Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Women’s College Revokes George Will’s Speaking Invitation


Syndicated columnist George Will was scheduled to speak this year at Scripps College, a women’s liberal arts college located in Southern California. But his invitation was withdrawn after he published a column in June on feminism and sexual assault that angered many liberals.

“It was in the works and then it wasn’t in the works,” Will told the Claremont Independent, a student newspaper. “They didn’t say that the column was the reason, but it was the reason.”

Will’s visit to campus would have taken place later this academic year, as part of a program meant to add diversity to campus by bringing conservatives in for guest lectures. According to the Independent, Scripps College has no registered Republicans on its faculty. So far, no replacement speaker has been named to take Will’s place.

In the column, Will accused the academic left of watering down the definitions of sexual assault, and exaggerating the number of victims on campus. He also argued that progressives were exaggerating the campus assault crisis, and politicizing it, in order to increase governmental control on university campuses. (Heather Mac Donald made a similar argument recently in an essay published here at National Review.)

Will’s column gained so much negative attention that a group of 12 U.S. Senators found time in their busy schedule to sign a letter denouncing it. Will responded with a letter of his own, arguing that it was the Senators, in fact,  who weren’t taking sexual assault seriously. 

“I think I take sexual assault much more seriously than you,” he wrote. ”Which is why I worry about definitions of that category of that crime that might, by their breadth, tend to trivialize it. And why I think sexual assault is a felony that should be dealt with by the criminal justice system, and not be adjudicated by improvised campus processes.”

It’s a safe bet that those are the kinds of opinions one would normally be very unlikely to hear at an all-women’s college that lacks a single Republican faculty member. No doubt Will’s planned visit to campus would have brought precisely the sort of lively debate and ideological diversity the speaker series was designed go facilitate.

Unfortunately, it appears that the young women of Scripps College will be deprived of any chance to hear George Will explain his views in person, now that his speaking invitation has been revoked.

Perhaps officials at Scripps College believe that diversity of opinion is something they and their students just can’t handle.

Follow @NathanHarden

Uh, oh -- Three Dirty Academic Words


Rich Vedder has an excellent piece on Forbes, Three Dirty Academic Words Ending in ‘Ity’ You could probably guess which words they are……..

How did you do?

The first is “diversity.” In academic parlance, the word “came to mean evaluating people not on their intellectual merit, the strength of their character, or other legitimate means, but rather by some biological group characteristic….” Why indeed should anyone be favored (or not) on account of gender or ancestry?

The second is “sustainability.” Vedder writes, “The same people who say global warming is going to hurt us soon despite 15 years of continuous cooling are convincing universities to waste monies and raise tuition to promote bad policies that are costly.” Much folly takes place thanks to this buzzword.

Finally, there is “civility.” To Vedder, this one is the most dangerous of all because “it means that people on campus should express themselves in a way that offends no one. It is anti-freedom of speech, the antithesis of what a great university is all about.” Of course, when people make arguments they should do so in a civil manner, but the mania for civility isn’t about that; it’s about intimidating people from raising arguments against the sacred cows on campus, such as “diversity.”


Stephen King, Eat Your Heart Out


This is the apotheosis of student loan horror, a ghastly tale of a woman ensnared by insidious higher education policies and bad personal decisions. No, her alma mater won’t soon feature her unreal story in the “Where Are They Now?” section of its fundraising promotions. 

I’m referring to the catastrophic misfortunes of “Lisa,” outlined in this Forbes article. An art school graduate who thought that she needed more credentials for a better paying job, she enrolled in an MFA program at the University of Southern California.

But she soon realized that even that credential wasn’t enough to make ends meet. With outstanding student loans and dead-end jobs on the horizon, she opted to enroll at Pepperdine Law School. Managing her child and other distractions, she graduated in the middle of the pack in 2009, but she faced a slumping legal job market. 

Her total student loan tab at that point was $275,000. She had to spend an additional $15,000 to take the state bar exam, which she passed. But the cost of living in California proved too high, so she moved to Minnesota. Then she had to take that state’s bar exam, which meant that she couldn’t work as an attorney for a year.

During that period she amassed $40,000 of credit card debt, took an adjunct law teaching gig, and worked at odd jobs to support her son. 

Lisa and her child are now on food stamps, and she’s making about $20,000 per year as a solo practitioner. Her debt has placed her ambitions of starting a family and getting married on hold. “I do feel like the key decision that has harmed me was to try to get to the advanced [degree] level,” she says. “I will likely die before I repay this debt.”

Happy Monday Morning!

So You Want To Be a Diversity Officer


That’s the topic of this Inside Higher Ed article today, and my posted suggestion is that, if we’re going to have these offices at all, the officer should have some knowledge of the civil-rights laws.  That’s precisely because so much of the diversity agenda (that is, the parts that involve treating student and faculty applicants differently on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex) is inconsistent with the text of those laws.  I cite the ongoing Fisher v. University of Texas litigation and an earlier discussion I wrote about the problems with faculty discrimination in the name of diversity. 

College Admissions Facts


The Wall Street Journal has a personal finance section that it sells to about 70 newspapers around the country.  I don’t know how accessible it is (you may have to be a subscriber), but today’s section lists “10 Things the College Admissions Officer Won’t Tell You.”

The list by Daniel J. Goldstein summarizes many of the truths that one picks up over years of writing about higher education. Here is a sampling:

We don’t trust your essay

We’re having second thoughts about the  SAT

We’d rather admit someone who’ll pay full price

We need you more than you need us

Goldstein also reports on a retrospective study by the admissions officers’ trade association of students admitted between 2003 and 2010. About 30 percent hadn’t taken either the SAT or the ACT;  the study found no significant difference in their college performance compared with those who had taken one of the tests.


Academia at Sunset


Let’s forget, for a minute, all the problems—the loans, the costs, the inflated grades, the administrative bloat, the trigger warnings…and think of what is good about the Ivory Tower.

For the student who wants to learn, today’s colleges and universities are wonderful “pleasure-domes.”

Books fill vast libraries—and most of them are on the shelves waiting for you. There are still professors who want to teach bright and interested students. The choice of classes is immense; the universe of knowledge you can obtain is unlimited.

The Internet has shrunk the time necessary for research to a tiny fraction of what it used to be; interactive quizzes, videos, and maps make learning easier than it has ever been. And the surroundings are stupendous—multi-million dollar fitness centers, luxurious student lounges, lazy rivers, and mall-like food courts. 

Students, enjoy them while you can.

What Knowledge Will Emanate from Rutgers’ Gloria Steinem Chair?


As William Murchison informs us in this SeeThru post, Rutgers is going to be blessed with a “Gloria Steinem Chair.” The money comes mainly from the Ford, Knight, and Revson foundations, with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg also contributing to it.

Perhaps this position, as yet unfilled, will lead to serious scholarship, but I’m strongly inclined toward Murchison’s view that this “has the smell of a thoroughly tendentious enterprise.” Expect plenty of cheerleading for feminist dogmas about, e.g., the labor market and its persistent under-valuing of women’s work. Do not expect the slightest challenge to such beliefs.

It will, of course, be a lovely sinecure for the prof who lands the job. Don’t be surprised if she (c’mon — a man can’t have the Gloria Steinem Chair!) will invite Gloria herself to give an illuminating lecture on campus for a lofty honorarium. Ms. Steinem gave such a talk at East Carolina several years ago, and Professor Anthony Papalas wrote about it for the Pope Center here. (Actually, it wasn’t illuminating at all.)

Mona Charen on Campus Sex Crimes


Writer Mona Charen (elsewhere on NRO) sums up the appropriate view of the campus sex issue this way: 

Why aren’t colleges reminding young women to keep their wits about them when dealing with hormone-charged young men?

Women who lie to other women conceal the facts. For example: The National Institute of Justice reports that among the risk factors for sexual assault on campus is “having numerous sexual partners,” getting “drunk or high” on a regular basis, and attending fraternity parties.

Pointing out these realities is rejected as “slut shaming” or “victim blaming” by feminists.

Her viewpoint is familiar to Phi Beta Cons, but getting that responsible view into the mainstream is essential.

We Should Adopt Germany’s Universal Higher Ed Model


So says Think Progress, at least. 

Lower Saxony recently became the last state in Germany to reduce the price of higher education to zero, making college universal and completely subsidized throughout the country. “It is the core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge,” said one politician there. 

The writer of the article linked above says that in the U.S., with the right federal budget adjustments, the “cost of attending public universities could easily be brought down to zero.” 

That’s certainly an extraordinary claim. Not only could the price be zero, but also the cost? How would that work?

Only in dreams. 

He Wasn’t Disinvited


Ian Tuttle writes elsewhere on NRO about the convicted murderer who will give a commencement speech for Goddard College on Sunday (by video).

Another College Dropout Somehow Makes Good


The entrepreneur behind Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes, is a new member of the Forbes 400 richest people in America. Read about her and the company she founded here. One point that stands out: she is a college dropout. She began at Stanford, but realized that her time was better spent doing things other than sitting through lectures.

This reminds me of the Kemmons Wilson story. Wilson was the man behind Holiday Inn. Once he was giving a talk at an elite college and in the Q and A, a student asked, “Mr. Wilson, since you never went to college, how were you able to accomplish that?” Wilson’s reply, “Well, son, if you don’t have an education, you’ve got to use your brains.”

LinkedIn Rates Colleges


I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The rankings business has transmogrified into a job-placement system. LinkedIn has just joined the ratings business (here’s the Inside Higher Ed article, and here’s the “University Finder,” which is one of the LinkedIn products). Using its network of 313 million people, it evaluates the best schools for specific (mostly business) career tracks. It’s complicated and I haven’t really explored it but it seems to be causing a stir because of its enormous potential to provide outcome information.

A lot of faculty will say that when you start ranking colleges on their ability to prepare graduates for jobs, the concept of job-training blots out liberal arts education. And they will say that this is the unintended result of the push for “student learning outcomes” (which has never been too popular in the Ivory Tower).

And I think I agree.

Paglia Delivers Knockout Blow to Campus Coddlers


Camille Paglia has penned a brilliant and stunning indictment of the frauds and power seekers who repeatedly tell us that sexual assault on college campuses is an “epidemic” requiring urgent attention and encroachment into the personal lives of students. 

It’s rare to come across an article as chock-full of wisdom, insight, and cleverness as Paglia’s. She writes, “Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.” 

But Paglia doesn’t just address colleges’ malfeasance. She takes aim at the broader culture. “Young middle-class women, raised far from the urban streets, seem to expect adult life to be an extension of their comfortable, overprotected homes. But the world remains a wilderness. The price of women’s modern freedoms is personal responsibility for vigilance and self-defense,” she writes. 

Tom Lindsay Writes on the New Arum/Roksa Book


The sequel to Academically Adrift, the devastatingly honest book by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa published in 2011, is Aspiring Adults Adrift. Tom Lindsay has a good piece about the book on The Hill.

Among the book’s findings is that, despite the fact that many of the recent grads surveyed are either unemployed or only marginally employed, most of them still think their educations were “worth it” and that things will soon improve for them. Lindsay wonders whether that optimism is based on rational analysis, or merely the kind of clueless optimism that comes from spending many years in schools and colleges where students hardly ever hear discouraging words or get bad grades. I lean toward the latter.

Some States Push Back Against the Martinez Decision


In 2010, the Supreme Court held in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez that universities may impose a rule on campus organizations that they cannot discriminate against anyone who wishes to become a member on the grounds that he doesn’t agree with the organization’s key beliefs. That is, if a school thinks that an “all comers” policy is consistent with its crusade against any and all forms of “bias” then it may impose it.

Quite a few people have argued that the decision was mistaken and has bad consequences. A number of states have enacted laws that keep their state universities from adopting such rules, at least when it comes to officers of the organization. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Harry Painter looks at this development. One of the states is North Carolina where the law, he writes, “prevents UNC and other state-funded colleges and universities from denying recognition to religious or political student organizations if they require leaders to conform to their mission.”

Painter (and I) think this is a welcome return to sanity, but the law doesn’t go far enough. Why should it apply only to the leaders of organizations? Why not all members? After all, how would someone who disagrees with the fundamental mission or belief system of an organization ever get elected to a leadership position unless the membership had already been salted with a large number of similar dissidents? Long before the election of leaders who disagree could happen, members who disagree would have to infiltrate in force. Whether or not a dissident leader is ever elected, groups should not have to put up with members who might be there only to disrupt or embarrass it. Still, a step in the right direction.


Sex Discrimination in Every Single Ph.D. Field


From the Chronicle of Higher Education article today headlined, “Report Examines Fields With Highest Gender Imbalances Among Ph.D.’s”:  “Among the 55 STEM-related fields, men were overrepresented in 74.5 percent and women were overrepresented in 25.5 percent. Among the other 80 fields, men were overrepresented in 77.5 percent and women were overrepresented in 22.5 percent.” 

Why can’t academics get their “representation” just right, not over or under?

Contra Income-Based-Repayment Schemes (of any kind)


In my latest SeeThruEdu post, I argue against the idea of income-based-repayment schemes for student loans — or anything else. Now, if rich Uncle Fred wants to lend his carefree nephew Buzz $200,000 so he can enjoy the college experience at some college and says, “Pay me back if and when you can,” no problem. Uncle Fred can be generous with his own money if he wants to be. When lenders are not in that position, however, they shouldn’t be generous, because it encourages the wasting of capital. Government shouldn’t lend money at all, but if it does, it should insist on market terms.

IBR for college loans supports the damaging idea, already rampant in America, that you don’t have to carefully think through the consequences of your actions because if things don’t go well, “society”will pick up the tab.

John Leo on the Political Correctness Mania at Marquette


If you think that universities with a religious affiliation are resistant to the mania for political correctness, guess again. In this essay on Minding the Campus, John Leo writes about the “anti-discrimination training” that is required of faculty and graduate assistants at Marquette University.

Start with the photo that the “training” presents, asking each individual to identify the eight “harassing or potentially harassing” things in a college dorm. Among them is an anti-war poster — bad because it might be hurtful to military personnel and veterans. Of course, a pro-war poster could just as well lead to some hurt feelings, so apparently everyone should keep his opinions about war to himself. Better to avoid the possibility of hurt feelings than allow open debate over contentious issues.

But look at the things Marquette’s trainers miss! See the miniature trophy marlin on the wall? That could hurt the feelings of vegans and anyone who is against inflicting pain on animals for sport. Out it should go. And what about the trophies displayed? Don’t they have the potential for hurting individuals who never did well in competitions? Trophies are emblematic of our meritocratic obsession with winning; some people would find that upsetting.  As for the offensive “men working” sign, it could be sexist, but isn’t it more likely to hurt the feelings of those who feel that society owes them a living and that work is just a way for the one percent to exploit everyone else?

Be sure to read the discussion about the “harassing” discussion between two female students who oppose same-sex marriage.

American college campuses have transitioned from places that encouraged free speech to places where everyone has to tiptoe around anything controversial.

If the University of Chicago were a Business....


Leftists enjoy griping about the supposed inequity of business executives who earn X times as much as the lowest paid employee. I don’t doubt that some executives are seriously overpaid, but there is a market mechanism that can deal with those cases — a hostile takeover. If the execs pay themselves more than their performance warrants, outsiders might spot a profit opportunity, buy up enough stock, and then oust them.

Too bad that can’t happen in our overwhelmingly non-profit higher education sector. Top administrators often boost their compensation not because they’ve earned it, but simply because they can. As we read in “Higher Education’s Aristocrats” by David F. Mihalyfy, the top brass at the University of Chicago has been doing exactly that. The author writes that top administrators have “enriched themselves at great cost to their institution.”

If the University of Chicago were a business, I think it would be ripe for a hostile takeover. But it isn’t, so it’s not, and the administrators need not worry about any adverse consequences of their propensity for lining their pockets.

Recently, Professor Henry Manne wrote a piece for the Pope Center, attacking the common idea that non-profit management is somehow superior to for-profit management. We have solid support for his argument here.

Hat tip: Harry Lewis


Thinking Critically about Critical Thinking


As an undergraduate senior, I took a money and banking course in which my professor asked a few students about their political affiliations. When the professor found out that the students were Democrats, those students were treated like gold for the rest of the semester. As the course progressed, a couple of classmates began to question, with politeness and genuine intrigue, some of the political statements and macroeconomic assumptions made by the professor, who was a dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian economist. The professor often responded with snarling vitriol and even personal attacks. 

My story is probably not unique, but that’s exactly why some professors’ tendencies to reaffirm the “acceptable” point of view and teach students what to think, rather than how to think, have become so problematic: such instruction is now so common that it’s accepted as a fact of campus life, even though colleges everywhere claim to enhance students’ critical thinking skills. 

In this recent Pope Center article, English professor David Clemens examines the disconnect between campus reality and campus buzzwords. “Critical thinking,” argues Clemens, is a term often used by higher education leaders, but one that’s not very well understood or defined. “Real critical thinking didn’t stand a chance in the hostile education culture that denies its relevance. You can still find the remains of the critical thinking movement, but you will have to look in the math, science, and business enclaves where reality still matters,” he writes. 


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