Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

The Faculty Teaching “Load” in the UNC System


In an old, perhaps apocryphal joke, a state legislator is talking to a professor and asks how much teaching he does. “Eight hours,” replies the prof. “Well, that’s a pretty full day, but at least the work is interesting,” replies the politician, not realizing what the prof means by eight hours.

It is important for higher ed authorities to keep up the perception that faculty members put in a lot of time in the classroom. In today’s Pope Center piece, Jay Schalin takes a critical look at data in the UNC system that seems pretty hard to believe — data that make it appear that profs teach substantially more than they actually do. His analysis suggests that the system is trying to fudge the figures so as to keep state funding up: “With so much money riding on state officials’ perceptions of UNC faculty workloads, there is an incentive for UNC officials to inflate their averages.”

From Jay’s analysis, it seems that UNC is trying to game the system by overstating the average teaching loads of faculty members. That sort of behavior is perfectly consistent with public choice theory, which holds that public officials will do all they can to maximize their revenues.

Let’s Get Serious about Sex, cont’d.


The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault claims that one in five women has been sexually assaulted in college. Granted, the one in five figure is the result of surveys that are aimed at constructing a broad conception of what constitutes assault. (The words rape, assault, harassment, misconduct, violence, battery, abuse, victimization, stalking, and coercion tend to elide into each other as you peruse the literature overall). We certainly don’t have to believe that these claims all involve actual rape or even serious violence, and we may suspect that many involve miscalculation, disappointment, and regret on the part of the woman. And we may even surmise that after several decades of the feminist ascendancy, women have been soundly tutored to think any questionable interchange with a male of the species is a form of assault.

Yes, the figure is being challenged as outlandish, and the definitions are slippery, but suppose we accept it as a sign that in the eyes of college women, a lot of discomfiting and unpleasant things are happening between the boys and the girls on campus these days. Isn’t it possible that the proximity of men and women in sleeping and sometimes even in bathroom arrangements in coed dormitories might, might, have something to do with that? Isn’t it worth looking into? To my knowledge, no one has investigated this aspect specifically (I wonder why), but one can glean some hints from other work. According to the Campus Sexual Assault Study, for the period 2005-2007, commissioned by the Department of Justice, assaults usually occur with someone the woman knows, and usually in her freshman and sophomore years; these are the years when students are most likely to live in dorms before many decamp to off-campus apartments. The CSA study also shows some figures that indicate a significant number of assaults occurred in the victim’s own dormitory. We might conjecture also that the familiarity of the coed dorm could lead to blurring of boundaries and unwelcome presumptions of intimacy outside of the dorms as well. In the feminist-sponsored imperative to believe that men and women are the same and so can cohabit easily together, authorities ironically find themselves confronting the fact that men and women are different in sexual attitudes and behavior. The literature mentions the need to be alert to risk factors. Well here is one—an arrangement which only yesterday would have been considered scandalous, irresponsible, dangerous, and a guarantee of trouble.

Another risk factor is drinking. According to the CSA report, “the majority of sexual assaults occur when women are incapacitated due to their use of substances, primarily alcohol.” So wouldn’t it be wise to prohibit alcohol in the dorms and to tell women to watch their drinking overall? The CSA study strongly advises that women be apprised of this risk factor, but it is not stressed in the current White House campaign. Of course, it is still wrong for a man to take advantage of an inebriated woman, and a gentleman would never do so, but to prevent trouble, women should take responsibility for their own behavior.


Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous


College students might dream about one day enjoying the lifestyle of the rich and famous, but some can do more than that. They can enroll in a program on Global Luxury Management and, for a while at least, cavort in pricey boutiques while learning how to appear cool and sophisticated. In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron writes about the Global Luxury Management program at North Carolina State.

I would like to see this program (and so many others that colleges offer) put to the test of the market. If students had to pay the full cost of their education, would the program survive? I doubt it.

Mixed-Race Student Victimized by University’s Diversity Mania


The “diversity” mindset that dominates in higher education insists on pigeon-holing people into groups they supposedly “represent.” The University of Connecticut recently did that with a grad student in English, very much to her detriment. The student, a woman who is mixed black and white, won a prestigious and valuable award on her merit, only to later discover that she had been given a less valuable award based on “diversity” because the university needed someone for it. Read about this case in this press release by the Center for Individual Rights.

I seem to recall hearing a line about evaluating people on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

Read and Weep, If You Love Literature


English professors have nearly killed English departments, as evidenced by the University of Arizona’s moving English from the Humanities to the College of Social Behavior, as well as the hectoring of “hidebound faculty members” who believe that “Web comics” and “hip-hop discourses” are not appropriate for study in English classes.  I write about the trend at Minding the Campus in “Goodbye to English Departments.”


Recording Classes on Cell Phones: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?


Technological changes almost always breed unexpected controversies. When the cell phone first came on the market, no one thought that students might one day use them to make recordings of what goes on in their classes, but we now know that they are do exactly that. Should it be allowed? Or banned? Or restricted in some way? And who should make the decision?

Those are issues I discuss in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call.

Some people argue that beneficial classroom interactions might be deterred if students or the professor think that they are being recorded. Statements might be taken out of context or edited so as to make the speaker look bad to anyone who clicks on a posted link, thus causing a loss of robust presentation and discussion. On the other hand, the suspicion that a student might be making a recording could deter bad things from happening, such as useless harangues by professors or guest speakers.

It isn’t an easy call and I suggest that the best course is to avoid centralized decisions in favor of a more flexible “spontaneous order” approach relying on decisions at the micro level.


More on Needless Teaching Credentials


Teachers, in my opinion, are born, not made. The good ones have a servant’s heart. But how they hone the skills of becoming effective is a valid point to discuss. Rick Hess used to write about the added cost of a college experience that the extra year getting a credential meant. It raises the college cost to 125% more than necessary.

I witnessed firsthand the quality of the to-be-teachers when I was in college. As an English major, I was scrambling around for classes after completing all the core requirements and enrolled in “Kiddie” lit. The education majors couldn’t write papers. It was astounding. (I loved that course and its illumination of the major themes in children’s stories.)

This advanced degree stuff all started in the late 1950s with California’s Fisher bill. The idea that a master’s degree gets you more money is ludicrous. Learning should be for learning’s sake. That’s what we want the kids to believe, isn’t it?

During my experience with Catholic school education, one of the saddest occurrences was when a valued, effective teacher was let go because he or she hadn’t a credential and lacked the energy to go back to school. Such an incredible waste of a person’s talent.

The same errors of judgment occurred when parents of Catholic schools demanded that class size be reduced because the public schools were doing it. This in a parochial system that had based its model on 30-35 per class, and had seen that regimen graduate the most prepared and headed-to-success students in our country.


President Obama Misses the Target


Starting with his 2012 State of the Union Address, President Obama has properly taken aim at high college costs. But when it comes to policy implementation, his administration is not taking the measures that are essential for true reform.

The latest salvo from the White House is an executive order extending income-based caps on loan repayment to millions of new borrowers. According to Inside Higher Ed, the order allows “all federal loan borrowers, regardless of when they borrowed, to cap their monthly loan payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income and to have any remaining loan debt forgiven after 20 years.”

This will undeniably provide relief to many struggling under the burden student loan debt. But, as the editors here at NRO note, “The open-ended nature of many federal subsidies for higher-ed borrowing is a big contributor to college costs in the first place.” Making it easier for students to take on debt will assuredly fuel higher education’s voracious appetite for tuition revenue (the administration itself does not yet know the how much expanding the loan program will cost), but will do little to address the underlying cause of the student debt crisis—the unconscionable, ever growing cost of a college education.

Transparent, accessible measures of college quality, outcomes, and cost are the only solution to that problem. If the federal government wants to help, it could start by breaking the college accreditation cartel, which has for decades provided an illusion of higher education quality control, while increasing, rather than controlling, higher education operating costs. The Higher Education Opportunity Act is up for renewal this year, and it is an opportunity for urgently needed reform. The president can lay the groundwork for Congress to replace this broken system with the information that empowers consumer choice. Ultimately, it is students, parents, and state taxpayers who will have to hold colleges accountable directly. It’s long past time for schools to pare back bloated administrations, cut outsized presidential salaries, make more and better teaching a priority, and end unnecessary building sprees.

Higher ed doesn’t need a Band-Aid—it needs surgery. It’s time to tackle the root of the problem.

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.”


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