Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Peter Wood’s Fine Letter to Scripps College’s Trustees


In this excellent letter to the trustees of Scripps College, National Association of Scholars president Peter Wood explains why the school was wrong to disinvite columnist George Will as the commencement speaker for its most recent graduation ceremony.  Antics like this college’s are, alas, more and more common — making Wood’s letter all the more welcome.

There’s More “Grim News,” People


ISIS and Ebola and now this. A recent study by the Center for Higher Education Chief Information Officer Studies “contains grim news” according to the folks at Inside Higher Ed.

The grim news ….. get ready …… is that only 19 percent of chief information security officers are women. Obviously, this is a crisis that calls for immediate action.

And the bad news isn’t over. “Only 5 percent of the survey respondents identified as non-white.” This glaring inequity will keep diversophiles busy for years finding and implementing programs to solve it.

John Rosenberg, however, is not alarmed by any of this and sensibly asks in this Discriminations post, “So what?”


Calling All Student Pamphleteers, Pundits, Muckrakers, and Literary Troublemakers!


Announcing the Third Annual Douglas B. Rogers Conditions of a Free Society Essay Competition, hosted by the Center for Political and Economic Thought at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, PA. The competition is meant to encourage undergraduate students to discuss themes of Western Civilization such as individual freedom, limited constitutional government, free market economics, and the philosophical and moral foundations of America and the West.

This year students are asked to address those themes in connection with the following quotation from James Madison:

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

The competition is open to all full-time undergraduate students currently registered in any field of study at a college or university in the United States or Canada. The first place winner will receive $2,000 and an invitation to attend an awards dinner and lecture by Dr. John Larrivee of Mount St. Mary’s University to be held at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania on March 11, 2015. Second and third place winners will receive invitations to said awards dinner and $1,000 and $500 respectively.

Essays that are, in the exclusive opinion of the judges, of publishable quality will, with the consent of the author, be eligible for publication in the Center’s journal, Citizens and Statesmen: An Annual Review of Political Theory and Public Life.

Essays should be a minimum of 2,500 words. There is no maximum length. Submissions should be sent in Microsoft Word format to Mary Beth McConahey at [email protected] by January 9, 2015. Winners will be notified in February.

Last year’s winning essays can be found here:

ICYMI: Matt Walsh Says “It’s Time to Boycott College”


Popular conservative blogger and self-described “professional truth sayer” Matt Walsh has written a blistering critique of the “modern attitude toward higher education.” Writing for, Walsh attacks the conventional wisdom regarding the benefits of college in iconoclastic fashion. His concluding suggestions:

Boycott college.

Free yourselves.

Free your children.

Make your own life.

Teach your kids to live differently, uniquely, individually.

College is not necessary for most of us.

I think it’s time we stop pretending otherwise. 

Read the full article here

Mission Creep? Community Colleges Offer Bachelor’s Degrees in Nursing


In 22 states, community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees. I am not prepared to say whether this addition is 1) a natural outgrowth of the colleges’ applied education, 2) a useful competitive tool to rein in university costs, or 3) inappropriate mission creep, although I somewhat lean toward the last of these.

But expansion seems inevitable, especially in one profession—nursing.

Since 1965, the American Nurses Association has tried to professionalize the field by changing the “basic” nursing level from R.N. to B.S.N. It is finally making some headway, since nearly 50 percent of all registered nurses (who can be licensed after two years of education) are pursuing bachelor’s degrees.

This is a natural market for community colleges that now offer an associate’s degree in nursing, especially since transfers from community colleges often pose difficulties. Rather than try to work out the kinks in transfers, community colleges could simply offer the full degree.

There may be some good reasons why they shouldn’t, but as Harry Painter writes on the Pope Center site, North Carolina is likely to join the five other states that offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing at the community college level.


Oh, Great -- More Clery Act Regulations to Obey


In an Inside Higher Ed story entitled “Final Changes to Clery Act” (really — the Education Department bureaucrats won’t ever think of more stuff to mandate?) we read that colleges and universities will now be required to collect and disclose statistics on the number of crime allegations that were investigated, but determined to be unfounded. More obligatory paperwork (unless, of course, the school would rather say “no” to federal money, which is the Department’s leverage), but what good will it do? Are prospective students interested in knowing which campuses have more unfounded allegations of crime than others?

As I argued in this piece on the Clery Act, the assumption it is based on, that mandating the disclosure of crime statistics is important in the decision-making of students and would-be employees, is extremely dubious. Unfortunately, almost no politician has the guts to say that this law just creates busy work that drives up costs, and hardly any schools are willing to go “cold turkey” and get off the addiction to federal money.


The Latest of Mencken’s Hobgoblins


H. L Mencken really understood politics and wrote that “the aim of practical politics is to menace the people with an endless series of hobgoblins” so they will clamor to the government to save them. We see that far more often now than in his day, and the latest one is the campus sexual assault hobgoblin. Based on utterly bogus statistics on the incidence of sexual assault, the federal government has undertaken to dictate policies to colleges and universities that trample all over the idea of due process of law. Furthermore, California recently enacted a statute requiring “affirmative consent” for each stage of a sexual encounter.

In today’s Pope Center piece, Jesse Saffron takes a look at this bizarre crusade which has, as you’d expect, made its way to North Carolina. “Like the California law,” he writes, “Chapel Hill’s and Duke’s policies impose an extremely vague and unrealistic standard that is out of step with the way our culture views and engages in sexual activity. Under the new rules, for example, hugging could be construed as ’sexual contact.’ Without first receiving a definitive ‘yes, you can hug me’ from his or her partner, an individual could be charged with sexual assault.”

The way the federal policies stack the deck against the accused is so egregious that 28 professors at Harvard Law School, many of them with impeccable liberal credentials, recently denounced the university’s kowtowing to the Department of Justice on this.

Just what gives the federal government any authority here? The fact that it can withhold money from colleges, that’s what. The federal government has no actual authority to give funds to colleges, but it does, and because the camel has its nose under that tent, the government has the leverage to pressure even the likes of Harvard into compliance.

I do not see what the “liberals” behind this mania think they gain by shredding traditional due process of law protections. Saffron concludes, “the accused as well as accusers would be better off with policies and procedures based on sound data and the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ standard rather than fear-mongering and hyper-politicization.” Maybe that answers my question. Fear-mongering and hyper-politicization have become two of the main weapons in the statists’ arsenal.

Transparency, I Love You. Let Me Count the Ways


I’m about to show you how to find out information about a major public university. Yes, it will be boring, because it takes too long. But that, of course, is my point.

Let’s suppose you want to find out if a committee of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors is going to hold a meeting in the near future. Surely that information should be on the website of the University of North Carolina (the 16-campus system).

So you go there. You find a tab that says “Leadership and Policy.” From there you click again, “UNC Board of Governors.”  That’s easy.

But then you are stumped. Where would the board’s public meetings be listed?

Well, it turns out that you were wrong. It wasn’t under “UNC Board of Governors.” You have to go to “Systems Office.” (Someone gave me a hint.)

Under “Systems Office,” there are nine choices, from Academic Affairs to University Advancement.

Turns out that you need to choose Communications. (Ah, “public” means “communications.”) Now, we’re down to just three choices: News, News Archives, and Media Center. My second try: “Media Center.” (Is the public media? Hmm.)

And ah! There it is: Public Meetings. Clicking on that, I learn that there will be a meeting of the Personnel and Tenure Subcommittee on Monday, Oct. 20.

In a world in which savvy companies like Amazon encourage intuitive shopping, universities appear to be, well, in the email age.

Entrepreneurial Spirit Meets Millennial Mindpower


An economically enterprising spirit is still alive and well among college students, even though many professors love to bash capitalism (an extensive survey by The College Fix found the subject is often maligned, ignored, or taught from a perspective other than objective economics).

Yet students and recent grads intrinsically understand the opportunities this country affords and jump into the arena. Small businesses are at the heart of this nation, and one such company is MindSumo.

Founded by grads from prestigious universities who sought to connect businesses with smart, savvy college students, their startup charges companies a fee to connect to its userbase of more than 50,000 college students, who respond to various challenges companies pose.

Participants need an .edu email address to submit creative responses to MindSumo, which doles out cash payouts to the best replies. For example, an active challenge from Kaiser Permanente on changing healthcare to “meet the needs of Millennials” offers $750 to one winner and $250 for a runner-up.

Meanwhile, a new online class is filling the gap where brick and mortar colleges fall short. “How to Start a Startup” is a massive open online course launched this fall through Stanford University. According to the project’s website, the class promises “everything we know about how to start a startup, for free, from some of the world experts.”

Sam Altman, president of leading tech incubator Y Combinator, is at the helm of the effort, and other lectures will be given by various Silicon Valley giants, including Peter Thiel. Roughly 20 hours of lectures will be posted on the Internet through the effort.

Even more good news: Hundreds of universities are organizing groups to watch the videos together.


Tags: MOOC , Higher Education

Higher Ed’s Myth-busting Duo Strikes Again


In 2011, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift dropped a bombshell on the world of higher education. That book highlighted, with a bundle of empirical evidence in support, that many students can pass through undergraduate programs without having enhanced their overall knowledge and skill set. They may have paid a lot for their education, but they didn’t receive much in return. 

This year, the authorial twosome is back with the release of Aspiring Adults Adrift, which George Leef reviews in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call article. Arum and Roksa track the same cohort of students who participated in their previous study. Many of those graduates are now underemployed or living with their parents. 

The duo’s latest study also reveals that the career prospects for those attending a prestigious college are no better than those of students attending non-prestigious institutions. Leef describes the book and the authors’ findings as a “cold shower for the ‘We’ve got to put more young people through college!’ crowd.” 

We Have Flawed Higher Ed Data -- Reason for Worry?


Ben Miller, a senior analyst at the New America Foundation, writes about The College Graduation Rate Flaw That No One’s Talking About. The flaw is that it is hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons of graduation or “attainment” rates across institutions. This is exactly the sort of problem that central planning types fret about. Without good data, how can they run things the best way? Instead of worrying about imperfect higher education data, I suggest that we just stop collecting it.

Terribly heretical idea, what! But people also thought it heretical when Hong Kong’s financial secretary, the estimable Sir John Cowperthwaite, not just suggested stopping the collection of economic data, but actually did so. His reason was that statistics were invariably used by meddlesome politicians to interfere with the economy, so it would be better not to have any for them to use. Exactly the same applies to higher ed data. They encourage politicians and policy wonks to devise ways of “improving” outcomes, such as rewarding schools with “good” graduation rates and punishing those with “bad” rates. Instead of deepening the government’s already extensive and harmful interference with higher education, we should go back toward laissez-faire. If students were spending their own money on education, they would care about their own stats and the rest of us could think about other things.

For readers who are not familiar with Sir John Cowperthwaite, I recommend this tribute to him by Cato Institute’s Marian Tupy.

Don’t Know Much about History


A few organizations are trying to get colleges to retain some kind of core curriculum. The American Council for Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) is one of those, and it has just issued its 2014-2015 ratings of colleges on the basis of their required courses.

At, you can find the ACTA grades (A-F) or 1,098 schools. Only 23 schools get As. To do so, they must require students to take at least six out of the seven courses that ACTA establishes as necessary for a good education. Those are: economics, foreign language, U.S. history or government, literature, math, composition, and science.

Some interesting statistics emerge: only 13 percent of the schools surveyed require a foreign language, and only 18 percent U.S. history or government. Only 3 percent require economics.

I’ve heard the former president of a selective college say somewhat disdainfully that his students should have learned enough about U. S. history and government by the time they arrive as freshmen, so they shouldn’t be required to take such a course. If that’s the case (and it’s dubious), then they should place out through an exam. But don’t deprive a student of essential education on the theory that he or she already knows it!

College a “Ludicrous Waste”? I Spar with Gary Burtless


Notwithstanding the plight of a great many young Americans who have gone to college, perhaps obtained a degree, possibly learned little of any use, and now work at low-skill jobs, we still hear rousing cheers from defenders of the “College is still a good investment” crowd. In a recent piece riffing on one of Robert Reich’s columns, Brookings Institution senior fellow Gary Burtless proclaimed that college is Not a Ludicrous Waste of Money. In my latest SeeThruEdu piece, I take issue with him.

His case for college is the negative one that even though many college grads are in bad shape, on the whole, Americans without degrees are even worse off. It’s a positional argument, not one based on any intrinsic benefit of the college experience. The problem with this argument is two fold. First, lots of young Americans, especially those with scant academic engagement, will spend a lot of time and money and still end up with a mundane job and poor career prospects. Second, encouraging them to go to college encourages credential mania to accelerate. Already, a BA is insufficient for many jobs once capably done by individuals with high school educations.

My Favorite Headlines


Disgusted Alumna Looks at NYU


If you look back 40 years or so, higher education was a lot different than it is today. Among the differences is that whereas college presidents used to be serious academics who focused on improving (or at least maintaining) intellectual integrity, now they are often empire buildings who are mainly interested in raising tons of money to spend on whatever enhances the institution’s prestige. They rake in money, lavish some on themselves and the rest on high-profile projects such as overseas campuses.

A good example is New York University. In her recent Chronicle Review piece, “NYU Eats World,” one of the university’s alumna, Claudia Dreifus, offers up a strong indictment of NYU under John Sexton’s presidency. She writes, “Like so many American universities today, NYU has no discernable center, no real purpose, except growth and a better spot on the US News rankings. The university attempts anything and everything — new programs, new buildings, new schools, new types of perks for its stars. No one seems to ask, ‘Can the students afford this?’ Or, better yet, ‘Is this wise?’”

I recommend reading the whole piece.

Claudia Dreifus is the co-author, with Andrew Hacker of an excellent 2010 book entitled Higher Education? I reviewed the book for the Pope Center, and when we hosted an event in 2011 on the way the “liberal” and “conservative” criticism of higher education often dovetail, she was among the speakers.

In my view, the Sextons of the higher education world were able to get away with turning their institutions into fiefdoms for their glorification and the lining of their pockets because they were liberals in good standing and thus mostly immune from attack by other liberals. 

The Case for a Core Curriculum


Jay Schalin, author of two studies of university general education programs, spoke at a forum in September at North Carolina State University.

His speech, reprinted on the Pope Center site, gives reasons why today’s typical “smorgasbord” approach fails students. It lets them choose from a mass of specialized courses according to “distribution requirements and it tends toward requiring politically correct  themes

Among Schalin’s reasons for requiring a true core curriculum:

For our country is based on self-rule, and self-rule is only as good as the people participating in it. It should go without saying that making consistently wise decisions within the framework of our self-rule requires knowledge about our government, our history and our economy, and especially about the ideas that led to our founding. So the general education program should direct our attention toward these topics, not away from them as it currently does.

The University of the Offended


Campus Reform reports that the editor-in-chief of East Carolina University’s official newspaper has received death threats and a call for ISIS-style execution (seriously) over her decision to print the following rant from a student: “Will someone explain to me why there is no ‘White Student Union?’. . . I feel underrepresented.” 

Those fifteen words fomented campus-wide outrage. Hundreds of students e-mailed the editor to express their discontent. A member of ECU’s Student Government Association said that he “won’t sleep until this issue is addressed and TEC is held accountable for publishing and providing a platform [for] hate speech that is in direct opposition to the morals of this university.” The Black Student Union and the SGA even held a public forum to discuss the matter.

There’s a quote usually attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville that goes something like this: “The American Republic will endure until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.” Well, in that same rhetorical vein, free speech will endure until the majority of citizens believe that their subjective sensitivities trump open debate and expression. College campuses, which should worship at the altar of the First Amendment and encourage accessibility and exposure to provocative, dangerous, and challenging ideas, are instead sowing the seeds of political correctness and feeble-mindedness. 

And rather than gain a deep understanding of the nuts and bolts of free expression, and why it is a hallmark of any would-be free society, the “future leaders of America” are learning that their whims, their feelings, should eclipse any such first principles. 

Mea Culpa, Déja Vu


Speaking of  police (see Jesse Saffron’s post below), the police department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison had to apologize for this:

  • Be a hard target – a victim looks like a victim! If you move from one destination to another, and the only thing you recall about the trip is the last text message you received, then there’s a problem. The military calls it “keeping your head on a swivel” and it’s probably the most important thing you can do to ensure your safety. If you present yourself as easy prey, then expect to attract some wolves. If you make yourself a hard target, one who is aware of their surroundings, you take away two elements of a crime: desirability and opportunity.

Apparently only women can be prey, and especially prey to wolves, so this is discrimination–blaming the female victim.

The article at Inside Higher Ed also show how convoluted the sexual assault issue has become. One of the criticisms of the police message  was that it didn’t acknowledge that most sexual assaults on campus are made by acquaintances of the victims. A spokesman for the American Association of University Women says: “One of the things we also want to avoid is perpetuating damaging myths that don’t really acknowledge the fact that for many survivors of sexual violence, the perpetrator is someone they know.”

In other words, campuses aren’t all that dangerous and a lot of sexual assault really is “acquaintance rape” that could be reduced by better behavior on the part of the victim? Could she be saying that?

Let’s Do Away with Campus Police


That’s the argument made by criminal justice professors John Paul Wright and Kevin M. Beaver in this Chronicle of Higher Education article, and it’s a pretty convincing one. 

Campus police departments are under the sway of often highly politicized university administrations, campus cops often enforce “not laws but campus-specific policies” which encroach on free speech, and there are problems with over-and under-policing. 

“[Colleges] have created a dual system of justice, designed not by a legislature but by unelected administrators who are not accountable to the public. This system of justice, separate and unequal, leads to a highly disparate and sometimes discriminatory treatment of individuals,” say Wright and Beaver. 

I’m reminded of a recent article on Campus Reform discussing the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s efforts to turn students into confidential informants for purposes of combating drug use. This kind of activity seems wholly out of bounds for a campus police department. Then of course there are the often-publicized instances of rape and sexual assault at campuses across the country, some of which have tarnished the records of innocent individuals. And why are some campus police departments now being armed with military weaponry? 

The escalation, politicization, and misconduct of such police units is problematic, to say the least. Kudos to Wright and Beaver for offering a sensible solution to the problem: “divest” colleges of their “criminal justice obligations,” and instead encourage them to focus on safety and security. 

No Rainbow of Ideas


The Pope Center keeps tabs on public lectures given on colleges campuses in North Carolina’s Triangle region. Occasionally we find a good serious talk (such as George Nash’s upcoming lecture at Duke on Herbert Hoover’s recently discovered critique of FDR).

More often, though, we learn how astonishingly narrow the thinking is on campus.

Today, Jenna Robinson identified four lectures in one month at one school—the flagship, UNC-Chapel Hill—all of which decry capitalism. One of the lectures takes “a critical look at some assumptions undergirding our free market”: another claims that American prosperity is rooted in slavery—and there are two more.

Robinson lists them on a John Locke Foundation blog. (She found no lectures defending capitalism.)  


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