Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Legitimate Dilemma, End-run, or Both?


Ever since colleges and universities in the South were desegregated, the role of historically black colleges and universities has been uncertain. State governments in the 1960s and 1970s had two somewhat contradictory educational goals—strengthening the HBCUs, which had been treated unequally, and racially integrating their historically white universities.

That meant that many top students at HBCUs attended historically white schools, leaving HBCUs with academically weaker student bodies in spite of the infusion of some state funds. Today’s emphasis on racial diversity at elite schools around the nation has only put more stress on HBCUs, because good minority students are so eagerly sought after.

That is especially the case for the more demanding schools such as the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCA&T), the only HBCU in North Carolina that has an engineering school.

Unfortunately, the difficulty of finding students for NC A & T has led to two fairly egregious excursions around North Carolina’s rules governing the institution (as well as an unrelated excursion). As Jesse Saffron points out:

  • No state university in North Carolina is supposed to admit more than 18 percent of its students from outside the state, but NC A&T has exceeded that—in 2012 it topped 31 percent out-of-state students.
  • Similarly, for the 2006-07 school year, NC A&T has forecast higher enrollment, for which it obtained state funds—but then its enrollment declined, rather than grew.

In both cases, the governing board of the University of North Carolina system gave the school a pass. It did not require NC A& T to pay a penalty (as the rules dictate) and even created a pilot project allowing a 25 percent out-of-state cap. And the school was allowed to keep the extra enrollment funding—even building the funds into its annual appropriations for the next four years. Saffron writes:

Rule by individuals who exercise broad discretionary authority, rather than rule by impartially written and objectively enforced laws, can lead to poor stewardship and even malfeasance. 

“Lynch Mob Mentality”


Thomas Sowell, in his latest column, criticizes the hypocrisy of college leaders and Justice Department officials who politicize campus rape cases, “[allow] unsubstantiated accusations to prevail,” and place the burden of proof on the accused.

Here’s a slice:

Many of the politically correct crusaders are the same people who have pushed for unisex living arrangements on campus, including unisex bathrooms, and who have put condom machines in dormitories and turned freshman orientation programs into a venue for sexual “liberation” propaganda.

They laughed at old-fashioned restrictions designed to reduce sexual dangers among young people on campus. Now that real life experience has shown that these are not laughing matters, the politically correct still want their sexual Utopia, and want scapegoats when they don’t get it.


Two Steps Forward, One Step Back


“Two steps forward, one step back.”

That seems to be the theme of so much that happens in academe today. It is certainly the best one can say about the latest higher ed news coming out of the Bay State.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the cradle of the American Revolution. It was the home of patriots like John and Samuel Adams, the place where the “shot heard ‘round the world” was fired, the site of Paul Revere’s midnight ride. It is therefore quite fitting that the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education is seeking to “make civics a key component of every undergraduate student’s education at all state universities and community college.”

In defining the contents of a “civic education,” the Board of Higher Ed has rightfully put an emphasis on “an understanding of the U.S., including its history and governmental traditions[.]” As ACTA has long noted, “An understanding of American history and government is indispensable for the formation of responsible citizens and for the preservation of free institution.”

But a closer look at the state’s announcement raises some eyebrows. According to the Department of Higher Ed’s policy:

As noted in the definition of civic learning, useful approaches may include embedding civic learning in general education, core courses, major courses, co-curricular activities and off-campus experiences.


[C]ivic learning is a field in which widely accepted outcomes and content are still being developed.

Sifting through the inside-baseball jargon, one is left with the impression that Massachusetts is doing everything it can to make sure civic education is taught in state colleges, except actually requiring the teaching of civics in state colleges

But real remedies to civic and historical illiteracy are not difficult to find. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, for example, mandate six credit hours in U.S. history and government. The University System of Georgia requires coursework in, or a demonstrated knowledge of, U.S. history.

In our age of embarrassingly low historical literacy, civic education is more important the ever. If we want students, parents, and taxpayers to get what they pay for from their public colleges and universities, then state boards (or if need be, state legislatures) are going to have to take clear, decisive action—not beat around the bush. 

Policymakers in Massachusetts ought to take their new initiative all the way and require state schools and community colleges to teach a serious U.S. history and government curriculum. As Thomas Jefferson said long ago, a nation cannot remain both ignorant and free. It is time to stop pretending that higher education meets its responsibility to prepare its graduates for engaged and informed citizenship with wishful and vague aspirations. 

A Fight against Quotas, and More


Ed Blum is at it again. After succeeding in dampening (but not blotting out) racial preferences in public university admissions, he is now looking for potential plaintiffs to sue three schools: Harvard, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In a Pope Center article, Harry Painter discusses the reasons why Blum, the former stockbroker who instigated Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, is going after those universities.

In the case of UNC, the school’s amicus brief in the Fisher case revealed that the school chooses to use “holistic” admissions policies—of which race is one consideration—even though it could have used the race-neutral Texas “Top-Ten” program to achieve diversity. According to Blum, using racial preferences when it could have avoided them makes the school vulnerable.

As for Harvard, Blum is convinced (as are many others) that Harvard has a quota on Asian-Americans. Painter brings up interesting history about quotas on Jewish students at Harvard in the 1920s—quotas that may have been less restrictive than those on Asian-Americans today. He cites Jerome Karabel, author of The Chosen, a book about admissions to elite schools. Karabel found that in order to keep down the population of highly qualified Jewish students, the Ivy League introduced all manner of preferences that are still in use today. Painter writes that those included: “legacy preferences, geographic preferences, recommendation letters, interviews, essays, and consideration of extracurricular activities.”

Harvard Prof Laments “The Closing of the Collegiate Mind”


Today’s lead op-ed piece is by Harvard’s Ruth Wisse. It was inspired by the recent spate of “victories” for students and administrators who think it proper to keep speakers off campus who might “offend” anyone — at least anyone in a group that must never be offended. The disinvitations for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Raymond Kelly, Condi Rice, and Charles Murray are all part of a broad, worrisome trend: speakers who challenge the deep beliefs of people who are apt to throw a tantrum if their beliefs are challenged should be kept away. That’s the safe thing to do.

Decades ago, liberals insisted that their protests were a matter of “speaking truth to power.”  Now that those same people hold the reins of power, they’re often hostile to anyone who offers counter-arguments to their pet ideas.

Whether it’s due to timidity or a truly illiberal cast of mind, when administrators act this way, they do their students a great disservice. Instead of worrying about their schools “modeling diversity” they should worry about modeling civil debate.



German/Swiss/Scandinavian Student at UCLA Pokes Fun at “Microaggression”


In this College Fix piece, UCLA student Josh Hedtke pokes fun at the “microaggression” idea by pointing out that some Americans are very insensitive in depicting the culture of his ancestors, particularly Oktoberfest.

I’m afraid that Mr. Hedtke will find out that making fun of “microaggression” it itself a form of microaggression.

Davidson Students Must Now Do Their Own Laundry


Here’s to small victories!

In ACTA’s report on America’s top liberal arts colleges, Education or Reputation?, we call out these elite institutions for their terribly misplaced spending priorities. Instead of spending precious funds on worthy educational pursuits, schools often waste money on needless amenities that have little to do with higher education’s academic mission. For example, we note that North Carolina’s Davidson College “provides a free service for all undergraduates to wash, dry, press and hang students’ laundry.”

Well, not any more. Inside Higher Ed reports:

Davidson College announced Wednesday that it is ending free laundry service—in which students could drop off dirty laundry and have it returned, clean and folded. The college has offered the service for decades but officials said that it makes more sense to spend the college’s resources on academics. The Charlotte Observer reported that Davidson will save about $400,000 annually.

Was it ACTA’s condemnation that moved Davidson’s administration? Who knows? We do know that Davidson’s new president, Carol Quillen is a reformer with a focus on academic quality and cutting costs. Let us hope for more good news out of the Tar Heel State in the months and years ahead.

Onward and upward!

Isn’t It Just a Waste of Time to Have Students Memorize?


One of the cliches of modern education is that “rote learning” is a waste of the students’ time. Among other things, that means no more memorizing of speeches, documents, or poems. If for some reason you want to know what it says, just google it!

Peter Wood disagrees. In this Huffington Post piece, he argues that there are benefits to memorizing poems. The language really gets “inside” the student.

I think that’s right. Most of the time, young people skim over texts and tweets. It’s a good thing for them to have to devote a lot of time to reading and really comprehending some great works.

More Money than God, or at Least a Small Country


What do you think is bigger: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s GDP or Harvard’s endowment?

That’s right, according to the New Republic, Harvard is sitting on more wealth than Jordan produces in a year. Harvard’s endowment also beats out the GDPs of Honduras, Haiti, and the Bahamas. And lest you think it’s only elite private schools sitting on nation-state-worthy piles of cash, the University of Texas state system is wealthier than the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Perhaps this would be a little easier to digest if UT hadn’t raised its in-state tuition 15 percent over the last 5 years, or if Harvard were using its money to intellectually challenge its students instead of handing out A’s like candy.

There’s nothing wrong with reaping the returns of smart investments. The issue is how universities spend their money when flush with cash. Too often, despite sizeable endowments, colleges and universities are still raising tuition, overpaying presidents, and allowing administrative staff to grow while academic instruction remains on the back burner.

Students, parents, and taxpayers deserve better. Trustees ought to consider endowment size before voting for more tuition increases, and donors should ask tough questions about university finances before writing more checks. After all, any university sitting on more wealth than a Middle Eastern country ought to expect some scrutiny.

What Good Does It Do To Teach Entrepreneurship?


Today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting article by Carl Schramm, “Teaching Entrepreneurship Gets an Incomplete.” Schramm notes that while entrepreneurship courses have been proliferating on our college campuses, we don’t have much evidence that they work — that is, help students actually do the tough work of starting a business.

I’m in the skeptical camp. Perhaps a few students who go through such courses get the motivation and tools to become entrepreneurs, but my guess is that for most students, learning about entrepreneurship is as far as they go. It’s like a music course about great pianists — very intriguing, but by itself that won’t get anyone to actually learn how to play the piano.

Now, learning about entrepreneurship could be valuable in its own right. Far better that students should study about the process of going from an idea to building a firm to take advantage of that idea than studying much of the politicized stuff on offer.

It’s worth thinking about our history here. America used to be bursting with entrepreneurs. (My grandfather was one of them.) New businesses sprouted up all over the country. Today, there aren’t nearly as many entrepreneurs and that’s largely because local, state, and the federal government have put up so many obstacles to business startups. If we want more entrepreneurship, we’ll get much further by dismantling those obstacles than by luring some students into college courses about entrepreneurship.

Spoiled Children at Rutgers


Town and gown skirmishes in 13th century England between townies and university students and dons at Cambridge and Oxford engendered student protest and lawlessness. But such warfare receded  as the issues resolved themselves over the centuries. Until the 1960s, that is, when baby boomers swelled campus populations and the Soviets were dedicated to “active measures,” tasking the KGB to infiltrate and influence the West, with emphasis on  the “main adversary,” the U.S.A.
Targets included newspapers and broadcast networks, film studios, labor unions, left-leaning political parties—and colleges. Professors with communist backgrounds or predilections worked with students from “red diaper” backgrounds to undermine American values.  The plan, as told in detail  by David Horowitz in his book Radical Son, included dropping the term Communist as a  erm of recruitment (this was in light of the so-called Khrushchev Letter of 1956 denouncing Stalin and publicizing the horrors of his reign). They coined the term the New Left and set to work organizing students against Western values.
Otherwise quiet campuses served as sites for massive protests against the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, a Soviet client state. Led by New Left outside organizers, spoiled suburban college students grew their hair, smoked pot, and recited anti-American slogans out of the Comintern handbook. It wasn’t the 60’s Generation, it was the Duped Generation slavishly led by the nose by left-wing agitators.

The residue of “student power” still exists, although it has had nothing truthful or useful to say or contribute, only anti-American platitudes.
So it runs on at the mouth about issues it knows little about or to advance the cause of America’s adversaries. Recent examples were the “demonstrations” at Rutgers to remove Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker because she served President  George W. Bush, the so-called war criminal who invaded Iraq.

This penchant to manufacture ex post facto war tribunals is a residue from the heady protests of the Cold War. The facts, moral or material, are ignored in the drive to stain U.S. leaders who do not toe the old Kremlin line, even with the USSR defunct and Communism discredited. It’s the zeitgeist that matters. And colleges endure these immature and nonsensical irruptions as if “students” really do possess wisdom worth heeding.
They never have, and certainly do not today. Yet administrators allow the children to play their little self-important games, even when it harms the school and insults prominent people—like Condoleezza Rice.

The Bubble Is Popping


Rich Vedder presents some strong evidence about the popping (or at least, deflating) of the college bubble in this essay.

After you’ve read the essay, read the comment posted, some of which I copy here:

The bubble popped at my mid-sized public university in Illinois several years ago. In spring 2007, FTE campus enrollment was 9800. This spring, it’s below 7800. A major part of the problem is cost. In 2002, the cost to attend here (tuition, fees, room, board) was $9900. This year, it’s $21,000. The administration has been honest about one thing: We kept raising tuition at ridiculous rates because many students had the cost covered by government grants and state funding. Now, funding is being reduced, and students are having to pay more of the cost out of their own pockets. Guess what? More and more people can’t afford it! The impact is obvious – retiring faculty are not being replaced, three major dorms have closed since 2007, some dining halls have closed or have reduced service and hours, area rental properties that used to be filled are now sitting vacant, and there’s a widespread sense of despair among the faculty and staff.

Gentlemen Know Best


If Joe Biden wants to do something about sexual assault on campus, why doesn’t he encourage young men to behave like gentlemen? A gentleman would not force himself on a woman and would certainly not take advantage of a woman who lacks full possession of her faculties of judgment.

Much of the “assault” on today’s campuses arises from predatory behavior on the part of males when confronted with drugged or inebriated females. Biden seems like an old-fashioned type of guy, recalling that on the mean streets he came from, if a man struck a woman, “you had the job to kick the living crap out of him.” A much better old-fashioned directive would be to help young men develop good character.

Biden might recall such movies as “The Philadelphia Story” in which James Stewart vociferously denies having taken advantage of a tipsy Katherine Hepburn because, as he says, there are RULES about that kind of thing. And “gentleman” here does not mean some dandified aristocrat pinching snuff. On the contrary, the Stewart character is a rather ornery, resentful, hard-scrabble, low-level journalist. But observing those rules was something men at all levels once held to as a matter of honor and was a mark of genuine equality among them. As opposed to the phony “equality” that arises when traditional rules are scotched, when young men and women are thrown together and prompted to have sex, and when progressives are presented with the opportunity to fashion draconian mandates to control other people’s lives and give meaning to their own.

From The “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” Department


Unbeknownst to the general public, freshman composition has become the point of attack by all those who would like to tear down the superstructure of our civilization.  In the 1990s we had the attack by the maternalists on the thesis statement for its “phallologocentrism” (i.e., logic).  They argued that the five-paragraph essay replicated the thinking of the patriarchy, so should be replaced. 

Patriarchal monogamous heterosexual marriage is being challenged by single-sexed, but now polyamorous relationships. One newly minted Ph.D. is on her way to spreading this thinking as a professor as she celebrates the successful defense of her dissertation on “The Rhetoric and Composition of Polyamory,” or the love of everything, including all of nature.  For those of us not up on the latest in composition studies, she builds on previous scholarship:

As a quick review, I offer this definition by ecosexualities scholar Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio: “Polyamory is a state of being, an awareness, and/or a lifestyle that involves mutually acknowledged, simultaneous relationships of a romantic and/or sexual nature between more than two persons. . . . Polyamorous people erode the myth that being part of a closed dyad is the only authentic form of love” (2004, p. 165)

I didn’t know that one could be an “ecosexualities scholar.”

This all fits into the race-class-gender attack on Western civilization in this way:

While the language of polyamory is a language of equality,  monormativity is that of hierarchy where relationships become a strategic game, where the goal is to become the “best” or “only” or “most” in a partner’s eyes, to the exclusion of all others.

Researchers in rhetoric and composition can analyze these new words that the polyamorous are creating, asking how this rhetoric is changing the cultural paradigm for relating.

Now I’d like to discuss the glue that holds my whole project together: “relationship literacy.” Relationship literacy refers to the reflexive, critical fluency with which learners can understand, analyze, discuss, and reflect upon their own as well as others’ relationship styles, choices, practices, values, and ethics. People who have made a commitment to acquire relationship literacy understand more clearly than most how relationships, particularly romantic or intimate relationships, are constrained or supported by cultural norms.


College Completion and Math Ability


The better students are at math, the more likely it is that they’ll be able to complete a college degree.

GMU economics professor Bryan Caplan shows the evidence for that conclusion in this post.

Black Studies Prof. Threatens to Send Conservative Students Home ‘In a Body Bag’


There’s your everyday run-of-the-mill liberal bias on campus.

Then there’s this:

SANTA BARBARA – Alice Gilbert can vividly recall her first day of class last fall in a black studies course called “The Obama Phenomenon” offered by Professor Otis Madison at UC Santa Barbara.

That’s because before his introductory lecture was over, the scholar “warned Ted Cruz-supporting ‘teabaggers’ to get the hell out of his classroom before he sent them home to their mother in a body bag”…

Austin Yack reports all the details today in his feature story at The College Fix.

The Dept. of Ed. Names Names: ‘Transparency’ or Political Pressure?


Hey, I like pillorying colleges and universities for screwing up as much as the next guy. But there’s a wrong way and a right way to do it. 

In the supposed name of “transparency,” the Department of Education has released the names of 55 colleges and professional schools that are “under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.” 

Unfortunately, that’s where the transparency ends. If you want to know more about what those 55 schools are accused of doing, you are simply out of luck. The Department of Education is not releasing any more information about what’s going on at those schools—not even redacted versions that would protect the identity of complainants and the accused while also giving the public a sense of what has allegedly gone wrong at these schools.

As Brooklyn College Professor KC Johnson asks in Minding the Campus

How far will the administration go in the name of transparency? The AP headline, for instance, is “55 US schools face federal sex assault probes.” All that means, of course, is that members of a loosely-coordinated group of activists have filed complaints with OCR. But to an average reader, the headline seems jarring–”sexual assaults,” a commonly understood term, apparently uninvestigated, on 55 campuses. But how many of these 55 colleges actually define “sexual assault” in the way virtually every state’s criminal code does? Or do some or all of these 55 schools define “sexual assault” to include things like a single, drunken grope at a party, or even (such as Yale) as “economic abuse”?

Unless you can get the colleges to tell you what they’re being accused of (unlikely, since they live in fear of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights), this is all the Department is ever going to tell you:

The Department will not disclose any case-specific facts or details about the institutions under investigation. The list includes investigations opened because of complaints received by OCR and those initiated by OCR as compliance reviews. When an investigation concludes, the Department will disclose, upon request, whether OCR has entered into a resolution agreement to address compliance concerns at a particular campus or found insufficient evidence of a Title IX violation there.

So you get to hear about the accusation, and that’s it until there is a “resolution agreement,” which could be years down the road. One could be forgiven for wondering if this supposed nod towards “transparency” is actually just a way to put political pressure on the universities named to settle with OCR.

Condoleezza Rice Won’t Speak at Rutgers


NRO broke the news this morning that Condoleezza Rice has withdrawn as a commencement speaker at Rutgers University. Before this news, Rutgers’ decision to keep her as a speaker in spite of opposition was cheering. But, as the NRO dispatch indicates, Robert Barchi, the president of Rutgers, didn’t sound so much in favor of free speech this past week as he did earlier when the protest first occurred. It appears that Rice got the hint and graciously bowed out.

A “Gaffe” Worth Thinking About


Every now and then, a politician will slip up and say something that’s true or based in reality. And like clockwork, pundits and demagogues clamorously enter the fray, demanding apologies while assuring their  followers that the politician’s “gaffe” is both spurious and disgraceful, and that two multiplied by two does not equal four. 

A similar set of events unfolded recently after South Carolina’s Republican comptroller, Richard Eckstrom, commented on the Palmetto State’s sole public historically black university, South Carolina State University. 

SC State is struggling financially. Its regional accrediting body placed it on warning because of governance and debt issues. The situation became so dire that school officials made a $13.6 million loan request to Governor Nikki Haley and the state’s Budget and Control Board to help pay off bills accruing since last October.

During a recent meeting regarding the loan request (the board ended up granting SC State $6 million; the remaining $7.6 million will have to come from legislative appropriations), some board members suggested that the school could bring in additional funds by more vigorously collecting student debt. Eckstrom, the state’s chief accountant, disagreed, saying that SC State caters to a “student body that doesn’t have the ability to bail the university out. These are not kids coming from wealthy parents. These are kids that are going there because they can’t get into these other schools.” 

The SC State supporters in attendance groaned with disapproval. But Eckstrom’s statement, though perhaps rough around the edges, wasn’t incorrect. It’s no secret that students attending non-elite HBCUs tend to come from low-income households and lack the academic preparation possessed by students at other universities. At any rate, Eckstrom’s most controversial comment came later in the meeting: 

I’m committed to the university because it’s a university, not because it’s a historically black university. I think the sooner this state gets away from the concept of talking about historically black universities is a step forward for this state…We no longer talk about historically white universities. I think we need to deal with the issues of funding needs at South Carolina State because it’s an institution of higher learning.

The state’s legislative black caucus called on Eckstrom to apologize. One Democratic legislator called the comments “uninformed, ignorant, and embarrassing.” Even U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn, who graduated from SC State, weighed in. Clyburn said that, during his youth, the university was the only one in South Carolina that accepted blacks. 

Clyburn is right; there was certainly a time when many blacks were shut out of higher education and when HBCUs provided the only path to a college education. But that time has long passed. Today, more than 90 percent of black students attend non-HBCUs - a sign that such students are being accepted in large numbers by “predominantly white” institutions.

Freedom of association, not state-sanctioned racial isolation, should be the name of the game. If a private college wants to serve one segment of the population, that’s fine. But it’s high time that we rethink the legitimacy of publicly supported HBCUs. Increasingly, such institutions seem both anachronistic and unnecessary. 

Colleges Often Waste Student “Health Fees”


The Pope Center’s Jenna Ashley Robinson writes about the ways in which colleges often waste the “health fees” that students have to pay in this essay.

Those fees collect into significant piles of money. Activists are always drawn to such piles and often successfully scheme to make off with some of the money for their pet projects, like “social justice” advocacy. It would be much better to allow students to buy whatever health-related good and services they want or need and not have to pay for stuff they don’t want.


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