Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Real Accountability Means Accountability for Everyone


It isn’t every day that the Washington Post comes out against a policy of the Obama administration, but in a recent editorial, it did just that.

The Department of Education has proposed new rules that would tighten “gainful employment” regulations on for-profit colleges, cutting off financial aid to programs whose graduates have an unacceptably high ratio of student debt relative to their incomes. Insofar as such a rule brings more accountability to higher ed by focusing on student outcomes, it is coming from the right place. But as the Post notes, these new regulations will be very selectively applied.

Administration officials deny they are singling out for-profit institutions, arguing that the measures tying student debt and loan default to financial aid would apply to all career-training programs. Blurred in that claim is that degree programs in the for-profit sector would have to meet the stringent new standards but degree programs offered by public and private nonprofit institutions would not.

This double standard makes little sense. While for-profits certainly have their failings, there is no reason that non-profit institutions should be unfairly shielded from accountability. Given that for-profit, career-oriented programs often serve low-income individuals who desperately need skills and credentials, this targeting of for-profits seems even more wrongheaded.

The key to real accountability is across-the-board transparency. Every type of college ought to make key measures of success, audited by a third-party, publicly available in order to receive federal funds. Selective enforcement won’t do.

The Decline of College Debate Is Symbolic


Recently, a college debate team won the national cross exam championship and how it managed to do so is shocking. The team ignored the stated resolution and other rules of debate. I used to judge debate (high school and college) and in those days it was sufficient for the negative team merely to point out that the affirmative’s case was irrelevant to the resolution to win. That was one of the rules of debate, meant to keep a “level playing field” for both teams. Alas, the rule of law in debate is deteriorating just as the rule of law generally is.

In this piece, Peter Schiff discusses the that debate round and draws out some wider implications.


Not the Rape Your Mother Feared


The latest 20 pages of federal regulations telling universities how they must address the problem of assault vividly illustrate how off-base college education has become. These new rules follow a successful effort by the Obama administration to relax the standard of guilt in sexual assault cases—making it easier to charge young men with rape, ruining their educational careers and damaging their future, often because of actions that reflect heavy drinking and stupid decisions by both parties.

Yes, there are rapes on campuses, but a very large percentage of them are “date rape” (or, rather “acquaintance rape,” since few people on campus go out on dates anymore).

The universities may not be handling sexual assault cases with finesse. But the real problem with this regulatory and litigious approach to acquaintance rape is what it does to the parties involved.

Harry Lewis was dean of Harvard College when two assault cases led to the dismissal of two male students. After that, more sexual assault cases turned up (seven in one school year, compared to thirteen over the previous ten years).

In his book Excellence Without a Soul, he reports that in typical cases, “the only witnesses were the principals and more often than not, both had been drinking and had only vague or partial recollections of the events. In the process of adjudicating the complaints, much of the arguing concerned not whether sex had taken place but how drunk the woman had been when it happened. “

In Lewis’s view, young people are being taught to accuse and litigate instead of to grow up. “In the 1970s, a movement began that was intended to empower and protect women and to bolster their independence,” he writes; “ now, it teaches them that in matters sexual, they cannot control what happens to them.”

But tell that to feminist groups, university women’s centers, and the federal government. They wouldn’t know what he is talking about. It’s all about victims—and, apparently, only women can be victims.

Pew’s Misleading Research -- Not Going to College Isn’t a Penalty


Lots of studies claiming that higher ed is a great investment merely imply that people who don’t go to college are missing out on a big boost in earnings, but a Pew study released in February actually says that those who don’t go are inflicting a penalty on themselves. I think that’s a completely mistaken conclusion and gives young people, especially those of marginal academic ability and interest, a terrible piece of advice. In my latest Forbes article, I explain that college credentials only appear to be increasing in value due to ever-increasing credential inflation.

Mission Creep or a Welcome Trend?


Community colleges in 22 states have been authorized to confer bachelor’s degrees. In Florida, for example, community colleges have granted more than 30,000 four-year degrees in just five years. This growing national trend has its critics. Such opponents – usually from four-year public universities - say that it represents mission creep on the part of community colleges seeking greater prestige. They argue that it creates unnecessary competition for universities and that quality concerns still need to be addressed. Related legislation in Colorado and Michigan reflects the sway of the four-year university systems: community colleges are allowed to offer degrees, but only in specific, pre-approved fields like culinary arts and dental hygiene. 

Proponents, however, argue that community colleges’ expanded mission helps students enter high-demand fields without the burden of four-year university tuition rates. They claim that it’s a common sense way to save taxpayer dollars. In today’s Pope Center feature, Harry Painter discusses a recent legislative request made by four North Carolina community college presidents. The presidents want the N.C. General Assembly to explore the possibility of allowing community colleges to grant “applied baccalaureate degrees” – degrees tied to the specific needs of regional employers – in fields such as paralegal studies, fire science, and digital media. 

Cases from other states indicate that if North Carolina eventually allows community college competition to take place, it will be limited and confined so as to not upset some of the state’s higher education-related special interests; the four college presidents’ narrowly tailored proposal certainly reflects that understanding. 


Blue Jeans, Bowdoin, and the Totalitarian Impulse


No independent thinking allowed in the groves of academe.  Read all about it in Peter Wood’s essay here.

Christian College that Canceled Charles Murray Digs in Heels


Azusa Pacific University came under intense scrutiny these week after it canceled a scheduled talk by Charles Murray of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Dominic Lynch of Loyola University of Chicago reached out to APU for his feature story this morning at The College Fix, hoping the university would offer further explanation for its decision to put the kibosh on the notorious Bell Curve Curmudgeon, Murray.

No dice.

APU officials are sticking to their original ridiculous story about how it is so very, very late in the semester, and therefore not possible to go forward with this talk (despite the fact that it was planned months in advance.)

“I can add that his visit fell the very last week of our semester when students are busy preparing for finals and graduation,” said university spokesperson Rachel White.

They are just so darn busy at Azusa.

White’s statement was very similar to the explanation offered up by the president of APU earlier this week, “Given the lateness of the semester and the full record of Dr. Murray’s scholarship, I realized we needed more time to prepare for a visit and postponed Wednesday’s conversation.”

They’ve got no time, understand?

Has nothing to do with Murray’s politics. Absolutely nothing.

No, Facts Don’t Matter in Duke Lacrosse Case


The Duke lacrosse player scandal will not go away. And it shouldn’t until the academic Left and the radical scholars at the school are finally and permanently discredited and quarantined. To them, and the mainstream media, the issue  had nothing to do with right or wrong, innocence or guilt. Rather, the class warfare “narrative”  is the only truth—that rich white boys  sexually  attacked a black female. Problem is, they didn’t. But the narrative must live.
This explains why The Price of Silence, a new book questioning the innocence of the lacrosse players by New York City-based journalist William Cohan, is extended credibility—for example National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm, the broadcasting Fairy Queen of the Left.
The quivering-voiced hostess has never met a liberal she did not like, nor a utopian scheme that will not work. Thus she was unable to resist playing Joan of Arc and wielding her sword of politically correct righteousness on behalf of author Cohan and his laughable defense of Durham prosecutor Mike Nifong and the Group of 88 Duke community activists intent on  throwing the lacrosse players in jail with no evidence.
Fortunately, Stuart Taylor, co-author of Until Proven Innocent and the Shameful Injustice of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case with KC Johnson—editor of Durham In Wonderland, the excellent web site that has chronicled the case from the beginning—was listening and called in to set the record straight. Here is the link to Taylor’s riposte. Taylor also  cited a column of mine.
As the editor of the Raleigh Metro Magazine—which covers Durham, the home of Duke University—I was able to understand right off what was happening, and why the boys were the victims of the raging radicalism on campus. Here is my first column on the subject from 2006, outlining what every other media outlet missed—including Greta Van Susteren of Fox News when I met her in Durham covering the case.
And here is the disconnect. Greta, even as a conservative, personifies the obtuse inability of the mainstream media to perceive that the radical scholars  have taken over higher education. From there the disease of victimology, multiculturalism, and politically correct hardball entered society. Yet Greta had no idea what I was talking about, a bad sign for America.

“Pay As You Earn” -- A Ploy to Keep the College Bubble Going


Today’s Wall Street Journal has a good editorial on the Obama administration’s “Pay As You Earn” program, which is designed to help college students (and also those seeking higher degrees, such as JDs) by allowing many of them to off-load some of their debts. This will probably buy some votes and undoubtedly help to keep the higher ed bubble inflated for a while longer. Especially disturbing is the way the program lures students into “public service” work so they can escape more of their debt. The editorial correctly notes, “impressionable youngsters, who likely have little or no wealth, are being given an enormous financial incentive to pursue careers in government or low-paying nonprofits.”

This is yet another good reason why we should never have gotten into federal student aid in the first place.

Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias?


All too often, people on the left confuse well-articulated snark and sarcasm with rigorous argumentation. They confuse attacks on an individual’s personal background with sound criticisms of that individual’s ideas. But they choose not to address or even recognize their glaring logical fallacies and ersatz critical thinking skills. Instead, some on the left – especially academics and public figures - become emboldened by their emotionalism. They are “the good guys,” and anyone who disagrees with their worldview is clearly misguided or, worse, a benighted soul. 

One such “good guy” is Donald Lazere, a professor emeritus in the English Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He recently released a book titled Why Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias. According to Lazere, college students have been negatively influenced by widespread right-wing indoctrination and “conservative bias,” and it’s time to offer left-wing alternatives. In one passage, Lazere explains that he taught his students to start their analysis of an argumentative piece by considering the author’s “vantage point.” George Leef, who critiques Lazere’s book in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, notes that such “analysis” is really just another iteration of the ad hominem fallacy. 

Read more about Lazere’s ideas and Leef’s critique of his book here.   

“Random Thoughts” on Higher Education


As a long-time admirer of Thomas Sowell, I look forward to his regular random thoughts columns where his exceptional wit runs wild on the passing scene. Hence, as a fly on the wall of higher education, I’ve decided to provide you with a few random thoughts of my own:

Students don’t take notes anymore. When I presented an exam study plan to my class, they all whipped out their iPhones and snapped a picture.  Being surprised by a sea of smartphones is quite an experience.  I now know how Justin Bieber feels, somewhat.

Like it or not, the college degree is a screening tool for employers.  If employers want to see if there is any steak behind the sizzle, ask degreed job candidates to name the last book they read.  For a second option, ask those candidates “what they studied in school.”  I’ve found that such questions differentiate between those with punched tickets those with intellectual curiosity.  Of course, some interviewers didn’t learn much in college either.  In that case, good luck.

Because fewer African-Americans possess college degrees than whites, why is requiring a degree for employment not grounds for a disparate impact lawsuit?

University of Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari made headlines during the NCAA Tournament for pushing back against the labeling of his players as poster boys for “one-and-done” student athletes. Coach Cal was adamant that his players “succeed and proceed.”  Yet, his description of succeeding conspicuously leaves out the student part of student athlete. Considering that many of these “one-and-dones” play student while really focusing on the NBA draft, perhaps one-and-done should be “fake it till you make it.”

After one semester of teaching a business ethics course, I’ve come to realize that the course is really B-School’s insurance policy against a corporate scandal by one of its graduates. Ethics with an adjective is not really ethics.

Another thing I learned after 10 years in higher education: Those who can’t do, teach.  Those who can’t teach do research.  Those who can do research, but can’t teach get tenure. Those who can teach, but can’t do research become adjuncts. Those who can’t do research and can’t teach get denied tenure and then move on to another university–where the tongue-twister starts anew.

Awareness Is Only Half of the Battle


In 2012, global consulting firm Bain and Company and private-equity firm Sterling Partners analyzed 1,700 public and private not-for-profit colleges, describing one-third of them as being on an “unsustainable financial path.” Last year, Forbes examined the financials of 925 private not-for-profit colleges. After weighing factors like tuition dependence, revenue streams, endowments, instruction expenses, and asset-to-debt ratios, the report’s authors gave roughly 60 percent of the surveyed colleges a “C” or “D” grade.

Higher education leaders are certainly aware of those gloomy forecasts and the financial problems their respective institutions face. A 2013 Inside Higher Ed/Gallup survey of campus chief financial officers revealed that only 27 percent of the CFOs had “strong confidence” in their schools’ short-term business models. The CFOs agreed that while state flagships and elite schools are more immune to financial hardships, private colleges are especially vulnerable in this rough economic period. 

So, do private colleges face an existential threat? Some experts and commentators think so, and a number of case studies corroborate their concerns. Dealing with major enrollment declines, some private colleges have cut faculty, downsized and eliminated programs, and partnered with other regional schools to avoid financial ruin. Other colleges have either closed altogether or are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

In the midst of such chaos, one thing has become clear: adapting to new economic circumstances and redesigning a college’s mission are not easy tasks. Just ask Raleigh, North Carolina-based William Peace University (formerly Peace College).

Several years ago, after predicting enrollment declines, Peace College began making significant changes which have been met by heavy condemnation from students, faculty, alumni, and donors. At the time an all-women’s college, Peace began accepting men into its night program and now accepts men on a full-time basis. In 2010, a new president ushered in an era of faculty and program cuts. In 2011, Peace College changed its name. More recently, the university chose to invest $21 million, or two-thirds of its endowment, in a nearby shopping center. It also delayed publicly disclosing its list of trustees–trustees who approved of the investment.

In his recent Pope Center feature, Harry Painter describes how the Peace community has responded to those developments. “The school acted aggressively to deal with declining enrollment, but in doing so, it antagonized the devoted community of ‘Peace girls,’ alumnae who, it seems, are dedicated to forever keeping Peace the special place it was when they left it.” Painter points out that, despite some apparent victories for the university, such as increasing its enrollment from about 600 to 800 and a promise to increase the number of majors offered from 14 to 18, backlash has remained intense.

Some students worry that the Peace administration will retaliate in the event that they speak out against the campus policies. Donors are upset about what they view as the secrecy behind the shopping center investment. Others are concerned that the $30,000 annual price tag for residential students is not  justified in the face of faculty cuts and an increasing reliance on adjunct professors. And when the university opted to eliminate its music performance major, some professors actually sued the school and eventually settled out of court. 

As the Peace case makes clear, it’s easy for colleges to be aware of and understand their financial difficulties. Getting an entire community to act swiftly and smartly without ruffling the feathers of campus stakeholders, however, is where the real challenge lies. 

Latest University of California Admissions Figures


“For the first time, the number of Latinos from California offered freshman admission to the University of California was larger than that for whites,” reports the Los Angeles Times.  But they aren’t 1-2, they are 2-3, because Asian Americans remain number one.  I wrote some time ago that, while some might see a historical sense in which favoring blacks over whites might be justified, what happens when most of the preferences are going to Latinos over Asians, as is increasingly the case?  Well, as always, the future is now in California – or would be if racial preferences were allowed there. 


If The Price of Milk Rose as Quickly as College Tuition…


…it would cost $17.48 per gallon.

Something’s wrong here, and in a new ACTA study, Getting What You Pay For? we examine what it is. ACTA looks at America’s top-ranked public universities to determine whether students and taxpayers getting their money’s worth.

Too often, they’re not, as many of you know all too well: runaway administrative costs, permissive general education programs, excessive athletic spending, and all sorts of misplaced priorities have driven up costs while distracting schools from their proper focus on teaching and learning. The result is that many students graduate with weak intellectual preparation and excessive debt and many others don’t graduate at all.

Read the whole report here

Another Day, Another Pro-Life Display Trashed on Campus


As Nathan Harden pointed out on Phi Beta Cons yesterday evening, yet another pro-life display at a college has been vandalized, this time at George Washington University. And this wasn’t the graphic kind of pro-life display, either (although the graphic photo displays get vandalized too)—it was rows of crosses planted in the ground.

Something about rows of flags, crosses, or what-have-you planted in the ground to represent the number of abortions in America must really get under people’s skin, because this keeps happening, over and over again. It happened at Northern Kentucky University (thanks to a professor, of all people). It happened at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. It happened at Missouri State University. It happened at Clarion University in Pennsylvania. It happened at Indiana University. At Dartmouth College, a student actually ran over a display of American flags with his car, an episode so crazy that FIRE made a video about it. At Western Kentucky University, vandals refrained from destroying the crosses but put condoms on them. (An improvement over outright censorship, I guess?) And DePaul University really topped it off when the administration punished a pro-life student for revealing the names of the people who vandalized his display of pink and blue flags.

Is there some organization or website somewhere that is encouraging the destruction of such displays, or is this simply a manifestation of the base human urge to destroy what we don’t like? Either way, this kind of vandalism says nothing good about the state of education in this country. Of course, students should be coming out of high school aware that: 1. vandalism is illegal and wrong; and 2. Americans sometimes engage in the fundamental right to protest laws they perceive to be unjust. But if they’re not—and it’s increasingly clear that they’re not—then colleges need to step up and teach students how to live in a free society.

Azusa Pacific University Goes Brandeis on Charles Murray


Charles Murray had been scheduled to speak at Azusa Pacific University for months, but the school just disinvited him because of — what else?– concerns that Murray’s presence might prove “hurtful” to some. What’s going on here is a reprise of the recent Brandeis flap, where a speaker who says things that are controversial and might upset some of the tender folks on campus has to be canceled because school administrators fear that they’ll take some heat for not being more “sensitive.” Murray has posted an open letter about it here.

College Offers ‘Theology of Harry Potter’


In her feature story this morning for The College Fix, Samantha Watkins reports on the latest course of dubious value to come out our nation’s universities:

“The Theology of Harry Potter” is a religion course recently offered at Centre College [Danville, Ky.] that allowed students to explore if the boy wizard is really a Christianity-inspired hero…

(Put hand on forehead. Sigh deeply)

Yeah sure, why not? Christ on a broomstick, I guess.

According to Watkins’s report, the course description claims that the class will teach students about concepts such as God and sin.

However, professor of religion Lee Jefferson, who teaches “The Theology of Harry Potter,” is less enthusiastic about another famous book more commonly used for such topics of instruction. He has written previously that “the Bible is a complicated collection of documents that was never meant to ‘speak’ to our contemporary situation…”

Leave it to our universities to decide that Harry Potter is more relevant than the Bible on all matters divine.

Get the full story at The College Fix.

Schuette Wins


Roger Clegg congratulates Bill Schuette and Jennifer Gratz on a successful win at the Supreme Court today (on The Corner).

Another Writing Professor Goes Off on a Rant


As we read in this piece, a writing professor at Eastern Connecticut State treated his students to a rant about the evils of Republicans.

We’ve seen this movie before. Last fall, a writing professor at Michigan State did the same thing. Evidently, they believe that it’s more important to harangue their students than to do their jobs.

Maybe all colleges and universities should make Stanley Fish’s Save the World on Your Own Time mandatory reading for faculty members.

Pro-Life Signs Vandalized at George Washington Univ.


A pro-life display was defaced and then thrown away by unknown vandals at George Washington University.

Andrew Desiderio reports for The College Fix:

“The vandalism is a poor reflection of the student body’s claimed tolerance,” freshman Tory McClintock, deputy director of political affairs for the club, told The College Fix. “They say that diversity of opinions is accepted, yet it is unfortunate that some students in fact feel that (our organization) should not have a voice because they disagree with our pro-life stance.”

Read the full story here.


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