Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

The “Know Nothing” Philosophy in Education


Will Fitzhugh, who has been trying for years to encourage serious writing among high school students, has an excellent piece on our reigning “Know Nothing” philosophy in education. You can read it here.

The First National Academic Freedom Conference


Sara Dogan of Students for Academic Freedom, which sponsored the conference on April 6-7, describes it as


Anti-Semitic Posters Plaster Harvard Yard


Posters claiming that the liberation of Iraq was “a war for Israel” and that America’s middle eastern policy is “an expression of the Jewish-Zionist grip on America’s political and cultural life” have gone up all around Harvard. Anti-Semitic group the Institute for Historical Review seems to be behind it. The group is led by Mark Weber, who claims to have authored the sick pamphlet. Needless to say, the group’s website–no sense linking–is full of Holocaust-denying statements.

Why Harvard? The Crimson is curious why, but answers its own question:

While it is unclear why anti-Semitic activists chose to target the Yard and Eliot, the National Vanguard and Weber’s institute have both turned their attention to Harvard in recent days. Both groups’ sites feature links to an article co-authored by Harvard professor Stephen M. Walt claiming that “the Israel Lobby”–a loose coalition of journalists, politicians, think tanks, and Jewish leaders–steers U.S. policy in the Middle East.



For those who

But Do They Haze?


Wanna rush a Muslim sorority?


Johns Hopkins Naming Rights


Johns Hopkins has second thoughts about its relationship with a cosmetics company. Despite this, there may be lots of cash laying around for colleges and universities that come up with clever marketing schemes — imagine Penn and Bic, Dartmouth and toothpaste, etc.

Upcoming Conference on the Academic Monoculture


A major conference on the political monoculture of American higher education will take place at the University of Southern California on Saturday, April 22nd. Organized by the California Association of Scholars, the event is co-sponsored by six other groups interested in higher education reform, including my own, the National Association of Scholars (the CAS’ parent organization), the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), and the Pacific Research Institute (PRI). FIRE co-founder Alan Kors will provide the keynote address. Other speakers include, Mike Ratliff of ISI’s Jack Miller Center, ACTA president Anne Neal, PLF principal attorney Sharon Browne, PRI president Sally Pipes, University of Colorado Regent Tom Lucero, president Luann Wright, the associate director of Princeton University’s James Madison Program, Brad Wilson, well known writers on higher education, Martin Trow, John Ellis, and Charles Gershekter, and yours truly.

The conference will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the Davidson Conference Center at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication. Registration is $25, including a luncheon. Further details can be obtained on the website of the California Association of Scholars, or through the CAS’s executive director Rick White ([email protected]).

Scoping Out ‘Dispositions’ at WSU


Washington State University

Will NYC Education Leaders Ever Play Gutsball?


Among a cavalcade of other consultants, former Columbia professor James Liebman is re-thinking every aspect of New York City

“Studying” Accountability is Not Enough


The Commission on the Future of Higher Education met again last Friday to discuss accountability and assessments. Thanks to the leadership of former University of Texas Regent Charles Miller, the Commission has been raising important questions about how to ensure America’s system of higher education remains the finest in the world–questions that go to the failure of federal accreditation, rising costs, and consistent lack of accountability in the higher education community.

At the latest field hearing in Indianapolis, one panelist, the president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, responded with the usual: He delivered yet another “discussion paper” along with a promise that his association will now “study” and pursue how to improve student learning through enlisting colleges and universities in voluntary accountability and assessment measures. The paper itself offers no concrete solutions, but simply recommends – as so many have recommended before–that the higher education community be left alone to examine itself.

This appeal is not only nothing new, it’s a means of forestalling action with expressions of good intentions. That’s why, in our Friday testimony, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni warned the Commissioners not to listen to those in the higher education community who continually say they will take care of things while opposing outside input and advice. (Our complete testimony can be downloaded as a pdf file here.)

For too long, constituencies such as alumni, trustees–and, yes, Commissioners–have been expected to remain outside the walls of the ivory tower, particularly when it comes to issues of academic quality and accountability. There are those inside the academy who steadfastly believe they should have absolute autonomy. For them, the role of trustees, alumni, and government commissions is to provide support–period. But as ACTA outlined Friday, current conditions in the academy urgently call for outside scrutiny.

A large community–led by ACTA–has moved beyond “discussion papers” to concrete and articulate advice for institutions that want to make themselves voluntarily accountable. ACTA has for years provided guidance and support ranging from our studies on general education, grade inflation, and active and informed stewardship to the 2003 launch of the Institute for Effective Governance, an organization devoted to training and advising trustees.

While others pallidly proclaim the need for (apparently indefinitely prolonged) institutional self-study, ACTA has done the homework on how institutions have failed to make use of their opportunity–no, their obligation–to be accountable. On Friday, we provided the Commissioners with detailed information on the troubling decline of general education, on the rampant spread of grade inflation, and on widespread lack of institutional transparency; we also offered a list of corrective actions we believe must be taken by trustees and higher education institutions. These include:

1. Review and reform of the general education curriculum.

2. An end to grade inflation.

3. Development of institutional expectations and assessments for student learning.

4. An end to mandatory federal accreditation.

5. Gubernatorial focus on informed college and university trustees.

6. Trustee training.

7. The hiring of presidents who will be agents of change.

8. Board transparency.

Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the press accounts (which inexplicably downplayed and even ignored ACTA’s contribution to the Indianapolis session), these recommendations were received warmly by many members of the Commission. Several commissioners expressed gratitude for the information ACTA provided and acknowledged that a focus on curriculum and quality was essential to the Commission’s endeavors. One Commissioner, former MIT president Charles Vest, even thanked ACTA for helping to reframe the Commission’s discussion. Vest praised ACTA for moving the discussion from a fairly limited focus on how to respond to students as consumers to a more fundamental and far-reaching perspective on the ultimate mission and purpose of higher education: preparing students to be informed citizens, effective workers, and lifelong learners.

Rather than simply trying to measure what students are learning–or, perhaps I should say, what they aren’t learning–ACTA hopes the Commission will turn its attention to what institutions are teaching and whether they are living up to their obligation to provide a quality education for the next generation.

Notre Dame and the V Monologues


Inflationary Pressure


Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute suggests one of the possible consequences of excellent students having a tougher time getting into top schools–a phenomenon that appears to be on the rise, judging from available data: “If kids with perfect records have a hard time getting into top schools, high school teachers will face increasing pressure to inflate the grades of their better students. The top 20 percent of a typical graduating class will have near-perfect grades, and the universities will have a hard time telling who’s who.”

Middle East Scholars on The Lobby


The Middle East Academic Survey Research Exposition (MEASURE) has surveyed 2,300 academics focused on the Middle East regarding their views on the Walt-Mearsheimer paper, The Israel Lobby. Its main findings (summarized by the California Association of Scholars) include:

1. 49% of Middle East academics polled believe that the
academic community is “hostile” to studies that are critical of the
Israel Lobby and US policies toward Israel. 26% believe academia
is “open” to such findings.

2. 85% of Middle East academics polled believe that an Israel
Lobby as described by Mearsheimer and Walt is

Gentle Is As Gentle Does


The federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education is urging colleges and accrediting agencies only to voluntarily adopt assessments of student learning. The commission foresees, as The Chronicle of Higher Education writes, that with college costs escalating

Duke and Chivalry


Re the Duke University scandal involving lacrosse players with rape, binge drinking and hate speech (notably, the

Faculty Costs and Power Take Center Stage


The Secretary of Education

The Yale “Bubble”


Garnet “Ace” Bailey, a former Boston Bruins star, was a passenger on United flight 175 when it crashed into the second World Trade Center tower. As John Fund reports, one of his relatives, who graduated from Yale last year, has written repeatedly to the university to question why it admitted Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, the

Bowen and Bok Revisit the “Shape” of Higher Education


Andrew Scull, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, takes on

David and Ward Let It Roll


On April 6 I attended the debate between higher education reformer David Horowitz and radical professor Ward Churchill on whether politics can and should be taken out of the classroom. The following is the audio tape of the debate provided by Right Talk.


Horowitz systematically denounced the replacement of entire academic disciplines by ideology on today

Horowitz vs. Churchill Shootout


Here’s the full transcript of the televised portion of last night’s rhetorical brawl featuring David Horowitz, Sean Hannity, Ward Churchill, and Alan Colmes. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t the most productive discussion ever aired on cable news.


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