Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Let’s Get Serious


If colleges are concerned about sexual misconduct, they should take a more sober attitude toward sex in general, which is, after all, one of the most serious and deeply involving of human activities, despite all efforts to make it a walk in the park. At Bowdoin College, for example, as reported in What Does Bowdoin Teach: How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students, a student play presented during orientation concluded with this  exhortation: 

Whatever you decide you want your relationship with sex to be about there are opportunities out there. Whether you want to have sex or you don’t, you’re looking for love or a one-night stand, you’re gay or straight or somewhere in between, it’s all possible. And whatever happens remember to be safe, get consent, and watch out for your friends.

The authors of the Bowdoin study, Peter Wood and Michael Toscano, observe that  “it is fairly new for colleges to aggressively market sexual promiscuity to their students” in this manner.  Indeed it is, and the breezy tone of this concluding exhortation has an unseemly air, more appropriate for recommending, say, the desserts available in the eating facilities. In fact with a little rewording, it might even serve that purpose:

Whatever you decide you want in your dessert experience there are opportunities out there in our cafeteria and dining halls. Whether you want to have dessert or you don’t, you’re looking for lovingly baked treats or just a simple bowl of Jell-O, you like ricotta cream or plain whipped cream, or a little of both, it’s all possible. And whatever happens remember not to overindulge, count your calories, and share with friends.  

And by the way, “Bowdoin makes sure that a generous supply of condoms is conspicuously available on every floor” of every co-ed dorm. How’s that for an invitation to view sex as mere rutting?

Master’s Degrees Don’t Make Teachers Better


In every state except North Carolina, I believe, public school teachers who obtain a MA degree automatically get a boost in pay. The problem is that there is no evidence that having that additional credential actually makes them any better. So argues Mathew Chingos of Brookings in this piece. The automatic pay boost provision does not represent improved performance, but merely good lobbying on the part of the institutions that sell the credentials and teacher unions.

North Carolina dumped its pay bump last year and if Chingos’ piece gets traction, I think we can look forward to other states doing the same. It’s evident that this policy is a waste of tax dollars.  And if more states change policy, that will further deflate the higher ed bubble.


Bowdoin and Religious Freedom


There was a front-page story yesterday in the New York Times about Bowdoin College’s decision that the campus’s Christian Fellowship would no longer be recognized by the school because the group has taken this outrageous position:  While any student can participate in its activities, only actual Christians can hold leadership positions. 

Why, you might as well allow the College Republicans to require that its leaders be Republicans – who knows where this might end?!

More Climate Alarmism (but about “Campus Climate”)


In this American Thinker piece, former University of California regent Velma Montoya writes about the recently concluded “campus climate survey” at the University of California. Predictably, because not everyone who responded was perfectly happy, the university is now in a tizzy. One consequence will be the hiring of a “Systemwide Diversity Coordinator” who will “advise on policy and programs that address UC students, faculty, and staff campus climate issues.” It’s worth noting that the survey responses show that at least some of the dissatisfaction arises out of the already excessive posturing and pandering over “diversity.”


What’s the Most Expensive College in Your State?


You might have a pretty good guess about that, but you can find out for sure (or settle a bet) on this site.


Faculty Evaluations Help Perpetuate the Status Quo


It isn’t uncommon for colleges to have a senior faculty member sit in on a junior or adjunct faculty member’s class and then write up an evaluation. That could be valuable if the evaluator observes serious problems in the class, but that is not apt to happen because the professor being evaluated will be on his best behavior on that day. What is more likely, is that if the professor is not using the generally approved pedagogical approach he will be called on the carpet. Thus, instead of identifying “problem” profs, the evaluations just help to perpetuate the status quo.

In today’s Pope Center piece, Troy Camplin explains all of that. He was called on the carpet for deviationism in the way he taught composition. Rather than devoting most of the class time to “peer review” (that is, having students read and critique writing by other students) he spent quite a bit of time having students read well-written English so they would get it in their ears. Camplin had realized that “peer review” is an exercise in the blind leading the blind because few students have anything constructive to say about another student’s writing, but his evaluation was negative simply because he wasn’t handling the course the way it had been taught. College officials often claim to prize “critical thinking” but that doesn’t necessarily extend to faculty members who believe that they can get better results from students by trying a different approach.

I have to wonder how the silly notion of “peer review” in composition ever caught on. My guess is that professors who wanted to shirk the onerous business of line-editing student compositions, identifying errors and offering their own criticism, figured out that they could greatly reduce their work load by adopting the idea that other students are capable of doing that.

Sexual Assault: Read About It


Among many troubles the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faces are claims that it has done a poor job of handling accusations of sexual assault. Two federal investigations have been conducted after such claims became public; at least six “diversity” officials have been hired by the school; and the university  has created a sexual assault task force to decide on policy. Filled with women’s advocates, the task force aims to create a Campus Conversation on Sexual Assault.

And, of all things, its selection for freshman reading this summer is a book about sexual assault and the failure of the justice system—in the case of this book, the Native American justice system—to properly investigate. The book is The Round House by Louise Erdrich.

While acknowledging that the book is balanced and well-written, Harry Painter is a little disgusted with the choice:

Discussions of this book will surely encourage inapplicable parallels between this injustice and supposed injustices corrected by university honor courts, which are too often kangaroo courts that eliminate due process and risk destroying the livelihoods of accused men.

He urges incoming freshmen (male and female) to put on their critical thinking caps this August. “If and when the male guilt propaganda comes, they should either fight back or tune out.” 

Liberal College vs. Conservative Student


In our feature story at The College Fix, Ryan Lovelace tells a riveting story of his battle against liberal bias at his university. Officials there repeatedly sought to silence him, but he stood firm.

Lovelace published an article criticizing his alma mater for asking him to disavow his “American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality” in a political science class. The article went viral and was soon being discussed even by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Immediately, Lovelace became the target of a threats and scorn from fellow students, professors, and administrators. And he even began to fear that officials would not allow him to graduate.

“I received lots of hostile feedback ranging from people calling me a “piece of s—,” to the more creative “you wouldn’t make a good pimple on a journalist’s a—hole.” Lovelace writes. “I was called in for meetings with a professor, a department head, multiple college deans, and the provost of the university.”

All of this, simply for calling attention to the white-male bashing that was going on in the classroom. But Ryan stood firm, and spoke up about his conservative beliefs, despite the overwhelmingly negative response he received from seemingly everyone around him at the college. They actually held a rally against him on campus! All this to combat the voice of one lone conservative student.

Next week, Ryan will take his place as the 2014 William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism here at National Review. I look forward to reading Ryan’s writing here in the pages of NRO in the near future. I’m very proud of his boldness and willingness to voice unpopular opinions on the unfriendly ground of an overwhelmingly liberal college. He set a great example for other young conservative students who, like Ryan, should stand up boldly and let their voices be heard.

Click here to read the full article, in which Ryan Lovelace details his remarkable struggle against liberal academic bias.


Prager U: What Every Graduate Should Know


The newest Prager University course features Dennis Prager delivering a hard-hitting graduation speech.  Prager’s message centers around five key ideas:

  • The greatest struggle in your life is not with society; it is with yourself.
  • Use your common sense; don’t blindly rely on studies.
  • Race is unimportant
  • Beware of good intentions
  • Judeo-Christian values are the real counterculture today.

This is a great video to send to a college student, but I disagree with Prager on one point. He assumes that his five points are counterpoints to what students learn in college. From my experience in academia, this isn’t true. Much of what happens in class doesn’t stick; the media is a more pervasive influence on millennials. I say this because it’s my greatest struggle each semester: I’m concerned that students don’t learn anything beyond what’s needed for the next test (after which they forget most of it).

A more appropriate generalization for critics is one of colleges as warehouses full of young individuals with employees who hold primarily left-wing political views.   

All tangents aside, the video is worth passing along; just don’t assume that every college graduate has an A+ in leftism. Most are quite agnostic on politics, as well as other heavy-duty subjects.



(Best-selling author, columnist, and nationally syndicated radio host Dennis Prager created Prager University to counter the indoctrination, drivel, and apathy that pervades today’s college campuses. With 5-minute, professionally produced videos from experts in economics, history, political science, and religion, PragerU offers big ideas on big topics, 5 minutes at a time.)

Tulip Mania May Be Wilting


In a recent post on this site, Bernie Reeves compared the mania for a college degree, and the accompanying rise in tuition, with the tulip craze in Holland in 1637. Prices for tulips rose high and higher–until they crashed. Whether he is right or not about an imminent crash of college prices, the mania may be wilting. Or at least that’s the implication of Jesse Saffron’s article “Struggling to Stay Afloat.” Even slight declines in overall enrollment send some schools scrambling for students–perhaps even desperately. For many schools, their financial situation looks bleak, says Saffron.

What to Do With That Major?


As I’m reading this commentary by Professor Peggy Drexler on advice to students for getting their first job, I can’t get a thought out of my head. Drexler advises students to not fear jobs out of their fields of study because they cannot predict what will happen in the future and most grads don’t start off in their fields anyway. 

That’s sound advice, except for one notion. What jobs do most students’ fields of study actually lead to? 

I understand where accounting majors and pre-med students go, but what about psychology, management, or marketing majors (I’m sure I can get a thousand options for careers in those “fields”)? In the grand scheme of things, college disciplines are set up to lead students to one primary job – professor in that “field of study.”   

In order to maximize desired enrollment, most schools’ missions focus on being everything to everyone – which ironically is a surefire recipe for mediocrity.  If colleges really want to align disciplines with the job market, we’d need to see much more curricular dynamism than most are prepared to undergo. 

This point is not intended to stop students from going to college; I just want more of them to understand (the good and bad) realities of their chosen majors.  

Tiptoe through the Tulips


Holland’s Tulip Mania in 1637 and the cost of college today have in common the inevitability of a crash. Like a college degree, ownership of the eccentric tulip bulb was a status symbol, enhanced in perceived value by rising prices paid by speculators  across Christendom. In this century, a college degree is largely a status symbol too, touted in study after study as a guarantee of higher earning power despite spiraling costs accompanying a free-fall in intrinsic value.

Owning a sheepskin in the early 21st century is similar to owning a contract for a tulip bulb in the 1630s. Will it keep its value? It didn’t for tulips and will not, in the long run, for college graduates when the cost for a degree surpasses the projected return in salary. Or, business owners figure out that new hires who attended a classy institution of higher learning are unsuited to integration and success in the workplaces of capitalism.

Employers, witnessing  the laughable political views on display at top-tier campuses today, are likely to react negatively. Who wants a New Left or Third Left employee who thinks U.S. wealth is gained by stealing from the Third World; that America is an unsuccessful society foaming with racism, sexism, and homophobia;  that capitalism is evil and exploitative?

Captains of industry are bound to be seeing  through the artifice of a college education provided on elite campuses – such as the recent antics resulting in the elimination of commencement speakers at several schools. Executives with brains will seek graduates from tech universities, community colleges, and state universities located in the remote hinterlands. Here, tuition is reasonable and commensurate and students are not infected with immature, anti-American radicalism.

The college bubble will burst for high-ranking schools simply because the price of tuition is rising while the intrinsic value of a degree  continues to decline. Inflated cost for a less valid education is a bubble certain to pop. As Sir Isaac Newton put it regarding  the South Sea bubble in the 1720s: “I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men.”

University Offers Class Devoted to Study of Miley Cyrus


Move over Plato and Aristotle–a new intellectual paradigm has dawned. “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” is the latest vigorous course offering at Skidmore College. “You can already see such a complex narrative of how people talk about her unbridled sexuality,” says the professor offering the newly launched full-credit course.

Full story here.

100% Liberal


There has been not one single conservative commencement speaker among the top 30 universities in the past two years.



The thing is, these universities are not even trying to look fair anymore. This is unapologetic liberal bias laid bare for all to see.

Putting a Price Tag on College


A curious article appeared on Bloomberg View a few days ago. Stephen Mihm asked the question, “Why are Americans so obsessed with putting a price tag on the value of a college education?”

He goes back to the turn of the previous century when college was for a tiny minority–those who entered the professions or were elite to begin with–and when business executives derided the idea that college prepared anyone for a job. “Except a skinned eel or a boiled lobster, few things are worse prepared for the struggle of life than the average graduate,” wrote one late-nineteenth-century pundit.

In fact, the goal of college was to “counteract the overweening mercantilism of the time and to lift society out of the mire of interests and gains,” said another.

Promoting education on the grounds of earnings began in 1913, when Northwestern University claimed that the lifetime value of a college education was $25,000. And then a Boston University dean reported that a college education was worth $72,000.

Interesting history, but, of course, it’s not the answer to Mihm’s question. While the practical value of college may have always been there in the background, today’s obsession is easily explained. The cost of higher education has gone beyond anything ever imagined until recent decades.  If you  pay for it and don’t get a good job you can be in hock for life.

Speaking Truth to Power


Now that disinvitation season is over, we are into the budget season. At least that’s the case in North Carolina as the governor and the legislature negotiate over state appropriations. We probably didn’t win a lot of friends at the University of North Carolina with the latest Pope Center article, “How UNC Can Shrink Its Budget,” by Jenna Ashley Robinson.

Jenna points out that recent  reductions eliminated 537 positions–but those were vacant! As for real people, seven out of the 16 campuses in the system didn’t cut any jobs at all and the system administration cut one. Yet administrators vastly outnumber faculty. At UNC-Chapel Hill (the flagship), the ratio is almost 5 to 1 and the school has more employees than students. Robinson recommends common-sense reductions such as cutting the number of administrators, requiring faculty to teach more, eliminating remediation, and reducing duplication.

The governor would like to see a cut of $49 million, but the Senate budget would increase the UNC budget, not decrease it. Taxpayers are likely to lose this round.

Surprise! Disinvitation Incidents are Up on College Campuses


A new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) confirms what anyone following the news has known for a long time now: protests against controversial speakers coming to college campuses have become more frequent and more successful over the past several years.

“Disinvitation Report 2014: A Disturbing 15-Year Trend” examines “disinvitation efforts at public and private American institutions from the year 2000 to the present.” Data was collected from a number of sources, including news accounts and case submissions to FIRE and other organizations.

Over at ACTA’s blog, the Forum, we discuss some of the report’s findings. Of particular note is the correlation FIRE found between the restrictiveness of an institution’s free speech policies and the frequency of disinvitation incidents. College is often a time of immersive education, and it turns out students really do absorb the values around them. If the academy itself demonstrates that free speech is subservient to political correctness, then students will get the message. That’s why, in Free to Teach, Free to Learn, ACTA calls upon trustees to establish comprehensive policies to foster academic freedom and intellectual diversity.

“The NEW Postsecondary Sustainability Award!”


As a regular reader of Department of Education announcements, I’ve come to see the department as a kind of profligate, demented Santa Claus, dispensing awards and grants for all kinds of things, such as hip-hop arts education, pre-K training, and “green schools.”  Yesterday, the department’s “Green Strides” newsletter excitedly announced that awards for “green schools” would be expanded to postsecondary institutions. 

Each state will now be able to add to its traditional list of nominees one postsecondary institution “for exemplary achievement in all three Pillars.”  These “Pillars” include Reduced Environmental Impact and Cost, Improved Health and Wellness, and Effective Environmental and Sustainability Education. The newsletter explained, “For this award, state selection committees are particularly encouraged to document how the nominees’ sustainability work has reduced college costs, increased completion rates, led to employment, and ensured robust civic skills among graduates, and to make an effort to consider diverse types of institutions.”  I fail to see how encouraging composting on college campuses will increase “completion rates,” lead to employment, or ensure “robust civic skills.”  One thing is for certain, though: improved writing skills do not seem to be in the mix of lofty, earth-changing goals–as evidenced by the grammatically disruptive, “to make an effort to consider diverse types of institutions.”

What’s a Professor to Do?!


Suppose you were a college math professor and discovered that most of the students enrolled in your class had trouble with arithmetic. That would present quite a problem.

Many English professors have pretty much the same problem: many of the students enrolled in their classes are very weak in writing ability and hardly ever read books. That’s the difficulty facing SUNY-Oswego professor Thomas Bertonneau. In his latest Pope Center piece, he writes, “Today’s students have read few books. What they have read is typically the topical, published-yesterday fiction that the hucksters in the scholastic book market sell to the middle schools and high schools as ‘edgy,’ ‘with it’ or ‘out-of-the-headlines’ portrayals of teenage anxiety.”

How do you connect a course on literary criticism to students who have virtually no idea what literature is? Bertonneau has struggled with that problem for years and in the piece he explains what has has found that works. When he does get through to students, he finds that they’re “grateful to step outside of heavily politicized discourses to encounter literature on its own terms.”

The Wrong Kind of Accountability


In his second term, President Obama has properly pushed for more accountability in higher education. But his administration has long had a misguided focus on singling out for-profit schools for particular opprobrium. This is most apparent in the administration’s push for stricter “gainful employment” regulations, from which traditional, non-profit degree programs would be shielded.

In its fight against these new rules, the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities commissioned a study of the impact these regs would have on students enrolled in for-profit programs. What they found ought to make policymakers pause. According to Inside Higher Ed:

Because of gainful employment, the study found, more than 2 million students at for-profits would lose access to federal aid during the next decade. … And the report found a potential high end of as many as 7.5 million students losing aid.

For-profit education providers often serve students from underprivileged backgrounds. If the programs in which these students are enrolled are blacklisted, many will be unable to find a qualifying program to which they can reasonably transfer. In an effort to protect the vulnerable from unscrupulous providers, new “gainful employment” rules could end up putting any sort of higher education out of reach for those who need it most.

This is just more evidence that the kind of accountability higher ed needs won’t come from singling out for-profits for extra top-down regulation. What we need is across the board transparency requirements for all types of schools—public and private, nonprofit and for-profit. Armed with knowledge, students looking at all types on institutions will then be able to evaluate what programs best suit their needs. Institutions will shrink and suffer—or grow and succeed—based on the decisions of those who matter most: the students they are supposed to serve.


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