Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

How Innovation Is Saving Southern New Hampshire University


Slate’s Gabriel Kahn has a fascinating piece on the rise of little Southern New Hampshire University as a leading innovator in higher education.

Like many small, less prestigious private schools, SNHU was facing declining enrollment and declining funds. But under the leadership of President Paul LeBlanc, the university reimagined itself. By embracing innovations like online education and competency-based degrees, SNHU has managed to hold costs down for students and still keep the school afloat.

It’s not all sunshine and roses at SNHU. As it is across the country, grade inflation is still a problem, and some have questions the university’s shift in priorities. But at a time when small schools are sinking under the weight of a collapsing status quo, many could learn from the example of this small New England university.

Why Do I Have to Listen to This Mozart?


Heather Mac Donald has a wonderful piece in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, on the wrecking of the humanities. Her focus is on UCLA, but this is a national problem. My title alludes to a comment by a Columbia student who thought herself put upon because a required course included music by Mozart and other dead white male composers. Too bad her mind has been so poisoned that she can’t enjoy music without first thinking about the characteristics of the individuals who wrote it.


And Then There Were None, I Mean IX (Title IX, That Is)


Whether radical or moderate, whether fading or flourishing, feminism does seem to govern our lives. The latest is this sad story of Temple University and other colleges eliminating men’s sports teams, some of them longstanding traditions at their schools, in order to comply with Title IX.  If there is a more reasonable side to feminism, why doesn’t it show its face in lobbying and other kinds of activist efforts to prevent this kind of needless destructiveness, which, so far from enhancing human potential, bespeaks a hateful, vengeful, envious, and leveling state of mind?

Men Wanted


Camille Paglia makes a valuable corrective to feminism in insisting that women are living in a world created by men. In this particular context, however, she mainly emphasizes the physical prowess of men in shaping a material environment that is practical, livable, and conducive to further achievement, especially for those very high-powered females who are today denigrating masculinity. This is a true and most welcome repudiation of the gender-as-construct fallacy, but is only part of the story, and makes the relationship between men and women sound a little like Lady Chatterley and the gamekeeper writ large. As Paglia knows, and has written elsewhere, the vision, intelligence, and creativity of men is what is behind the physical infrastructure and without those we simply wouldn’t have a culture or a civilization at all.

Praxis—An Alternative to Overpriced College Credentials


In this SeeThruEdu post, Isaac Morehouse writes about Praxis — his alternative to the vastly overpriced (and increasingly unimpressive) college credentials that have become so important to Americans over the last 40 years.

If you go back more than 40 years, you find that few occupations were closed to people who did not have college degrees to their names. What changed? In short, I think it was a combination of these factors: the erosion of high-school standards (which used to bring about at least respectable basic competence in young people but began to slide in the ’70s), the subsidization of college, which led to more and more people earning degrees and thus casting doubt on the capabilities of those who did not, and the Supreme Court’s decision in Griggs v. Duke Power (1971), which turned testing of job applicants into a legal hazard for employers and thus encouraging them to look at a safe alternative means of identifying individuals who might have the right characteristics.



Ten Years of Proposals for Higher-Ed Reform


The Pope Center recently turned ten (late last year, anyway) and in this week’s Clarion Call, Jane Shaw recounts our major works that have aimed at bringing change to a very change-resistant system.

Facebook Controversy at the University of Georgia


Last month, a series of offensive Facebook posts directed at two University of Georgia student groups sparked a campus controversy. Before the controversy subsided weeks later, it led to two protests and a student-government resolution condemning UGA’s culture as unwelcoming — even unsafe — for minorities.

On November 3, a newly created Facebook account posting under the name of a university student (who has disavowed responsibility) left posts on the pages of two student groups. “Why can’t you dumb dirty n*****s stop stinking up the place? Let UGA be RIGHT for good WHITE Christian students,” read a post left on the Black Affairs Council page. Another post on the LGBT Resource Center’s page read “Burn in hell f*****s.”

Subsequent posts followed, all generated by an anonymous antagonist who stole the identities of real UGA students. As an official investigation is ongoing, all claims about the antagonist and his motives are speculative. If we are to speculate, however, three explanations stand out as plausible.

The posts were created to intimidate and belittle minority students. This is the obvious explanation, and it has dominated media coverage of the incident. The fake Facebook account in question, which was littered with Confederate, Nazi, and fringe-right symbolism, lends credence to this explanation. Additionally, hateful acts have occurred at UGA in recent years.

Keep reading this post . . .

Students Who Don’t Do Anything


GMU economics professor Bryan Caplan explains in this post that, in his upper-division courses, routinely about 10 percent of the students enrolled do nothing. They do no work, but don’t drop the class either, which would at least get a modest refund into the hands of their parents. Caplan wonders why that is the case.

I think the answer is pretty much the same as why politicians spend so recklessly: it’s not their money.

The Historical Roots of Faculty Leftism


Mark Bauerlein connects the dots in this new SeeThruEdu essay.

The Job Nobody Wants To Do


I’m referring to that onerous job of trying to teach college students how to write. I recently posted an article looking at that problem from 30,000 feet, and, in this Pope Center piece, Brooklyn College professor Mitchell Langbert takes a ground-level look at his own institution.

Just the Facts


One of the biggest problems with finding out what’s really going on in higher education is the lack of access to meaningful data about student performance from K–12 through college and into the workforce. Making the available data transparent is sort of a minefield, with great potential for either gain or harm. On one hand, the more data the better, since it will enable much valuable analysis and policy change. On the other hand, there are privacy problems that have to be addressed, such as exposure of personal records from data breaches and the potential for political use of records (as we have recently seen with the IRS).  

The federal government has doled out grants to 47 states to look into the issues. Jenna Ashley Robinson takes a look at North Carolina’s attempt at making student data available to the widest audience possible without infringing on student privacy. 

No Decision for Rodents v. Dinosaurs in 2013



2013 was a year for which much was anticipated in higher-education reform. Would the “bubble” finally burst or go away? Would the Fisher v. Texas (about affirmative action in admissions) and O’Bannon v. NCAA (about student-athletes’ property rights to use of their images) lawsuits finally be settled and force reforms? Would the newly Republican state governments in many states bring in sweeping changes?

At year’s end, we still don’t know the outcomes of many of these questions; there was quite a bit fizzle amidst the anticipated sizzle. However, a lot of small trends and events emerged or continued that could lead to bigger changes in the future. The Pope Center staff picked some of their favorites for the year in the latest Clarion Call.

What Online Courses Are Actually Like


The higher education topic that probably receives more words than any other these days is online courses. Sometimes they are described glowingly; sometimes as a sheer waste of time. Jay Schalin of the Pope Center has a fair amount of personal experience with online courses and he shares his thoughts on the highs and lows in today’s Pope Center piece.

Asian Students Flocking into American Universities


In today’s Pope Center piece, Zack Fleming, a grad student in engineering at North Carolina State, writes about a trend he has observed first hand — more and more students from Asia pursuing their degrees in universities here. Why? Zack suggests several reasons.

An irony here is that while it’s easy for good Asian students to get into graduate programs in American universities, many Americans of Asian descent who have superb academic records find it hard to get into top universities as undergraduates because they aren’t regarded as “diverse.”

Shut Up and Learn Communism!


What’s the latest fashion statement to hit campus? How about a T-shirt that says, “Be Quiet and Read Marx”? That’s pretty much how East Carolina University history professor Michael Gross summed himself up on his Facebook page earlier this year: “I have now decided upon my summer 2013 attire. It says ‘me,’ and I’m going with it.”

Gross is also worried that political extremists are undermining our democracy — maybe he should take a look in the mirror?

My Interview With Mike Shaughnessy


Professor Mike Shaughnessy was intrigued by my recent article about the failure to teach students how to write in college and asked me to do an interview on that topic (and some related ones). It is available here.

It’s Not Just In the U.S. That College Students Can’t Write


I recently wrote for Forbes about the pitiable lack of writing ability among American undergraduates, but as we read in this Google-translated piece, that is also true in Colombia. Professor Camilio Jiminez decided to quit in the face of dismal student writing. His complaint sounds quite familiar.

Hat tip: Eric Ha

MOOCs Don’t Matter Here


Much of the coming innovation in higher education will occur through re-thinking current teaching practices, not simply through use of online technology. George Leef wrote yesterday about a new branch of the University of Minnesota whose leadership is rewriting old rules.

Some of the changes at the University of Minnesota Rochester: There’s only one degree, a bachelor’s in health sciences. Tenure requires research — in teaching! Graduation rates may be low because rigor is expected. And the “campus” is a shopping mall.

Teach Economics by Studying Real People


GMU economics professor Peter Boettke’s essay on The Freeman is crucial reading for economics professors and those who might want to become one of them.

Boettke writes:

Economics, as an academic discipline, rewards scientific cleverness over clarity, and research significance over teaching ability. The cost-minimizing strategy is to teach technique over substance. The material is straightforward and the tests are more or less unambiguous. So our young economics teacher — trying to balance the requirements of tenure, the wonders of economics (not to mention living a healthy, happy personal life) — must make trade-offs. And, on the relevant margin for our discussion, teaching economics thoroughly and passionately is what gets traded off.

I agree, and would add that what Boettke says about econ profs applies pretty much across the board.



Staying Busy in a Make-Work Job


Here’s a Campus Reform story about a “cultural-diversity coordinator” at the University of Colorado who used her university time to run a phone-sex business.


Subscribe to National Review