Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Conundrums Regarding Preferences for “Hispanic” Students


Weak as the argument for preferences for black students is, it’s strong as steel compared with the argument that students who happen to have some “Hispanic” ancestry deserve special treatment by elite colleges and universities. Their ancestors weren’t enslaved; on the contrary, some were conquistadors who extended Spanish dominion over native peoples. Including “Hispanics” (or “Latina/o”) among the preferred groups makes no sense other than as a political ploy.

In this Discriminations post, John Rosenberg observes that giving preferred group status to “Hispanics” involves some conundrums. For example, some Brazilians trace their ancestry to Americans who fled the Confederacy after the end of the Civil War. Because Brazil is regarded as “Hispanic” (even though the language is Portuguese), if a young Brazilian of such lineage were to apply to one of our prestige universities, he or she would get the Hispanic preference.

Why don’t we just call the whole thing off?

Sex and College


The local NPR affiliate interviewed an incoming college freshman female student and her mother as they prepared for the opening of school. Instead of happy chattering about the new experience awaiting her, the student was concerned by the probability she would be sexually assaulted, or the victim of other varieties of violent crime. Are these genuine concerns or paranoid fears stirred up female activists and a hyper-active media?

Sadly, a little of both. The statistics say 25 percent of college females are sexually attacked, a statistic that requires a grain of salt tempering the statistics by deleting incidents reported  by females that follow-up  investigations reveal were exaggerated. Across the country males have had their lives negatively affected - or ruined – by girls who report consensual sexual liaisons as assault or rape to exact revenge, knowing that simply bringing a charge stains a man for life. Or cases arise out of remorse, covering up unladylike behavior with a patina of outrage. And, of course, the age-old role of alcohol is invoked, a double-edged message that conveys, “I was drunk and he took advantage of me.” (I am forced to add an old joke. What is the mating call of the Southern co-ed? “Ya’all, I’m so drunk”!)

No matter the actual facts in these cases. A police report that doesn’t corroborate an accusation is rarely the end of the matter. Instead, buoyed by righteous lessons taught in women’s studies courses, the alleged victim turns to the college. Now schools are burdened with acting as the justice system,  a role traditionally relegated to student courts. But the students dragooned into these roles discover that the truth does not matter when it comes to l’amour

Dissatisfied with the results in the nation’s system of justice and time-honored student-run courts,  female  activists appeal to the sisterhood in Congress, or local government lamenting the system is unfair and demanding more be done, especially prevention. The Feds get involved and have passed laws and regulations requiring colleges to implement “policies” and create costly infrastructure and awareness programs. The result is that going to college, formerly a joyful expectation, is fraught with anxiety. Another reason not to go at all.


Trustees and Academic Content: No Dilemma


It may be a matter of pouring old wine into new bottles, but the report on “Governance for a New Era” issued by the American Council for Trustees and Alumni does provide good advice for university trustees.

Will they take it? The evidence that trustees will respond is rather weak, especially to ACTA’s overarching message, which is: Trustees “must regularly assess the cost/value proposition of academic and non-academic programs in setting their goals.”

In other words, trustees are supposed to consider and actually define their mission and priorities and review the school’s educational content to see if those are being fulfilled.

Trustees should set the “educational strategy,” however much the faculty doesn’t like it. Now, it is true, the report says, that “faculty should always have the first word when it comes to the curriculum, and their expertise must have a central role in shaping policy on academic quality.” However, “faculty cannot be the last and determining voice regarding academic value, academic quality, and academic strategy.”

The report recommends that trustees:

  • Outline educational outcomes desired (such as their views on the required level of mathematical knowledge or whether students should know a foreign language)
  • Review the general education program (i.e., core curriculum) and its effectiveness in preparation for post-college life
  • Annually assess what programs have been dropped or added, along with the criteria that have been used to make those choices.

Those sound good to me, and we can hope.

National Higher Ed Leaders Call for Reforming University Governance


In a newly released survey, ACTA found that 89% of the public believes college is becoming unaffordable for the middle class. And over 90% believes that boards of trustees should take the lead in reforming higher education to lower costs and improve quality.

Governance for a New Era, the report of a project led by CUNY Board Chair and former president of Yale University Benno C. Schmidt, and signed by 22 national higher education leaders, couldn’t be timelier. Over the past several months, leading college and university faculty, trustees, and presidents met and discussed the unprecedented challenges facing America’s institutions of higher learning. The result is this new report, which clearly identifies trustees as fiduciaries, not cheerleaders and boosters, and urgently calls on them to take a more active role in the governance of their institutions than they have traditionally held.

Tomorrow, at 9:30 a.m., Benno Schmidt will lead a discussion of the report’s findings and recommendations at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He will be joined by Tom McMillan, University of Maryland Regent and former U.S. Congressman; Richard DeMillo, Distinguished Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and author of From Abelard to Apple; and John Engler, former Governor of Michigan and President of the Business Roundtable. You can find the details here.

“We are concerned that Government is rapidly approaching a tipping point for the student loan system”


That title could certainly apply to the U.S. but instead it’s from a report in the U.K., where higher ed suffers from most of the problems we find here. As we read in this Freeman piece by British writer Emma Elliott Freire, the idea of requiring colleges to have some “skin in the game” is also surfacing over there.


A Well-Reasoned Piece on the Salaita Affair


Via PrawfsBlawg, Professor Steven Lubet’s recent Chicago Tribune op-ed on the case.


In Case You Don’t Know What a “Passout Page” Is....


Twitter has many uses that might not occur to people who went to college long ago and don’t have much familiarity with such social media. In the latest Pope Center piece, Harry Painter (who is a recent grad) explores some of the innovative uses of Twitter that college students have devised. It seems that we have another “invisible hand” phenomenon here. As Harry writes, “While this is probably not their intention, people who expose their friends on the Internet may unwittingly be encouraging moderation. Especially those who know that they cannot tolerate alcohol will want to avoid being the next online sensation at their college.”

“Post” Pabulum Depression


Here is a long — painfully, 876-words long — call for “Increasing College Diversity” on Huffington Post.  It’s quite unremarkable, the usual pabulum, and not at all worth reading. 

I post it only to note that at no point does the author argue that “diversity” will yield educational benefits for white and Asian students by exposing them to random conversations with students having a different melanin content from themselves.  Even that is not itself noteworthy, since most defenses of “diversity” likewise fail in this regard.  But it is worth noting that even those who defend the use of racial and ethnic preferences don’t seem to think much of the only legal defense the Supreme Court has recognized for such discrimination.

Is Mitch Daniels the New College President Model?


When Mitch Daniels went from Governor of Indiana to president of Purdue University, I wondered if he would remain true to his reputation as a no-nonsense guy who cared about efficiency rather than being popular. It would have been easy to just take the reins and then coast along, making a few minor changes but doing nothing of much importance. Now that Daniels has been at Purdue for more than a year and a half, it seems that he is remaining true to his reputation. Rich Vedder writes about Daniels in his latest SeeThru.Edu piece.

While big-spending college presidents who devoted most of their time to fundraising and trying to enhance the image of their schools were the rage for the last three or four decades, Vedder argues that the new model of a successful leader will be much more like Daniels than, oh, Gordon Gee.

A Student Who’s a Good Example of Mike Munger’s point


A recent Pope Center article by Duke professor Michael Munger made the point that college education most fails liberal students because professors rarely challenge them to confront the possibility that their convictions might be in error. The letter below, written by GMU professor Don Boudreaux to a college junior supports Munger’s argument very well. The student, who fancies himself well informed, resorts to pointless invective in his lame rejoinder to Boudreaux’s point regarding the current college fad over “sustainability.”

16 August 2014
Mr. Joshua Holman
Mr. Holman:
Upset by my “Notable & Quotable” in today’s Wall Street Journal, you ask if I can “really be so clueless to not know the commonsense meaning of sustainability.”  You then baselessly accuse me of being “paid by the Kochs to emit word pollution” to “block the work of the many activists struggling to save our planet from over use, exploitation and destruction.”
Here’s a quiz: Who wrote the following? “It is very hard to be against sustainability.  In fact, the less you know about it, the better it sounds.  That is true of lots of ideas.  The questions that come to be connected with sustainable development or sustainable growth or just sustainability are genuine and deeply felt and very complex.  The combination of deep feeling and complexity breeds buzzwords, and sustainability has certainly become a buzzword.”
a) me
b) Ronald Reagan
c) George Will
d) John Stossel
e) Milton Friedman
f) Robert Solow
The correct answer is “f,” Robert Solow* – a distinctly Progressive Nobel laureate economist at M.I.T. who nevertheless, by your logic, must have been paid by “corporate polluters” to “discredit the sustainability movement.”
You describe yourself as an “informed and involved college junior.”  I don’t doubt that you’re involved.  But I beg you – sincerely – to consider the possibility that your information is not as full and free of error as you now suppose it to be.  Reality cannot be grasped, and it certainly cannot be improved, with slogans.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics

College Debt and Home Buying


Last week the Washington Post reported on a study by Goldman Sachs about the effect of college loans on home buying. The study found debt to be a significant deterrent: Among millennials (in this study, people aged 25 to 34 in 2010), having a student loan of $50,000 or more reduces a person’s chances of buying a home.

The homeownership rate for people who carry more than that is estimated to be 8 percentage points lower than it is for college graduates with less than $50,000 in student debt, according to the analysis, which is based on the Federal Reserve’s 2010 Survey of Consumer Finance.

The study also found  that if graduates pay 10 percent or more of their income on student loans, their rate of homeownership is about 22 percentage points lower than others in the cohort.

The good news is that only 6.6 percent of people that age had more than $50,000 in debt. But that was four years ago and it does not appear to include those who graduated from high school only!

Law Professor Calls Out “The Law School Scam”


University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos makes a devastating attack on for-profit law schools in this Atlantic article. Those schools bank on luring in weak students who have little chance of ever landing a law job that would enable them to pay off the debt they’ll have to incur. The schools almost certainly couldn’t succeed (and probably wouldn’t ever have been started) if it weren’t for easy government money. They are a great illustration of the point I have often made that federal financial aid is what enables a lot of educational waste and later woes for students who were suckered in.

Campos is not just attacking the for-profits, though. Non-profits do the same thing. The underlying pathology is the same — the easy availability of government loans.

After reading the article, think about the claim made so often by establishment types that higher education is still a “great investment.” They say that because, on average, people who have college degrees make more than do people who don’t have college degrees. Exactly the same argument can be made in favor of going to law school. On average, people who have law degrees earn more than people who don’t, so better take the LSAT! The obvious problem with that argument is that the average earnings for people who already have law degrees is irrelevant to students thinking about getting one now, and especially the marginal students who might make it through law school but probably won’t pass the bar.

Can Group Work be Useful in College?


Today’s Pope Center piece is by Appalachian State political science professor George Ehrhardt, who responds to the piece we published recently by professor Bruce Gans. In his piece, Professor Ehrhardt argues that group work can be beneficial in college courses, and gives some examples from his experience. After reading Ehrhardt, you can read the rejoinder that Gans has written.


The Latest Excuse for Limiting Free Speech on Campus


Young people’s brains are still developing until they’re 21, and so should be protected against possibly harmful speech. So claims Michael Yaki, a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. In this SeeThruEdu post, Tom Lindsay takes a dim view of that notion.

My question: Who gets to decide what speech is all right and what must be suppressed for the good of impressionable youngsters? The only people who would want to have such authority are people who couldn’t possibly be trusted with it.

Postmodernism Invades the Courts


The ongoing ordeal of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito, convicted of murdering Amanda’s housemate, Meredith Kercher, during the two girls’ study year abroad in Perugia, Italy, in 2007, has alarming postmodern implications, that is, that the truth is based not on agreed upon facts and evidence, but is contingent on narrative and point of view.

Their original guilty verdict in the Italian court was overturned on appeal, then reinstated in a new trial ordered by the high court. The reason for the reinstatement was that the explanation for the innocent verdict did not, in effect, sufficiently account for the narrative–that is, the narrative of the multiple killers and supposed animosity between Amanda and Meredith, the narrative that the physical evidence does not support. (The original narrative of the sex game gone wrong was rejected in the new guilty verdict but replaced with Amanda’s anger at Meredith’s supposed criticism of her hygienic habits.) 

The only supposed physical evidence for Raffaele and Amanda being at the murder scene was two tiny specks of DNA evidence, from a crime scene that was violent, disordered, and replete with copious leavings from the real killer, Rudy Guede. When the prosecution finally allowed the tests to be released that supposedly revealed the DNA of Raffaele and Amanda, the specks were shown to be unacceptable as evidence by international standards. The DNA profile supposedly derived for Raffaele could belong to several hundred people in Perugia. The court that declared them innocent analyzed each piece of evidence and the testimony of supposed eyewitnessnes and found that all of it collapsed on investigation. There is simply no evidence that the two were at the scene of the murder at all, period, full stop.

But evidently the narrative can survive despite the facts. The judge who handed down the second guilty verdict acknowledges that it is nigh impossible to clean up a crime scene of traces of two people, while leaving intact those of a third, but concludes anyway that such a cleanup must have happened since Amanda and Raffaele were there. The narrative also serves to support the unbelievably lenient sentence given to Rudy Guede, because he supposedly didn’t act alone. In February it was reported that he was studying history via a nearby university, and, having served less than six years, is eligible for release on day parole. I wonder if he’s studying postmodern history.

So terrible is this whole situation that Steve Moore, the retired FBI Special Agent who has been defending Amanda in the press and public venues advises American students to avoid study in certain sections of Italy! Italy, birthplace of the Renaissance, the ancestral home of so many millions of Americans! But Moore points out that many Italians are fighting this injustice, somehow both primitive, in its witch hunt aspect, and postmodern, in its denial of facts and objective reality.

Tenure, Free Speech, and the First Amendment


A recent incident has people talking about professorial free speech, namely the decision by the University of Illinois to revoke a job offer (to teach in its American Indian studies program) because of his astoundingly intemperate statements regarding Israel on twitter. The AAUP is upset, stating, “We stand by Professor Salaita and defend his right to engage in extramural utterances. The University of Illinois cannot cancel an appointment based upon Twitter statements that are protected speech in the United States of America.”

In this RealClearPolitics piece, Carl Cannon comments, “So there you have it. Keeping a college teaching job in this country is a constitutional right. Never mind whether it’s in the interests of the students or the university. Under this theory, tenured professorships are lifetime gigs with more job security than federal judgeships. But many people holding them don’t act like impartial judges — they act like unhinged advocates.” Cannon goes on to recount quite a few other recent cases that support his point.

The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech and the Supreme Court has long held that state governments and their institutions are bound by that limitation too. It does not say that state institutions cannot decline to employ someone on account of intemperate statements that call into question his fitness for a job.

This is a difficult area for making bright line rules. We don’t want academics to feel that their employment hangs by a thread that’s easily cut on the basis of a statement that someone in authority finds objectionable. But neither do we want colleges bound to employ or continue to employ academics who say vicious things in or out of the classroom. I can only say that it would probably be better for institutions to write contracts that spell out as clearly as possible what speech (and conduct) is grounds for sanctions or termination.

A New Vision of Opportunity?


In her new book Place, Not Race: A New Vision of Opportunity in America​, Georgetown law professor Sheryll Cashin argues that existing race-based admissions policies provide only “optical diversity” and don’t do much to level the playing field for genuinely underprivileged or disadvantaged students. She maintains that society is stratified and that, for many people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, the outlook for advancement is dismal. To help eliminate those structural barriers, Cashin proposes, prestigious schools should open their doors to low-income individuals who appear to be “strivers.” 

George Leef rebuts Cashin’s arguments – and their underlying assumptions - in today’s Pope Center Clarion Call. “How well people do in this country has little to do with their origins and everything to do with how good they are at producing what others value. No one is prevented from developing talents and profiting from them,” he writes. 

Even if we assume that the roadblocks for low-income individuals are so numerous that “something must be done,” does it necessarily follow that their attending top schools will prepare them for career and life success? Leef notes that “prestige schools can be far from ideal learning environments. The faculty is often too immersed in research to work much with undergrads. The curriculum is often a giant smorgasbord of courses, some useful, many doubtful, and little guidance to help students make good selections.”

“America will be much better off when we abandon the idea that ‘elite’ colleges are so special that which students they admit is a matter of importance,” concludes Leef. 

An Alternative that Might Rapidly Deflate the College Bubble


The typical student spends more than four years in college to get a degree, spending a huge amount of money and accumulating debt, then leaves (with or without a degree) to face a labor market where many of them will earn little more than the minimum wage in jobs that high school kids can do.

How is this for an alternative? Instead of pursuing that BA in Whatever Studies, enroll in a school that teaches you how to program. For $12,000, you can take a 16 week course that prepares you for work in a rapidly expanding field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a huge shortfall in programmers by 2020, and the compensation averages about $36 per hour.

All that is discussed in this piece on NCPA’s education blog, by Farhad Mirzadeh.

Moreover, he writes, “technology and the field of programming move at such fast paces that getting a degree will be almost worthless after receiving it. Instead, programmers stay up to date by being on the job and adapting to new advances within the field.”

The higher education sector mushroomed by selling low-grade occupational training along with a bundle of other courses that few students really wanted to take. With programming schools and other training options that cost less and don’t include lots of unwanted stuff in the bundle, the mushroom seems about to start its dessication.

Peter Wood’s “Tour of the Barricades”


Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars has a superb essay on Minding the Campus entitled Campus Activism: The Fight for Imaginary Victories.

In the essay, he surveys the various politically correct causes to which many students devote so much energy, including divestment of shares in naughty companies, denunciation of Israel, sustainability, microaggression, and preventing people who have bad views on important issues from speaking on campus. Peter writes, “Our college campuses are busy fretting over numerous imaginary dangers, which of course forestalls them from thinking seriously about some real problems.”

I strongly recommend the essay, as well as the two previous ones in Peter’s “the year that was in higher ed” series, links to which are included.

Blatant Conflict of Interest in Campus Accountability and Safety Act


Writing with his usual clarity and command of facts and cases, Hans Bader of Competitive Enterprise Institute points out a glaring problem with the proposed Campus Accountability and Safety Act in this Liberty Unyielding piece. It would allow the same government agency that imposes a fine to collect it. In this case, that would be the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education. Bader formerly worked in that agency and attests that it “is one of the most ardently left-wing federal agencies.” Letting it levy fines and pad its own budget with them would a terrible idea. “Giving the OCR the ability to fine colleges millions for dollars will encourage them to curry favor with the OCR by doing things like restricting politically incorrect speech on campus. It will also give OCR expanded leverage to curtail due process for students accused of various offenses.”

The bill, sponsored by Senator McCaskill, seems to be nothing but the usual political grandstanding over a problem that additional federal regulation can do nothing to help. With the provision about fines in it, it is intolerable.


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