Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

UNC System Allows Three Schools to Lower Admission Standards


There is an on-going tug of war in the University of North Carolina system (and, I’m sure, many other state systems) between the desire of some administrators to have such low admission standards that they’ll be able to admit almost any applicant, and the desire of the board of governors to keep standards high enough that students who don’t seem to have the academic ability to do real college work will either go to a community college or pursue some other option. In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron examines a recent decision to allow three institutions, North Carolina Central, Elizabeth City State, and Fayetteville State, all HBCUs, to admit applicants with SAT scores as low as 750 — down from 800.

An argument in favor of this change is that high school records are better predictors of academic success than are SAT scores. Supposedly, a substantial number of students who score poorly on the SAT (and a combined score below 800 is very poor indeed) can nevertheless do well enough in college courses that they can remain in school and eventually graduate. Putting aside the obvious rejoinder that today a large percentage of college grads who had much better SAT scores are unemployed or underemployed and therefore just making it through college is a questionable benefit, is it true that students who have low SAT (or ACT) scores but high school GPAs that are “good enough” can handle university work, even as easy as it often is these days?

I doubt that. We’re talking about students whose K-12 education has left them with pitiably weak basic skills. High schools will try to make their best students look like college material (as in the case of Kashawn Campbell, which I wrote about here), but that simply masks their academic deficiencies. Enrolling such students in 4-year universities puts those schools in the remedial education business, even if it isn’t acknowledged to be that. Of course some of them will make it through to their BA degrees, but we know that having a degree these days isn’t necessarily worth anything.

UNC’s Big PR Tab


According to this piece in the Raleigh News & Observer, UNC has run up a tab of $782,000 for the services of Edelman, the big public relations firm.

Defensively, the university’s spokesman tells us that it isn’t state money being used and that many universities buy PR expertise. Where the funds come from, it seems to me, is not as important as recognizing that there is an opportunity cost. Spending money on PR stuff means less to spend on things that might have something to do with education for the students.

Not all of that 782K relates to the big athletics scandal, but apparently a large chunk does. For $7.82 I’d have gladly written the memo saying what the university needs to say: This was a disgrace and it will not happen again.”


Why Bother With the Humanities?


Some people say that it’s a waste of time to study the humanities because what young Americans need is job skills. Others say it’s a waste of time (or worse) because the humanities mostly involves the thinking of dead white males, some of whom owned slaves, and none of that can help young Americans understand our modern, multicultural world.

So, should we yawn as these courses gradually disappear or are taken over by multiculturalists? In this Pope Center piece, Jane Shaw states her case in favor of the humanities as traditionally taught. Her reasons are “modest” and Hayekian in nature. The humanities are part of our cultural heritage, which consists, Hayek observed, “of a complex of practices or rules of conduct which have prevailed because they made a group of men successful.” Therefore, Jane writes, “understanding, preserving, and sharing the great ideas of the past may be more important than we think, since we have profound ignorance of what made societies successful.”

She also maintains that universities should preserve the humanities because they’re a key part of the “great debate” between those who believe they can design society to perfection and those, like Hayek, who argue that such efforts will inevitably lead to poor if not disastrous results for humanity.

“It seems reckless to discard the intellectual traditions that have supported us for so long,” she concludes. I agree. While the percentage of students who have an interest in the humanities is no doubt rather small, it’s nevertheless important to keep this intellectual tradition alive for those who do.

OBAMACARE: 122 colleges slash and cap student, faculty hours


The Affordable Care Act is a misnomer if ever there was one. The bottom line is Obamacare shrinks student and faculty paychecks.

At least 122 colleges and universities across the nation have cut student and faculty work hours to skirt the federal law’s pending mandate requiring employers to provide healthcare to people who work 30 hours or more per week, according to a compilation of anecdotal evidence published Tuesday at The College Fix. That tally will only grow larger when the mandate kicks in in 2015/16.

Taking a cue from the Investors Business Daily’s list of 450-plus public and private companies, school districts, colleges and institutions that have slashed and capped work hours to comply with the employer mandate, The College Fix began its own list focusing on colleges and universities exclusively, and will add to it each time we learn of a new group of students or educators hit by the law.

But if the model holds out, the list will grow exponentially over the next two years.

Tags: Obamacare

Disinvitation Season Now a Year-Round Affair


The term “disinvitation season” just doesn’t mean much anymore. It implies that there is a specific time of year when disinvitations peak. But we are quickly learning that every season is ripe for intellectual intolerance at America’s colleges and universities.

In September, there was the illiberal push to disinvite Ayaan Hirsi Ali from addressing a group at Yale (courageously resisted by Yale’s administration and President Peter Salovey). Then, we had the disinvitation of George Will from Scripps College (thankfully not mimicked by the leadership at Miami University). Now, not even comedian Bill Maher is safe from the mob. From Politico:

A student petition at University of California, Berkeley, aims to prevent Bill Maher from speaking on campus following his recent comments on Islam. 

The petition, which now has more than 2,200 signatures and is circulated on, demands that the university revoke its invitation for the liberal comedian to speak at a December commencement ceremony.

“Bill Maher is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for,” the petition reads. “Bill Maher’s public statements on various religions and cultures are offensive and his dangerous rhetoric has found its way into our campus communities.”

Of course, as is the case in almost all of these instances, the issue is not whether Maher’s statements or values are worthy of defense. Maher may be a buffoon, and his ideas may be wrongheaded. The issue is the now-prevalent attitude that the right to speech is subservient to the “right” to never be offended—a notion reinforced by UC-Berkeley’s own Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, earlier this year.

As defenders of free speech have long noted, once we begin to build walls protecting us from those with “offensive” ideas and words, those walls will only grow higher and higher, until hardly anyone can surmount them. 


The College-Educated American Terrorist


The maniac who used an ax against New York City cops in the name of jihad last week had roughly six years of college under his belt. The college-educated American terrorist not only had a bachelor’s degree but spent at least a year at Columbia University as a grad student. It remains to be seen what, if any, effect his education had on his world views. But one thing is clear: somehow Zale Thompson – a U.S. Navy veteran – turned against his country.

A Few Links of Note


Accountability and Accuracy


Graduation rates that only track first-time, full-time freshmen provide only a partial measure of schools’ success. This widely cited metric leaves out large cohorts of students who transfer or attend part time, but do, in fact, graduate.

Now, a group of six organizations has launched a project aimed at getting the graduation rate right. The Student Achievement Measure (SAM) gets past outdated assumptions about how students move through college to provide a clearer idea of which schools are putting students on a path to success and which are not.    

SAM provides two major innovations: it tracks students after they’ve gone on to another institution and it allows schools to differentiate between different patterns of enrollment. Two models are used—one for bachelor’s degree seekers and one for associate’s degree or certificate seekers. These are further broken down into part-time and full-time students, a procedure that addresses a crucial flaw in the current model by allowing us to measure each group against an appropriate standard.

This is a timely innovation. With as many as 35% of first-time students transferring at least once during their college career, our methods for measuring graduation rates must improve or they will rapidly lose accuracy and therefore value.

While it must be noted that merely graduating is no assurance a student has been well-served by her institution, it is a sensible place to start. Graduation may not be a sufficient condition for future success, but it is almost always a necessary one. We know, for instance, that students who start college but don’t graduate are among those who struggle the most financially and socially.

It is crucial that we do more to ensure those who begin a degree, and invest substantial time and resources therein, actually attain it. Comparing graduation rates can help us find what works, but only if those rates are constructed in a way that allows for meaningful comparison.

Peter Wood’s Latest, Nicest Letter


In earlier posts I linked to National Association of Scholars president Peter Wood’s fine letters to Scripps College’s trustees and president, criticizing the school’s decision to disinvite George Will from speaking there. But Miami University has recently defied the gods of political correctness and allowed Mr. Will to speak there, and Peter has eloquently congratulated the school’s president for that.

Sorting Wheat from Chaff in Education Schools


In order to obtain the necessary license to teach in public schools, future teachers must in most cases go through a state approved education school program. Education schools have justifiably taken a lot of criticism over the last few decades, going back to Rita Kramer’s Ed School Follies (1991) and earlier. Are there better, more effective, less costly ways of preparing an individual for the important job of teaching? Without doubt, but due to government interference, we don’t allow marketplace discovery to work here. Therefore, programs that do little to properly train teachers (or even “miseducate” them, as Kramer argued) remain perfectly viable. There is no feedback loop.

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has been trying to improve that situation. It can’t change the fundamental problem of licensing that ensures ed schools a captive market, but it can and has endeavored to rate education schools, with the idea that if those who hire teachers have information that indicates which ed school programs and good and which ones aren’t, that will generate pressure on the poor schools to improve.

In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron examines the new NCTQ report. Few ed school programs get high marks from NCTQ. At a great many, admission standards are very low and the work is easy. Education is a major that appeals to many students simply because it doesn’t demand much effort to get high grades. Worse yet, many ed school programs take an “anything goes” approach to the important subject of reading. At the Pope Center event where NCTQ president Kate Walsh spoke last Friday, she stated that one program told students to come up with their own philosophy on how to teach reading. Instead of relying on knowledge about what works best in teaching reading, ed schools often go with approaches that don’t work, or no approach at all.

Several years ago, an inside critic of ed schools, Professor George Cunningham, observed in this Pope Center paper, that ed schools often are more interested in promoting “progressive” theories about education than in ensuring that their grads know how to instruct students in the knowledge and skills they will need. Little has changed, apparently.

Catholic universities reject Catholic principles


By reading the headlines over the last few years, it is clear many Catholic universities across the nation not only reject Catholic beliefs, but actively foster campus cultures that promote values antithetical to the region’s teachings.

Today The College Fix reported that Loyola University Chicago has approved a pagan student club for students to seek and find Gods other than the one of the Bible. But that type of story is commonplace when it comes to reporting on institutions that call themselves Catholic.

Earlier this month, DePaul University in Chicago, the country’s largest Catholic school, launched a mentorship program for LGBT students called “Queer Peers.”

And in recent years, the University of San Diego hosted a drag show that featured a devil-inspired costume; the University of Notre Dame welcomed and celebrated homosexuality with a coming-out day; and Georgetown University hosted a pro-abortion week on campus and offered a class on how to lobby for abortion rights. Both Georgetown and Notre Dame also covered up religious artifacts to cater to visits by President Obama.

When a Catholic institution chooses honoring Obama over Jesus, something is very wrong.

But the list goes on and on. Santa Clara University hosts a “Rainbow Prom” every year in support of same-sex marriage. Creighton University gave away concert tickets to a Seattle-based hip-hop duo known for their Bible-bashing song “Same Love.” The University of San Francisco touted a job as director at a Planned Parenthood clinic to students. Marquette University offered a radical FemSex workshop on “what it means to take ownership of one’s own sexuality.” Catholic universities often host controversial guest speakers who have no love for Catholic principles. 

Catholic college officials often say they’re doing this to foster diversity, show respect for others, and add it’s not a requirement to be Catholic to attend a Catholic university.

Why call yourself a Catholic institution at all, then?

Jane Shaw on the UNC Scandal


The biggest higher education news this week was the release of the report on the UNC athletic/academic scandal by Kenneth Wainstein. In today’s Pope Center piece, Jane Shaw looks at the report and also the bigger question: will the university take the measures necessary to prevent any repetition of academic scams that helped top athletes stay eligible to play (and non-athletes to get some easy credits)? This has been a gigantic embarrassment for UNC, but will the administration now just take cosmetic steps and hope that is will be soon forgotten? The incentive for winning basketball and football teams remains strong and it seems to me that without steady vigilance, the university will slowly slide back into creative ways of admitting athletes who are not capable of doing anything approaching college-level work and keeping them eligible with fluffy courses.

Chancellor Carol Folt’s statement ‘I actually believe that academics and athletics can coexist” is undoubtedly true. The problem, of course, is that it’s very hard for winning teams in the two big sports and academic rigor to coexist. Without vigilant oversight from the chancellor, it won’t be many years before the athletic tail is again wagging the academic dog.

More on Peter Wood and Scripps College


Following up on my post earlier this week regarding Peter Wood’s critique of Scripps College’s decision to disinvite George Will, here’s his letter to the college’s president on this matter.  As I said, antics like this college’s are, alas, more and more common — making Wood’s letters all the more welcome.

This is Real “Predatory Lending”


Leftists frequently denounce firms that lend money to people with poor credit histories as “predatory lenders.” Pay-day lending, for example, is attacked as “predatory” because the borrowers face high interest costs when they need money. Those firms, however, are just offering customers an option and if they have a better way of obtaining the money they need, they’re free to do so.

Now, the federal government is engaged in something quite similar when it comes to Parent PLUS loans — loans to parents so they can cover college expenses beyond the other loans and grants available. The administration has just announced that it will loosen the credit requirements for these loans, enabling families with weak credit to borrow so their children can go to college. Inside Higher Ed has the story.

This is just like the way the government “helped” low-income, poor-credit-risk individuals qualify for mortgages. Many of the parents who might have previously realized that the college of their choice was too expensive and therefore looked for a less costly school will now be lured into taking on debt they will have a hard time dealing with in the future. In a few years, we’ll have a “crisis” on our hands and the political response will be to bail out parents who imprudently took out these loans. This move just helps inflate the higher ed bubble a bit more; a few colleges will benefit for a while, but the taxpayers will wind up with a larger bill in the end.

Senator Buckley Reflects on FERPA


In today’s Wall Street Journal, we find this letter from former Senator James Buckley who was instrumental in drafting and passing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which was the subject of John J. Miller’s article on its unfortunate effects.


As the author of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (Ferpa), I found John J. Miller’s “Pay Tuition, but Don’t Ask How the Young Scholar Is Doing” (Cross Country, Oct. 18) on its current application both illuminating and distressing—illuminating in his description of how the legislation has compromised the exercise of parental responsibilities, and distressing in what it tells us of the ways in which administrative interpretations can skewer a central purpose of an act of Congress.

One of Ferpa’s major objectives was to ensure that parents had access to school records relating to their children. In recognition of the fact that on reaching age 18 offspring acquire the rights of adults, the act specifically provides (as Mr. Miller points out) that parents have the right to view the grades of college students who remain their dependents for tax purposes. To suggest that parents may receive their 18-year-old children’s grades but cannot discuss their work with their teachers is absurd. Parents’ responsibilities and legitimate concerns do not come to a halt on a child’s 18th birthday.

James L. Buckley

Sharon, Conn.

A Sensational Story That Isn’t a Surprise


Kenneth Wainstein, the special investigator of UNC-Chapel Hill’s scandal surrounding “no-show” and “paper” classes, has issued his 131-page report.

There’s a lot in it. “No show” classes (no instruction, no attendance, with only final papers required and those graded by a non-faculty employee) were apparently the result of a sympathetic effort on the part of two people: Julian Nyang’oro, who headed the curriculum that became the African  and Afro-American Studies Department, and his assistant, Deborah Crowder. The classes were designed to help struggling students, and they went on for 18 years.

“Between 1993 and 2011, Crowder and Nyang’oro developed and ran a ’shadow curriculum’ within the AFAM Department that provided students with academically flawed instruction through the offering of ‘paper classes,’” says the report. More than 3,100 students took those classes.

Grades were high, and those grades were critical to some athletes who had to maintain a 2.0 average in order to remain eligible for athletics. Wainstein says that during that period, “paper class” grades gave 81 students the margin that enabled them to graduate.

The classes were clearly known to the football coaching staff. A smoking gun was found. In 2009, when Crowder was about to retire, two members of the academic counseling service warned all the football coaches, in a meeting, that “part of the solution of the past” was ending.

Wainstein reproduces a PowerPoint slide that said:

–They didn’t go to class

–They didn’t take notes, have to say awake

–They didn’t have to meet with professors

–They didn’t have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material

“THESE NO LONGER EXIST!” said the slide.

At times Nyang’oro was “teaching” 300 students a year in “independent studies.” Yet only one dean even noticed. She told him to reduce the number, which he did.

“Despite the fact that these classes involved thousands of student and cooperation between Crowder and numerous University employees, the Chapel Hill administration never scrutinized AFAM’s operations or the academic integrity of their course offerings,“ Wainstein writes.

Much will be said and written about this report over the next few days. To me, that last sentence is the most important. The administration never “scrutinized AFAM’s operations or the academic integrity of their course offerings.“ So much for shared governance. Or for any governance at all.

You can read the report for yourself (thank you, Jenna Robinson) here.

“Less a Murder than a Suicide”


Abraham Lincoln once said that the demise of “a nation of freemen” like ours would come not from some external threat, but “by suicide.” It seems that what the Great Emancipator proclaimed about the republic is true of the academy as well.

At a recent conference at St. John’s College on the future of the liberal arts, John Agresto—president emeritus of St. John’s College Santa Fe—joined other presenters in defending the humanities and lamenting the death of the liberal arts. But he also had the courage to point out that their death might be “less a murder than a suicide.”

What did he mean? Here’s how Inside Higher Ed summarized his argument:

Agresto said that much humanities instruction has been co-opted by hyperspecialization and especially by critical theory. He said overly-critical approaches at once demean the subject matter and limit students’ free inquiry.


In the past and at their best, the liberal arts were a “gift” given to everyone, Agresto said. “It didn’t matter that Dante and Homer were dead white males,” and keeping Shakespeare alive wasn’t an “ethnocentric act.”

When scholars of the humanities themselves dismiss their subject matter as passé and prejudiced, is it any wonder students do as well?

Of course, Agresto was a unique college president and St. John’s remain a unique institution. (Its two campuses are among the 23 schools to receive “ACTA As” for their outstanding core curricula.) St. John’s knows that the cafeteria-style curriculum at many colleges and universities fails to nourish young minds. Experience shows us that when the Great Books of Western civilization are dismissed as antiquated, the vacuum is not filled by that which is more challenging and edifying, but by courses about zombies, vampires, and Beyonce. In an academy unmoored from its roots, the lowest common denominator reigns.

But talk like this requires that we affirm that there is a “higher” and “lower” in education; it requires the willingness to say that there is such a thing as “the best that has been thought and said.” It is possible to revivify the humanities. And the first step to doing so is a proud affirmation that a truly liberal education—in literature, economics, history, the sciences—produces better employees, better citizens, and better souls.

Who Owns the Syllabus?


In 2008, Jay Schalin of the Pope Center proposed that public universities be required to post syllabi for courses. The reason was that students should know what they are getting into before they sign up for a class—and also the public should know, too, what is being taught. Dickens or de Sade? Marx or Montesquieu?

There weren’t many overt objections to the idea, and soon after the state of Texas enacted a law requiring such posting. It went into effect without much difficulty.

But even back then there was the whisper of a suggestion that maybe faculty syllabi were copyrighted property. If they didn’t want to make them public, they shouldn’t have to, the tentative argument went.

That claim (scoffable, in my opinion) is now law in Missouri. The University of Missouri has successfully fended off inquiries into its teacher education school curricula by claiming copyrighted syllabi. George Leef  tells us all about it.

Activist Students at Fordham Battle Against Grave Injustice


Leftist students at Fordham are mounting a campaign against a grave injustice that the university is responsible for — not handing out free condoms. Read about their valiant fight for their rights (after all, the United Nations has declared that birth control is a human right!) in this Daily Caller piece.

This makes you wonder if these students are so foolish as to believe that their rights are violated unless the school they’ve chosen to enroll in makes other people pay for something they want. Do they also believe that they’re entitled to free food? I think the United Nations also says that humans are entitled to adequate nutrition. Or is it simply the case that these students need something to complain about? Of course, it has to be something that expands the realm of collectivism, but demanding free stuff does that. And perhaps these students are hoping to follow Sandra Fluke to fame as an advocate for the all-embracing mega-state.

FERPA Muzzles the Faculty


A lot of lousy federal legislation was passed in 1974, the year Nixon was twisting in the wind. One of the statutes enacted that year was the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The law requires that school officials and faculty keep most information about students private. For that reason, conferences between professors and parents are a thing of the past at most colleges. Discussing how well or poorly the student is doing would, you see, invade those privacy rights that famously emanate from various constitutional penumbras. (That’s a reference to Justice Douglas’ opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut.)

In last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, John J. Miller, well known to NR readers and now director of the journalism program at Hillsdale College, had an excellent article about the benefit of such conferences at Hillsdale. Hillsdale does not have to comply with FERPA because the college has done what it takes to remain independent — it doesn’t take any federal money.

Just as with so many other areas where the feds have interfered with a mandated, nationally uniform policy (e.g. standards of proof in sexual assault cases), this is one where individual schools should be free to make up their own minds. If some schools think it best to have a policy of keeping everything about students under wraps, fine. Some parents would no doubt think that a good reason for Sue or Bill to apply elsewhere.


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