Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

“You’re Stupid”


Joe Klein has a new book titled Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized By People Who Think You’re Stupid.


This reminds me of academic higher-ups scurrying to cover up critiques of higher education by blaming its largely self-induced problems on Americans’ alleged lack of intellect. Roger Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, has repeatedly used this tactic. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, for instance, he said: “Look at the historical anti-intellectualism in America and the mistrust of the academy, and we are an easy target…As a way of deflecting from real problems, cultural warriors look to the universities, which are staffed by free-thinking people….”


Ha! Someone should write a book named Higher Education Lost: How The Life Of The Mind Was Trivialized By Demagogues Who Think You’re Stupid.

Bio Cons


Bradford Short writes:

Ward Churchill is only the tip of the iceberg, and area studies has nothing on Bioethics when it comes to fraud, politicization and falsehoods. We cannot be satisfied with only Churchill being reprimanded today.

More here.


The “Reason of Unreason”: 2006, the 1960s


“Obviously intent on emulating the political intolerance that typified the nihilistic academic activism of the late 1960s,” write the editors of the New York Post, “students and faculty at Columbia University and the New School are demanding that Sen. John McCain be disinvited from campus speaking gigs…Now, it seems, it’s become taboo even to listen to McCain speak–the First Amendment not being part of the New School’s ‘progressive social values.’”

Compare this mentality to Ortega y Gasset’s description of the “’reason of unreason’” which characterized the rising fascist mindset in the 1930’s:

[T]here appears…a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable…[the] detestation…of…objective standards…This means …a renunciation of the common life based on culture which is subject to standards, and a return to the common life of barbarism.

Eerie stuff, these outbreaks of elites eschewing both rational dialogue and the logical defense of their opinions.

Anti-Fraud Taxes?


Inside Higher Ed reports that New York is considering legislation to tax all for-profit colleges to create a fund to be used for investigating allegations of educational fraud. Read it here.

This is a lousy idea. Why should all proprietary schools be taxed just because some of them may practice educational fraud? This seems to be an instance of the leftist idea of group responsibility. And if educational fraud is perceived to be a problem, why limit the law just to proprietary institutions? Many of the lower-tier non-profits, private and public, also take students’ money, pretend to educate them, then send them on their way with such pitiable skills that they wind up delivering pizza.

9/11: Never Forget


Here and here I vehemently protested when the International Freedom Center, planned to be housed near the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero, handed primary responsibility for its programs to a number of universities. I noted that “higher educators are no longer able to ensure the integrity of curricula and debate on their own campuses–most egregiously so when the subject is this nation and terrorist attacks against it.”


In the wake of the outcry against the prospect of having the IFC be manipulated by the far left for America-bashing, Gov. George Pataki kicked the museum off the site of the World Trade Center.


Word has it now that the Governor and Mayor Michael Bloomberg may be eliminating the 9/11 museum altogether or drastically reducing it. I agree with Adam Brodsky that this nation”needs a musem that will carry the true lessons of 9/11 to future generations.”

 In the words of Debra Burlingame, whose brother was killed on the plane that hit the Pentagon: “The memorial will commemorate these people, but it won’t tell what happened to them.” If this story is not told,” she warns, “others will fill in the blanks.”


Seeing is Believing


Thanks, David, for your perceptive thoughts on ACTA’s new study.

Now that the University of Colorado has ruled that Ward Churchill is guilty of grave academic misconduct, it’s all the more important for us not to get sidetracked about what the real issues are here. Ward Churchill is a spectacle of academic dishonesty–but he is also worryingly symptomatic of broader patterns in American academe. Indeed, what is truly significant about Ward Churchill is not that he is guilty of plagiarism and misconduct, as serious as that is, but that he is a symbol of a much larger problem in American higher education: the replacement of impartial teaching with politicized preaching.

ACTA’s new report, “How Many Ward Churchills?“, shows that many in the academy are guilty of promoting an academic culture that cultivates politically one-sided teaching, and that in doing so openly disregards the ethical obligation to respect students academic freedom to learn. Some examples from our report:

–Penn State sociology professor Sam Richards’ course syllabi explicitly state that his objectives for his students include helping them “think differently about the social world,” “develop a more nuanced understanding of why [they] are who [they] are,” “free [themselves] from the ethnocentric and self-absorbing chains that bind [them],” and “challeng[ing them] to think differently by questioning everything [so that] ‘unlearning’ will happen.” He also declares that he is “open about bringing my ideology into [the] classroom because I see that all educational systems are ideological to the core.”

–”American Dilemmas” at the University of Texas at Austin is premised on the idea that “problems in the economy and political system, social class and income inequality, racial/ethnic inequality, gender inequality and heterosexism, and problems of illness and health care” are “natural outgrowths of our existing social structure.”

– A Vassar College course on “Domestic Violence” explores how “our culture covertly and overtly condones the abuse of women by their intimate partners.”

–An anthropology course at Davidson College requires students to produce a twenty-minute skit on one of a select group of topics, including “five ways to demonize an ethnic minority,” “more ways than one to be white,” and “more segregation in integration.” Another has a “collegiality” requirement stipulating that students will “respect cultures and traditions that are not their own.”

–An Ohio State University “Introduction to Women’s Studies” course requires students to research an activist organization and then deliver a class presentation explaining the organization’s work, providing contact information for the organization, and “arguing for student support of the issue(s) and activism.”

There are many, many more such courses. One does not have to look hard for them, and one would be mistaken if one called them outrageous. They are quite the opposite. They are typical.

Poison Trickling Down


Andy Wolf describes how the elite Fieldston School in the Bronx is advancing the politically correct anti-Israeli agenda “that is poisoning so many college campuses.” This campus-spawned “brainwashing endeavor” will affect students as young as 12.

The Legal Standard


Earlier I noted the brouhaha over the cancellation by New York City of a display of a Brooklyn College “art” exhibit, consisting of grossly explicit sexual imagery, in a hallowed war memorial. Students are threatening to sue on grounds that their freedom has been abridged.


Here the New York Sun invites legislators to consider “whether the issue is… the law …or whether the issue is about academic standards….”


The ethos on today’s campuses is such that many think it quaint to evoke academic standards–much less morals, manners and mores. This is what it’s come to: Anything that’s legal goes.

“Another Black Eye For The Gray Lady”


For the third time The New York Times has elected to use a discredited study to slam the achievement of charter schools, reports the Center for Education Reform. As a trustee of the State University of New York, where I have served for several years on the board’s Charter School Committee (which approves and monitors charter schools in the state), I have closely followed the very considerable success of these schools. The Times’s shoddy and biased coverage of these trail-blazing–and, for more and more children, salvific–schools is disgraceful.

Re: Churchill


According to the Denver Post, Churchill’s attorneys are promising to sue if the university takes any action.

I have not yet read the report, but if its finding are limited to academic misconduct unrelated to his expressive activities, then it is hard to see Churchill prevailing in his suit.  While it is certainly true that Churchill’s expressive activities (such as comparing the 9/11 victims to Adolf Eichmann) put him under the public microscope; it is not true that the university is necessarily limited in its ability to punish him for other forms of misconduct.  When a person places himself in the public eye by making inflammatory public comments, critical scrutiny is inevitable.  It was Churchill’s responsibility to conduct himself in a manner that could survive that scrutiny.  It is not the university’s responsibility to look the other way when real misconduct is apparent.  So long as the university treats him in the same way that it treats other professors who are guilty of similar misconduct, it should not face legal liability. 

Churchill’s speech is protected, but it is not a get-out-of jail-free card for his other actions. 

Bird Brained


The NCAA continues to insist that the feather used as a symbol by William & Mary’s sports teams is an emblem of racist hate.

Ward Churchill Watch


An extensive article from the Rocky Mountain News:

University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill stole the work of others, twisted facts to bolster his own theories and repeatedly violated the most basic standards of scholarly research, the committee assigned to investigate him wrote in a stinging report made public Tuesday.

One of the five committee members recommended Churchill be fired. Two said he should be suspended without pay for two years; the two others recommended a five- year suspension without pay.

The final decision will be left to Provost Susan Avery and arts-and- sciences Dean Todd Gleeson, and it is not expected until mid-June.

The University of Colorado’s full report may be read here; Gov. Bill Owens calls for Churchill to resign here; and an extensive analysis of Churchill and his “scholarship,” published last year, is here.



The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, which will be on the ballot this November, is an attempt to let voters do what the Supreme Court failed to do three years ago: abolish racial preferences in higher ed (plus public employment and contracting). A new poll shows a plurality of likely voters supporting it, with a lot (26 percent) still undecided. The media is interpreting this as bad news for supporters of MCRI, which may be correct. But it does seem rather early to be writing its obituary, especially with more than a quarter of likely voters apparently up for grabs. Nonetheless, here’s the Detroit News:

A statewide ballot proposal to ban affirmative action in college admissions and government jobs may not be the slam dunk that its advocates had hoped.

A new independent poll shows that when voters read the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative as it will appear on the ballot Nov. 7, less than half intend to vote for it. Earlier surveys had pointed to greater support — but that was before the ballot language was finalized.

A “yes” vote supports a ban on affirmative action; a “no” vote supports a continuation of affirmative action.

Support has dropped from 64 percent in January 2004 to 46 percent now, and all because the words “to ban affirmative action programs” have been included in the proposal voters will see, according to pollster Steve Mitchell.

Web U.


The rise and rise and rise of online learning:

Congress passed a law in March that drops the requirement that colleges offer at least half their courses face to face to receive federal student aid. The new law will undoubtedly attract more students and schools into the fledgling online industry.

Online enrollment, including multiple courses taken by a single student, jumped from 1.98 million in 2003 to 2.35 million the following year, accounting for 7 percent of postsecondary education, according to Eduventures, a Boston firm that studies trends in education. Another study, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, reports that 65 percent of universities offering face-to-face graduate courses also offer graduate courses online. By early 2008, Eduventures predicts, about one in 10 college students will be enrolled in an online degree program.

“It’s only going to grow,” said Richard Garrett, an analyst with Eduventures. “The largest high school graduating class in U.S. history is expected to be 2009. There is going to be a lot of pressure on these students to get education in a competitive market.”

Sports Update


As a third Duke lacrosse player is indicted, Northwestern suspends its women’s soccer team “in response to photographs of a hazing incident that were posted on a Web site.”

No Smoking Zone


Illinois bans smoking in college dorms.

Proving the Sky is Blue


It is great to see Anne’s post regarding ACTA’s recent study.  It is common for defenders of the academic establishment to respond, “prove it” to claims that the academy is wildly out of the mainstream.  To those of us who have spent any time behind the ivy-covered walls, these denials are ridiculous.  It’s like being asked to “prove” the sky is blue.  Yet is is discouraging to see that many legislators and citizens take the establishment’s denials at face value, and so we all must do the work of proving the obvious.

Over the last four years, a series of studies have begun to leave the academic world with nowhere to hide.  FIRE has shown that speech codes are the rule rather than the exception on campus, numerous studies (Students for Academic Freedom has compiled several) show that faculties are overwhelmingly leftist, ACTA has demonstrated that teachers commonly interject their politics into the classroom.  And now we see that ideology is infecting even the most basic course materials.

While I have no doubt that campus radicals will soon busy themselves attacking a study that they know to be true, ACTA has done us all a service by driving one more nail in the coffin of the academic left’s public credibility.

Faculty Affirmative Discrimination


A couple of items on the open secret of affirmative discrimination in faculty hiring. There’s my piece this week in The Chronicle of Higher Education. And InsideHigherEd reports today:

In reports issued this weekend, the AAUP faulted the way professors were treated at Greenville College and New Mexico Highlands University–and the nature of the findings may be surprising. At Greenville, a liberal arts college in Illinois that is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church, the AAUP is backing a professor who was fighting what he saw as a willingness of the college and its faculty to move away from religious orthodoxy. At New Mexico Highlands, the association is backing professors whose tenure cases reinforced the views of some on the campus that Hispanic candidates were being favored and that affirmative action goals were denying promotions to deserving white candidates.

Systematic Indoctrination


The incidents noted here at Phi Beta Cons and in the popular media leave many people wondering how such crackpot attitudes could thrive on college campuses. This is because people don’t know just how lengthy, overwhelming, multi-layered, and delicate is the process by which a young adult goes from undergraduate to tenured professor.

Consider one step in the advance: the job market in the humanities.

There is no more miserable creature on earth than the post-doc looking for a job.  You’ve spent your twenties reading books and writing papers, taking classes from advisors who wonder when you’ll be off their hands.  You have no prospects, and you can’t do anything else.  You can barely pay your rent, but every hour at a part-time job derails your ambitions.  At the annual scholarly convention, you join a thousand other wannabes scrambling for a few plum appointments.  Your clothes are a bit threadbare, your posture slouches as if you aren’t sure of getting a rebuke or a reward.  Your face is wan, but your eyes dart.  In a hotel elevator you shy into the corner when the doors part and the happy ones enter—those with JOBS.  You sneak a glance at their badges to spot a familiar name.  Who knows?  Maybe you have an interview with one of them the next day.  Should you introduce yourself?  Mention that book of his that you admire so much?  Too late.  The doors open and they file out.

How did you get so gawky and tentative?  Through a fateful, unfeeling process that lasts six months.  In the summer, you spend a month getting letters of recommendation for the dossier and refining your résumé.  When the scholarly organization issues a national listing of job openings, you draft cover letters accordingly.  A month later, having spotted things in your packet that it liked, a few hiring committees write back asking for a writing sample and the dossier with letters of recommendation.  You select your best piece of work, usually a chapter of the diss, and ask the career center to send your file.  If those fare well with the committee, a month later comes a request for an interview at the upcoming convention of the scholarly organization.  Then comes the most important step in the process, an hour of conversation in a hotel room.  The committee is made up of three or four professors of different fields and ranks.  If the interview goes well, you become one of three finalists for the position, visiting the campus a month later to meet with all the faculty members, talk to a dean, and deliver a lecture.  A month after that, the winner gets a phone call from the department chair tendering the offer.

At each stage, the pool narrows.  It has to, with around 44,000 doctoral degrees granted every year.  Added to them are the thousands who didn’t get a job the year before and are trying again.  Hiring committees scan the applications, peruse writing samples and letters, and debrief after the interviews. The entire department discusses and politicks over the finalists after the campus visits.  What works well for the candidate?  Better to ask what disqualifies.  It is easier for the committee, burdened with thousands of pages of materials, to find reasons to reject.  

A cover letter that strikes the wrong tone or cites the wrong figures is ruinous.  I once read a cover letter that opened something like, “I am a Feminist Foucauldian whose research into the Nineteenth Century disarticulates the power relations of domestic spaces as they are represented and reinforced in popular theatricals and visual culture.”  Too grandiose.  A research description that doesn’t click instantly with professors gets tossed aside.  A few lines of “My dissertation examines . . .” and “dismantles prevailing conceptions” and their eyes glaze.  With a stack of files three feet high, committee members don’t have time to read all the samples and letters, and so they judge by category.  Is the topic hot?  Is the approach current?  Is the conclusion politic?

Letters of recommendation walk a fine line between approval and hype.  Everyone knows they are a genre of insincerity.  When an inflated letter by a Duke science professor made it to a university in Britain, the hiring committee contacted him to see if the letter had been forged.  “It was so hyperbolic in their eyes that they couldn’t believe it,” he admitted.  But he was only following custom.  Letter writers need to make the candidate look serious and bright (nothing less than brilliant and hyper-conscientious).

The convention interview is a balancing act.  You have 45 minutes to make the questioners feel enthused and comforted.  Affect counts more than substance, for these are professors with a full slate of interviews and no training in personnel.  When I walked into an interview back in 1988, for the first 15 minutes listened to a harangue about my advisor.  One committee member had an issue with his outlook and used me as the occasion to let it out.  I fired back, “Look, I’ve spent a thousand dollars on a flight and a room to come half way across the country to talk to you about my qualifications, and it’s pretty damn irresponsible of you to do this.”  I wish.  Instead, to my shame, I tried to grovel my way into his good graces. 

Even the good interviews can be excruciating.  Committee members are tired, bored, distracted, and wary.  Each one has a preference, and rarely do they coincide.  Candidates are desperate and inexperienced.  A career is at stake, but you can’t let it show.  He who relates best to the whole group, not to just one of them—an exciting 10-minute exchange with one prof excites the suspicion of the others—moves on to the campus visit.  While on-site for two days, you become a friend for some, a threat for others.  Identifying who has power is hard, so sounding genial to all is crucial.  You must find topics for lively conversation, but steer clear of department sensitivities and expect anything. 

All the decisions are collective, a result of majority voting.  Which candidates triumph?  Those who cause the least discomfort to the largest number of voters.  Scholars who don’t fit smoothly into ready classifications and mutter the standard pieties are hard to figure, and the hiring of a colleague is so long-term a commitment that nobody on the faculty wants to take chances. 

Professors don’t want to go to war over a hiring—you’re not that important—and so the compromise candidate, the less adventuresome and strong-minded one, survives.  It is okay to have strong opinions, as long as they’re shared by all and won’t disrupt the department.  The ardent minds are passed over, the singular intellects weeded out. 

This is conformity by passive selection.  It explains why political correctness is so dominant in a world of academic freedom, and why a few bullies are able to intimidate the rest.

Where’s My Advocate?


After reading the article linked in John’s post about the Muslim Student Association’s “Holocaust in the Holy Land” exhibit, I was struck by the following statement:

Sally Peterson, dean of students at Irvine, has worked at the university since 1974 and she said that she’s seen a gradual shift away from students tensions based on race to the point today where issues of religion, international affairs, or ideology can set off a controversy–and are more likely to do so than issues of race.

Well, of course. Even the most cursory review of history reveals that we are not simply divided by race, and religious or ideological divisions can be far more profound (just ask Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot what they thought of their “ideological” opponents). In fact, the entire article represents yet another example of the abject failure of radical multiculturalism. The reality is that multiculturalism has made civility and unity more elusive because it is based on a ridiculous fantasy . . . that we can all get along.


We can’t, and we won’t. One of the critical triumphs of the American republic has been the creation of a system where differences are not assumed away but instead channeled into peaceful dispute-resolution mechanisms (such as democratic elections or legal processes). In other words, competing religions, ethnicities, ideologies, etc. have a hope of success without resorting to the street and without resorting to the force of arms. The emphasis is not on vague, ambiguous, values like “civility” or “diversity,” but instead on more hard-headed concepts like free speech and due process. In other words, the message is: “Your view may not prevail, but you will always have a chance to persuade.”


The university Left, in its utopian quest for an ambiguous concept of “social justice,” forgets human nature. When campuses opened up to people of different races, religions, and ideologies, conflict inevitably resulted. In the face of this conflict, the university decided to take sides. When the issue was primarily about race, taking sides seemed to make sense. After all, we fought a civil war over the issue of race, and in the Fifties and Sixties the interests of leftists and many conservatives converged–at least for a moment. Many conservatives and leftists could agree that people of all races should participate equally in the legal structures of our republic. 


But taking sides on the issue of race (a decision I won’t argue with, but do believe should have its limits) did set a negative precedent in one sense: It created an expectation that the university will be an ”advocate” in the divisive issues of the day. So advocacy on issues of race leads to advocacy on issues of gender, which leads to advocacy on issues of sexuality, and war and peace, and economics, and . . . In other words, the expectation is that the university cannot and will not act as a relatively neutral entity that (much like the rest of American democracy) creates an opportunity for equal participation in the process, but instead that the university will decisively take sides. In other words, campus interest groups don’t just ask, “Can I speak?” They ask, “Where’s my advocate?” 


And so, that is where we are today. In the era of Chief Diversity Officers, GLBT Offices, Women’s Resources Centers, and other creations of the multi-culti Left, the university stands directly against the essential goal of channeling inevitable differences into neutral dispute-resolution processes and actually takes sides in substantive disputes. This further polarizes the culture that multiculturalists claim to wish to unite, and pushes true civility and real diversity further and further from reality.


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