-Going for Journalism Schools Reform


George and John have drawn attention to Jonathan Last’s critique of the process/theory/craft orientation of today’s schools of journalism–as opposed to a knowledge-rich approach.


But don’t overlook the entrenchment of these pedagogies in our 450 or so journalism and mass-communication programs which, like their teacher education counterparts, have taken on a life of their own because they provide jobs for process-minded academics and others (such as textbook publishers). 


Those who teach “Women in the Media” and “The Deadline in Depth” will, in their own self-interest, fiercely resist the mainstreaming of journalist students into philosophy and economics departments or even a shift toward substance within journalism departments. 

Governing boards should be conducting a quality/cost-benefit evaluation of such programs, but few have the nerve to stand up to wrathful interest groups. Before the J- and other knowledge-averse schools are closed down or reformed, the current financial crisis in higher education will probably have to worsen, triggering the elimination of redundant, frivolous, or faulty programs (like journalism). But then, maybe the forces that put process above knowledge will carry the day, and economics and philosophy will be deemed expendable.

Dental Dean Reads Riot Act


To get their diploma at a New Jersey dental school, students cheated by submitting paperwork for procedures they didn’t actually perform, and they told the New York Post that almost all the students in their class were involved. Widespread cheating? Old news.


The students also say their professors knew about this extensive cheating. Lax academic oversight? Also old news.


What’s novel about this latest cheating scandal is the reaction of the university’s dean, Cecile Feldman. Lo and behold she intends to hold all guilty parties to account, even if the entire class of 2006 is stopped from graduating. And she means to investigate if previous graduates were similarly engaged in cheating.


 Now that’s news.


American Schools as Disneyland


Diane Ravitch writes in a recent article of the truly idiotic results of a 1976 California law that mandates positive portrayals of specified groups in school textbooks. 

Recently, for example, Hindu organizations complained of descriptions of the caste system and the treatment of women in India inthe past. One group wanted the statement that women had “fewer” rights in ancient India changed to “different” rights.
What an irony! America has truly become a Disneyland, a World’s Fair, a theme park in which one can visit prettified exhibits of various cultures. Instead of immigrants coming to America and being grateful to leave behind the backwardness, the stifling customs, the bitter history, the sectarian violence of their homelands, they want to falsify these histories and convey only positive impressions of their backgrounds. So American children learn of all the sins and faults of their own history, while learning sanitized versions of the history of other cultures. Is it any wonder that a few decades of this has produced a generation so steeped in white guilt, as Shelby Steele writes, that it can no longer exercise authority in upholding American ideals? 

A “Risky” Pathology


At a recent meeting of the President’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, commented as follows about allusions made during the commission hearings to “A Nation at Risk,” a report which lambasted the breakdown of American K-12 schools: “[T]he pathology of the public schools in the 1980’s is not comparable to higher education today. Our colleges and universities are successful….”


In fact, since the 1960’s, evidence of pathological trends in higher education–relating to curricula, campus activities, educational outcomes, academic freedom, ethics, and finances–continues to mount. So who’s to say which educational sector is most diseased or abnormally functioning?


Moreover, not only does the pathology in public schools endure, but a convincing case can be made that their “constitutional breakdown”–failure to teach basic skills, disdain for knowledge, divisive multicultural studies, and collapsed discipline–was incubated on our campuses.


The ideas and practices born in the academy are seminal to all other institutions. In particular, the greatest conduits of pathology to our elementary and secondary schools in recent decades have been our degenerate humanities, social-science, and teacher-education programs.


Yes, honorable Commission members, this nation remains at risk, and higher educators deserve much blame for the dangerous pathology afflicting it.

If That’s the “Dominant Theme,” Forget It


Inside Higher Ed reports on the Commission on the Future of Higher
Education’s latest meeting

I quote, “if a dominant theme emerged from the conversation, it was that the
commission needed to champion the idea that a high school education no
longer suffices for any American….”

But that’s utter nonsense. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that most
of the occupational fields with the highest job growth over the next decade
call only for vocational or on-the-job training.  Putting more kids with
weak high school educations through college is a needless waste of time and
money. Someone should quickly send the commissioners a copy of
300 Best
Jobs Without a
College Degree.

Rather than pushing to make college universal, as Clinton advocated in his
1997 State of the Union speech, we ought to try to make certain that when
students graduate from high school, they at least have the cognitive
abilities of smart 6th graders.


Summer Reading


I just finished Ramesh Ponnuru’s excellent book, Party of Death . It should be required reading for all college courses dealing with abortion and other life issues. The book’s arguments were thorough, thoughtful, powerful, and compelling. The research was excellent, and Ponnuru’s argumentation was impeccable. The pro-abortion-rights crowd–or, as the author puts it, the party of death–has got to be hoping that this book doesn’t make a big splash, because its contents are damning for their cause.

Frist and Loose


During his commencement address at the University of Tennessee at Chattagnooga, Sen. Bill Frist quoted Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.” Or, rather, he misquoted her. From the Boston Globe:

Frist had the right wording for Margaret Mead’s most famous ‘’quotation,” but, says Keyes, nobody has ever been able to show, ‘’despite copious research,” that she ever said or wrote it.

An innocent mistake, to be sure. (A more troubling mistake involves the decision to quote Margaret Mead at all, especially for the purposes of reciting a platitude. For a man who apparently aspires for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, couldn’t he have quoted a conservative?) The Globe tracks down a couple of similarly minor commencement-quote mishaps, featuring former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and CBS honco Les Moonves.

Old School Rudeness


New School grads booed, heckled, and otherwise brought shame upon themselves during the commencement speech of John McCain yesterday. Oh, and they also served McCain’s political interests–the scene of a bunch of young Manhattan liberals harassing the likely 2008 presidential candidate only increases his stock among conservatives. Here’s a report in the NYT:

The jeers, boos and insults flew, as caustic as any that angry New Yorkers have hurled inside Madison Square Garden. The objects of derision yesterday, however, were not the hapless New York Knicks, but Senator John McCain, the keynote speaker at the New School graduation, and his host, Bob Kerrey, the university president.

Also, on The Corner, Rich Lowry liveblogged the event.

Bring on the Flak


John K. Wilson’s feverish (and feeble) attempt to debunk the American Council of Trustees and Alumni as well as David Horowitz is yet another sign of the success of the intellectual pluralism movement, which is now squarely on the national agenda. The champions of this movement are now too potent to be ignored.

Boycott Update


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

A Time and Place for Condemnation


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.

Christina Strikes Again


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

U.N. Exposed


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


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.”

Bollinger Does Something Right


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?


Isn’t that what Doris Kearns Goodwin said?

Just A Footnote?


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


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


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


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.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

Subscribe to National Review