All posts by Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg is a professor emeritus of political science at The University of Illinois-Urbana.

Is Half of College Education Wasted?

Trigger Warning: If you fancy yourself smart enough to understand complex social science, Bryan Caplan’s book, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money, may lower your self-esteem. This is a serious, “academic” effort, six-years-in-the-making, and while Caplan, an economist at George Mason University and the Cato Institute, can be witty, this is not the breezy rant so common among today’s alarmist books on education.

The gist of Professor Caplan’s case is that there is way too much education, students waste hundreds of hours and millions of government-supplied dollars learning material that adds nothing of productive value or personal enrichment. Yes, high schools and colleges may occasionally produce a genius who invents Microsoft Word, but such accomplishments are exceedingly rare and cannot justify society’s massive investment in schooling. Learning history, for example, is only valuable for future history teachers, and how many history courses enrollees will pursue that vocation? Nor does the college experience broaden student cultural horizons. Most students, Caplan claims, are bored by “high culture” and even those who ace English Literature quickly forget everything.

Is It Just ‘Signaling?

Wastefulness understood, why do millions embrace the “more education” and “college-for-all” mantras? Is everybody delusional regarding the alleged financial payoff of a high school diploma or a college BA? Caplan explains this oddity with the concept of “signaling.” That is, a student’s educational record tells a potential employer a great deal about a person’s intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity, so students will invest prodigious (or minimal) effort to demonstrate worthiness largely independent of what is substantively acquired in the classroom.

Thus, a young man who completes a four-year degree at MIT in three years signals a potential employer that he is a great catch even if the acquired learning is, for the most part, vocationally irrelevant. Conversely, an equally talented youngster unable to graduate from a community college will not even be invited to a job interview. Who wants to hire somebody—no matter how smart–who lacks industry and perseverance? Employers cannot determine exactly what you learned, but they will happily pay a premium for those surviving the ordeal necessary to get the degree.

Caplan hardly argues that schooling is generally wasteful; only some of it, undoubtedly at least a third, he says, maybe even 50% or higher. Even the low side estimate of a third signifies an enormous squandering of personal time and government money.

Might this troubling calculation counsel that students should shun college, learn marketable skills elsewhere and invest saved tuition in the stock market? Hardly. The inherent nature of signaling dictates following the mob—not attending college only works if millions likewise share this disinclination to get a BA given that employers will judge your lack of a sheepskin as proof of unworthiness, regardless of your smarts and industry. The parallel is the futility of standing during a concert to see better; a strategy instantly defeated when everybody else stands.

Fluff Courses Make Sense

Going one step further, since employers only look at the credential as proof of worthiness, it is rational for an MIT student to enroll in as many fluff courses as possible from easy grading professors since employers cannot tell the difference and, to some extent, don’t care. The MIT degree itself suffices.

To make his case scientifically, Caplan marshals massive quantities of evidence and is totally unafraid of offering personal judgments. For example, he personally classifies both high school and college courses into three categories: high usefulness, medium usefulness, and low usefulness. High school subjects deemed highly useful are English and mathematics (further sub-divided so Algebra I is highly useful” while Geometry is of low usefulness”); low usefulness includes foreign languages and the social studies.

College courses are similarly classified—highly useful are engineering, health professionals, and agricultural majors. Wasted learning, predictably, is fine arts, psychology, journalism and the Liberal Arts more generally. All and all, judged by the distribution of college majors in 2008-9, 40.5% of college students are squandering their time and money, at least according to Professor Caplan’s judgment.

It gets worse: this learning, however modest, evaporates with age. When adults are quizzed about reading, math, history, civics, science and foreign languages, Americans can recall almost nothing despite years of exposure When 18,000 randomly selected American adults in 2003 were quizzed about reading, math, history, civics, science and foreign languages, they recalled almost nothing despite many of these subjects having been covered multiple times. Ample data also suggest that among today’s college students less and less time is devoted to learning so what ultimately remains in the brain will drop yet further. No wonder employers frequently complain about the difficulty of hiring good help!

No Gateway to High Culture

Nor does schooling instill an appetite for high culture, a love of “the best and the brightest. The market says that this endeavor is largely pointless—only a tiny portion of adults pursue “high culture” so schools are trying to satisfy minuscule future demands. If Caplan is right, returning to a cheap, bare-bones education that largely ends at 8th grade would not be a national catastrophe.

The bulk of The Case Against Education is spent disentangling the countless factors that contribute to the economic success that, at least partially rival the signaling explanation. This can get tedious and, alas, often relies on incomplete data and the intricacies of specific analytical techniques. It is conceivable, for example, that attending Harvard may be a low-yield learning experience, but it might help you to meet fellow students and alums able to offer you prestigious, well-paying jobs. Likewise, that Harvard graduates may get rich may have less to do with classroom learning than a person’s innate intelligence. Or, as some radical egalitarians insist, rich kids have the inside track to Harvard and join the elite thanks to their family’s pre-existing fortune. Nevertheless, the signaling explanation holds up rather well against rivals.

What does Caplan counsel after all the slash and burn analysis? His advice seems sensible: more and better vocational instruction, everything from classroom training to apprenticeships. In concrete terms, America employs roughly 900,000 carpenters but only 3,800 historians, so why not teach more carpentry than history? The Professor even puts in a word or two for child labor—better than boring fifteen-year-olds with how to diagram a sentence. Alas, that the government (and some private firms) already offers dozens of under-utilized vocational training programs receives scant attention.

The Case Against Education is a tour de force of modern economic analysis, but it skips over the payoff of “wasted” educational spending for society more generally. Even academically marginal schools with half-awake students can generate genuine value, for example, invigorating rustbelt towns hanging on for dear life. Hundreds—perhaps thousands– of these third-tier schools and their party-animal enrollees exist, and this “wastefulness” might be the most effective way to deliver the socially desirable economic uplift.

All Those Unemployed Professors

Similarly, what would Caplan do with all the unemployed professors (and armies of adjuncts and administrators) who would have taught such “useless” subjects as history, psychology, foreign languages? Easy to visualize thousands of unemployed Marxist Ph.D.’s scheming to elect a Bernie Sanders who promises college “for everybody.” In the grand scheme of things, it may be preferable to having all the Ph.D.’s “gainfully employed,” albeit pointlessly, versus working part-time in Starbucks. Keep in mind how much better the planet would be if the young Karl Marx had been able to secure a professorial appointment at the University of Jena.

So, if you have the Sitzfleisch and relish complex, clever and occasionally counter-intuitive, long-winded arguments, this is a great book. Even if you cannot fathom a word, carry it around and impress your friends with your erudition. As Oscar Wilde said, only shallow people do not judge by appearances, and Professor Caplan probably agrees though he would call it signaling.

The Real Defense of Charles Murray: Truth Not Free Speech

The Middlebury College incident in which Charles Murray was forcefully prevented from speaking about Coming Apart has generated a mini-industry of brilliant responses on behalf of academic freedom. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, these high-sounding admonitions are misdirected and paradoxically give comfort to disruptors. Murray’s champions uniformly embrace the classic let- a-thousand-flowers-bloom, anti-censorship argument so vital to a democracy. Surely a noble sentiment but it is content-free and herein lies the problem.

Murray’s lecture should have been defended on substantive grounds: he is a highly qualified expert who has something important to say, and those who shouted him down represent the forces of darkness. The Middlebury fiasco was more than just a generic attack on free speech, though it was certainly that; it was the triumph of the barbarians—the town folk with torches marching up to Dr. Frankenstein’s castle– who substitute feelings for science as a method to discover truth. That this anti-science assault occurred at a college only compounds the harm.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with the venerable argument that free speech, save some special exceptions, should be tolerated even if views expressed are noxious, factually incorrect, and hateful or makes people uncomfortable. This Hyde Park Speaker’ Corner crackpot defense would certainly apply to Middlebury if the college invited, say, somebody promoting astrology.

But, this all-encompassing defense hardly applies to Charles Murray. He is not a crank needing a safe space or extra legal protection; his books and articles are models of social science analysis making major scholarly contributions and as such his presence need not be justified by some catch-all free speech protection. Yes, not everybody accepts his methods and conclusion, but to intimate that he should be lumped together with soapbox orators preaching the likes of creationism is a grievous mistake and, to boot, a personal insult.

Unfortunately, this generic approach is the safe path taken by Murray’s academic supporters—we should permit him to speak just as we might allow a wacko creationist to present his evidence. It is, indeed, an alluring and 100% safe defense: embrace the First Amendment and escape any suspicion that one might actually agree with his “racist” views. All gain, no pain for these apostles of intellectual freedom.

Those going to bat for Murray should have directly confronted the accusation that Murray is an incompetent who traffics in pseudo-scientific racism, classism and all the rest. Don’t retreat to a web-based safe space and quote from J. S. Mill’s On Liberty yet one more time; one should have been there to expose the disruptors (especially Middlebury faculty joining the fray) for what they are—ill-informed enemies of science, albeit of the social science variety.

This science-based defense hardly entails embracing Murray’s contentious conclusion. Rather, it calls for Murray’s arguments to be tried in the court of science, not affirmed or rejected by whether somebody, somewhere is offended. Defenders should have confronted the shouters and asked for a show of hands on how many protestors members have actually read The Bell Curve or any science-based rejoinder?

Similarly, how many of these noisy social justice warriors can briefly summarize the core argument of Coming Apart? Here’s a trick question: what does Coming Apart say about African Americans? (Answer: nothing, it’s only about whites). I suspect that even a few simple questions would expose the protestor as anti-knowledge airheads.

Better yet, stand tall and let it be known that you are not intimidated by masked disruptors and their snowflake auxiliaries. Openly ask for reaction to The Bell Curve’s most controversial data (p. 279) that African Americans on average have IQ’s 15 points lower than whites.  This gap explains numerous educational and economic outcomes, including the failure of myriad government imposed, well-funded measures to close the academic gap between blacks and whites.  In other words, do not concede the science to those silencing Murray. The real cranks are the ones in the black masks and students with signs saying, “No Eugenics” (Murray has never advocated eugenics). Protestors, not Murray, need an unrestricted Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner soapbox to explain why IQ tests are meaningless, why there is no such thing as “intelligence” or why spending trillions more will surely cure poverty.

Going one step further, the post-incident reaction should skip the empty rhetoric about needing yet more free speech protection etc. etc. How about demanding that Middlebury require all liberal arts majors take one course in scientific methodology? In this “Science for Snowflakes,” students will learn that science moves forward via falsification and shouting “racist” is not falsification. This would certainly be an improvement over a compulsory course celebrating multiculturalism (and I can only imagine the give and take when those learning about scientific methods enroll in fantasy-filled PC courses).

Sad to say, a substantive defense of Murray—his so-called noxious, arguments rest on solid science and can only be rejected scientifically—is unlikely to be offered on today’s PC-dominated campuses, at least in public though, I suspect, some Middlebury faculty and even a few students will agree in private with the doors locked, the shades pulled and only among trusted colleagues. In fact, the very idea of an objective, scientifically verifiable truth regarding racial differences might be deemed “too controversial” to even discuss.

If this event proves anything, it demonstrates that the Left now dominates the campus, and speaking the truth on contemporary taboo topics is career-ending; offering up a day late, dollar short celebration of the marketplace of ideas is not about to upend this control.

The power to silence those who believe in science has been metastasizing for decades. Those seeking a professorial career, at least in the humanities and social sciences, have long been socialized to accept that saying anything “disrespectful” about certain minorities and women is professional suicide no matter how strong the evidence and endless qualifications. And, with so many safe research topics available, it makes perfect sense to drink the Kool-Aid and insist that 2+2=5.

In the final analysis, Murray’s “talk” given electronically from a secure location was highly educational to those contemplating intellectual honesty, though not in the way Murray intended. The real bad news is not the silencing of Murray (he will convey his ideas elsewhere); it is the example given to younger academics.

They will see that if they should, even accidentally, stray over the academy’s invisible fence, dozens of fellow professors will write brilliant defenses of intellectual freedom on their behalf on countless websites. To recall a saying when growing up in NYC during the early 50’s: that and ten cents will get you a ride on the subway (today it would be $2.75).

Coming Soon to a Campus Near You: Racial Micro-Aggression


You may have read about the UCLA professor whose class was taken over by 25 of his students and other protesters on grounds that he was guilty of racial “micro-aggression.”  Among other things, the professor, Val Rust, was accused of micro-aggressively undermining student advocacy by explaining that the word “indigenous” isn’t capitalized.

Rust is a UCLA professor emeritus of education teaching the dissertation course in the Division of Social Sciences and Comparative Education (a course to help students fine-tune dissertation proposals prior to the research and writing). The sit-in’s leader, Kenjus Watson, in a written statement, claimed that Professor Rust (not mentioned by name) corrected the student’s grammar in a way that reflected an ideology while repeatedly challenging the value of dissertation proposals that addressed social identity and the dynamics of oppression, power and privilege (Rust called the proposed research too subjective). According to Watson, Professor Rust’s persistent ideologically-driven criticisms and detailed corrections created a hostile class environment.

Quickly Adding More Professors

Rust was also vilified for insisting on use of The Chicago Manual of Style in seminar papers, even though some students preferred the American Psychological Association format. The UCLA administration quickly responded by adding three professors familiar with race and ethnicity studies to join Rust on a panel overseeing the remainder of the course. Collective leadership in place, students will now consult individually with professors to defend dissertation proposals.

Obviously, the agitated students have a valid point insofar as English grammar ain’t fixed in stone or universal. Publishers and universities all have idiosyncratic style sheets and scholarly fields often vary in documentation rules.  Further add evolving PC–no academic would dare write the old-fashioned “chairman” lest women be discouraged from seeking positions of power.

But, this brouhaha is not really about scholarly or grammatical conventions (a legitimate issue); it is what Watson and others call racial micro-aggression and, be warned, it is the Next Big Thing on the PC agenda. The mechanics of racial micro-aggression are elucidated in Tori DeAngelis’ 2009 paper “Unmasking ‘racial micro-aggressions” issued under the auspices of the American Psychological Association. Micro-aggression involves the “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them (italics added and the incorrect grammar is as stated).”

So Hard to Teach the Whites

Needless to say, eradicating such harm will be difficult. Quoting a Columbia University Teachers’ College Professor of Psychology, “It’s a monumental task to get white people to realize that they are delivering micro-aggressions, because it’s scary to them….It assails their self-image of being good, moral, decent human beings to realize that maybe at an unconscious level they have biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings that harm people of color.” Of the utmost importance, research now shows its debilitating impact on people of color in both job and academic performance.

Uncovering racial micro-aggression has, predictably, generated an academic cottage industry (over 4,000 “hits” in Google Scholar). The vocabulary has been refined so, for example, there are “micro-insults”–asking a colleague of color how she got her job hints of affirmative action and thus lower hiring standards. There’s “micro-invalidation”– inquiring where an Asian was born since the question implies possible foreign origins. Such questions, though superficially benign, can incapacitate. Querying an Asian if she excels at math might “trap” the recipient in a stereotype. And on and on ad infinitum.

The arrival of micro-aggression mania on campus is a god-send for under-employed PC folk. Happily for them, racial micro-aggression easily applies to every campus grievance group save, naturally, white males. Publication-hungry academics can submit research to journals like Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology (among others) always anxious for cutting-edge indictments of whites. In the meantime, stamping out this unconscious hostility will require armies of skilled campus counselors and newly hired administrators to apply insights from this burgeoning exorcise-the-devil industry. And, conceivably, textbook publishers may want to hire grievance group leaders to scrutinize textbooks and certify them “100% micro-aggression free” (the parallel is the Kosher certification). That micro-aggression can never be fully cured is but icing on the PC cake.

Questions May Be Seen as Hostile

But, leaving aside the usual bureaucratic bloating that comes from achieving social injustice, the real nefarious impact will occur in classrooms and faculty colloquia. Especially in the humanities and social sciences, the vigorous give-and-take vital to university life will become muted or banished altogether. No more “hostile” questions to embarrass fools or requests to document some iffy, off-the-cuff assertion.

This is not about imposing a much needed civility on raucous “hurtful” intellectual discourse. With racial micro-aggression banned, a professor will now “help” students (especially those of color) by suffering their nonsense lest he accidently invalidates him or her as a human being. No more sarcasm or put-downs, even involuntary looks of incredulity or snickering. It’s a happy face “thank you for sharing with us that 2+2= 5.” Chalk up another victory for the feel good self-esteem movement. And, as Professor Rust will attest, this generosity even applies to accepting personal feelings and speculations as serious scholarship. Put into trendy pedagogical gobbledygook, professors don’t impart knowledge; they merely coax students to express what they already know and then help validate their sagacity.

This is an easy recipe for escaping personal responsibility: students of color perform poorly because they are the blameless victims of invisible professorial micro-aggression. Event better for those who want to undermine intellectual life, micro-aggression will be a lose/lose proposition for professors (especially white males). If the instructor offers extra help to struggling students of color, this stigmatizes the recipient as deficient vis-à-vis white classmates. But, refusing to offer such assistance may be an unconscious sign of insensitivity to the society-imposed obstacles faced by struggling students of color. And woe to the teacher who imposes high expectations on students of color. Or too low expectations. Or advises the student enroll in a remedial class.

It’s great for student sloth, too. Why struggle to get it right if there is zero risk of being embarrassed by one’s instructor?  And forget about tough deadlines. After all, why should everybody adhere to the same (white) Calvinist work ethic?  And with so many diverse paths to knowledge, how can professors possibly deduct points from an essay for lack of citations, garbled arguments and creative spelling?

Obviously, cleansing universities of racial micro-aggression will disproportionately harm students needing extra help, if not a kick in the pants, which often means African Americans and Hispanics lagging behind their white and Asian classmates. Ironically, many professors may secretly welcome this New World Oder since it absolves them of carefully reading and correcting awful papers and having to engage overly sensitive, ill-informed activists. Just keep quiet, hand out undeserved decent grades, pass everybody and let the next professor (hopefully) correct the garbled nonsense.

I can only imagine Kenjus Watson’s Ph.D. thesis given that no prudent supervisor will have the courage to criticize anything he said that contravenes today’s dodgy racial orthodoxy. Everything will be accepted as contribution to knowledge. In fact, by speaking truth to power Kenjus may soon be a rising academic star and once hired he will undoubtedly instruct others to follow in his ill-advised footsteps. One can only picture what this next generation of alleged scholars will have to say.

A Sure-Fire Cure for Anti-Americanism


Is it possible to stop the relentless promoting of anti-Americanism on campus?  Let’s forget about donating millions for a patriotic “American Studies” program. Recall the Bass family’s sad experience at Yale–the $20 million donation for this purpose was eventually returned. Similarly forget about a governor (e.g., Mitch Daniels) or trustees trying to meddle in classroom instruction. “Academic freedom” will end that. The obdurate reality is that today’s faculty and their mendacious leftish pontifications are beyond reach. Better to target students and bypass the faculty.

Begin with a familiar reality–few appreciate the U.S. until traveling overseas, especially if returning from a squalid Third World country. Better yet, ask Russian or Cuban escapees about what it means to be an American.

Now here’s my plan. The Koch brothers will secretly underwrite a version of the traditional “Junior Year Abroad” with a strong Peace Corp component. Have students live among the locals, on small stipends, eat their food and so on. University credit will be given and everything will be totally free, including transportation. Meanwhile, there will generous “supervision” fees (i.e., bribes) to the university and professors. For a start, send out perhaps a hundred students from each of the top 25 universities.

Rapists of Mother Earth

The program will target smart, idealistic youngsters convinced that capitalism is evil, corporations are raping Mother Earth, America is hopelessly racist, primitive people are in intimate contact with nature, the police are brutal oppressors and all the other evils condemned by today’s trendy professor.

We’ll use a seductive name –“Promoting Economic Justice, One Village at a Time” or “Peace Through Understanding.” What could be more multicultural? Put campuses in rural Somalia, Bolivia, Uzbekistan, Namibia and Cambodia, to mention just a few possibilities. Locals, including the wise village elders will teach the courses with lots of hands-on experience working in the fields harvesting crops, clearing brush and similar Peace Corps-like activities (recall the early 1960s glory years of helping in the Cuban sugar cane harvest was the ultimate liberal status symbol). For pedagogical purposes, illnesses will be exclusively treated with traditional, natural remedies (no Big Pharma pills, no greedy doctors!) while all disputes will likewise be settled in accord with indigenous customs. Critically, students will be told that they are there to learn, not proselytize Western values, and so if men beat their wives, don’t criticize; try to understand. The model is participant-observer anthropology, not the Western missionary.

Academic credit will be based on summarizing these experiences and contrasting them to what now occurs in the U.S. This formula is standard for off-campus internships. For example, a professor might ask students to compare access to village health care in Angola where everybody is treated equally to American cities where the poor must wait hours in chaotic public hospital emergency rooms. Required essays will surely touch on economic policy, for example, how local self-sufficiency outshines elaborate carbon-heavy transportations networks.

Diseases the Few Can Spell

What might be impact of these Third World experiences? I’d guess they would be transformative, and many students would surely remember them fondly. They would certainly be learning experiences. But, idyllic remembrances aside, this Third World reality encounter will cure any utopian Socialist fantasy.

Many students would return home not only with a much needed dose of reality, but conceivably with malaria, leishmaniasis, schistoosomiasis, onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis,  Chegas disease and dengue (among many others) all acquired thanks to filthy water, horrific sanitary practices and all else that makes millions of Third Worlders risk their lives fleeing to Europe or the U.S. No doubt, upon clearing customs, the stampede would be to the airport McDonalds for calorie-rich Big Macs and salty super-sized fries. Sadly, however, this would quickly bring a race to the bathroom followed by a steady diet of bananas, yogurt and antibiotics but the Big Mac and fries would be cherished, never again to be condemned.

Back in school they would regale still naive classmates with horror stories of corrupt police, rampant petty thievery, daily bribery, garbage everywhere and a world where few things actually work and kleptocratic governance gives ” economic inequality”  a whole new meaning– a nearly starving people while top leaders toured in chauffeured Mercedes. Similar tales would be told of inept foreign aid and officials made fat by selling off oil drilling rights without any regard for environmental protection. Then add lurid tales of violent ethnic rivalries. And on and on.

All and all, not only would these returning students be more appreciative of the good old USA, but they would surely make their new-found views known in class. Picture their reaction to a professor raving and ranting about capitalist medical care (“profits not people”). A graduate of the Promoting Justice program would quickly respond with–just try buying aspirin in Namibia let alone prescription medicine!! Others might add, “If you think water pollution under capitalism is bad, just visit the community well in rural Cambodia. Dead cats!”And so on and so on.

I’d predict an uptick in xenophobia and patriotic fever. The oft-repeated school messages about appreciating “differences” and diversity would be a hard sell to those who’ve decided that it’s better to live among one’s own, especially where there’s law and order, are relatively honest public officials and big Macs.

Then We Send the Professors

Now for the extra bonus. After encountering a few of these disruptive reformed idealists in their classes, alarmed faculty might call for abolishing the program. No problem. Just expand everything to include sending angry faculty to rural Zambia or Bolivia and, of the utmost importance, make it economically worthwhile. Radical feminists might be enticed to spend a few years in Yemen preaching the Gender Gospel. Don’t dismiss the power of academic bribery. Take my word, few professors,  especially hard-core Marxists, can resist an extra $20,000 for a few years and no teaching. Yes, this will create a hardship for students deprived of ideologically trendy, grade-inflated courses, but a small price to pay for all the improved off-campus people-to-people understanding and friendships. Happily, within a few years half the Sociology Department may be gone or in the hospital recovering from strongyloidiasis or, better yet, lost in the jungles of Borneo. Who would have believed that curing the problems of the modern university would be so simple?

Educare–To Save Higher Education


How do you end the current disaster where thousands of intellectually mediocre and unprepared kids who should not attend college nevertheless enroll and learn little of value while building crushing debt? And, for good measure, how can we discourage colleges from offering intellectual fluff, e.g., Gender Studies. In other words, return higher education to reasonably affordable higher education.

Glad you asked. Believe it or not, solutions exist and implementation would not be especially difficult. The model is Medicare, yes Medicare. We’ll call our plan Educare.

Let’s begin with soaring student debt. The problem is that today’s colleges have no skin in the game when pushing students into cheap government loans. They get paid even if the student defaults. The solution is to make schools guarantee all loans, so if the student defaults, the school is on the hook and must pay Uncle Sam. No more admitting bodies thanks to Washington’s dumb and blind generosity. Perhaps to facilitate closer scrutiny, schools might receive a 1% government up front commission on all loans. Of course, a financially prudent university would insure itself against such defaults but that premiums would further encourage due diligence.

Back to 1958

Now for Educare, a program that will reward smart students and enrich top schools, all cheaply. The parallel is the National Education Defense Act  of 1958, when Washington marshaled US brain power under the shadow of the Soviet’s Sputnik I success. (The threat of nuclear annihilation did concentrate the mind). Details can be worked out, but here are the core ideas.

As Medicare reimburses the doctor, Washington will reimburse schools for a student’s education according to a strict though negotiated payment schedule. Moreover, as in Medicare, no school or student will be legally required to accept Educare. But, as under Medicare, once accepted, the school cannot ask the recipient to pay the difference between Educare’s reimbursement and the school’s official fee. It’s all or nothing.

These reimbursements will be substantially lower than the school’s “list price” (a fiction, anyhow due to scholarships), but keep in mind that these “list prices” included items with little educational value, e.g., recreational and entertainment activities. Educare will require that non-academic fees be made optional and billed to students separately. Gone will be debt from un-wanted, unnecessary “activity” and housing fees. Educare only pays for education, period.

It Depends on School and Course Quality

Now for the tough part. Similar to Medicare, reimbursement will be calculated according to formulas that reflect (1) school quality and (2) educational value of the course. Not as formidable as it might appear and far simpler than how Medicare currently operates. Here’s how.

All colleges will be rated on their academic standing. Think any number of college guides or various accrediting bodies, the American Bar Association or the AMA and medical schools. A simple five-point scale would suffice.

Next, courses will be judged according to intellectual or vocational value–again, a task easier than it might appear. I once personally assessed courses to certify transfer credits and faculty routinely evaluated proposals for new courses. Any decent academic knows the criteria: the syllabus’s reading list, the topics covered and student responsibilities. Save a few ideologues, professors can recognize fluff and no-work gut courses. Again, the scale could be 1 to 5.

Uncle Sam, as in Medicare, will pay accordingly. Let me suggest that the quality number be multiplied by course quality rating to yield a scale ranging from 1 to 25) and then by a dollar figure, to establish reimbursement.

So, passing an Introductory Gender Studies course at Foulmouth State that required students to read only a handful of feminist magazine articles and no serious writing requirement will bring a check for $7.84, according to my calculations (only passing counts, not grades so there’s no incentive for grade inflation). But passing Cal Tech’s BE 157, Modeling Spatiotemporal Pattern Formation in Complex Biological Systems will be worth $11, 675 with the same formula, all paid directly to the school (in other words, assuming five such courses, Cal Tech  receives a check for $ 58,375 just for one semester’s classroom work). Again, easier than it seems–it operates fairly well for Medicare where the categories are far more numerous and complicated.

Yes, it is bureaucratic but it is also rational and, of the utmost importance, it will dramatically improve American higher education.  Nor does it impinge on academic freedom–fluff still can be taught provided students (or some foundation) personally pay for it. Nor will the PC agenda be forbidden. Everything is a matter of government financing it regardless of ideology. Conceivably, if Harvard’s African and African American Studies 117x -Of Mean Streets and Jungle Fevers: Race, Gender and Ethnicity in Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee garners a “perfect” 25 rating, reimbursement will be exactly the same as MIT’s course 22.5,1 Quantum Theory of Radiation Interactions.

Critically, Educare has the advantage of encouraging schools to voluntarily rid themselves of educational parasites. With low Educare reimbursements, no incentives exist to hire administrators or faculty who contribute little of intellectual (and financial) value. Gone will be Deans and professors specializing in easy-to-pass courses on victimology. Or, if there is such a demand, students will have to pay themselves while their more serious classmates get a free ride. Meanwhile non-academic (and often money-losing) campus units like dining services will shrink.

Nor are reimbursements rates written in stone. If a degree in Gender Studies becomes valuable, reimbursement to the school will increase and the unemployed professor of Gender Studies can be rehired. It is just a question of deciding what is important educationally.

Okay, I admit that the Educare Plan is DOA given today’s credential mania. Just too many losers and few bureaucrats possess the courage to tell Foulmouth U.’s Gender Studies majors to pay their own bills. The carnage would also be spectacular–absent government tuition loans, hundreds of mediocre colleges (and their cherished football teams) would vanish.

But our utopianism acknowledged, it remains true that current US higher education policy has a striking resemblance to failed Soviet industrial policy–churning out millions of ill-fitting left shoes in the name of “investing in the future.” That is, America now “invests” in millions to produce armies of college-educated debt-ridden waiters and Starbuck baristas. It is a foolish and wasteful policy and if somebody has a better idea than Educare, I’d like to hear it.


How Hate Facts Kill Scientific Inquiry


When I began by academic career in 1965 as a graduate student in political science, the social sciences seemed on the verge of curing the world’s problems. We were scientists; we had statistics and computers, every student studied scientific methodology, and the National Science Foundation funded our endeavors.

Alas, a half century later, pessimism prevails. Science has produced wonders elsewhere, but not in the social sciences. A “Made in the Academy” label attached to social-science solution to anything would be comparable to “Made in Occupied Japan” circa 1950–guaranteed shoddy workmanship.

This failure has multiple roots but let me highlight just one: hate facts. These are empirically established or at least highly credible truths that instigate outrage independent of whether true or false. The fact is “wrong” because it is deemed offensive, not because it is factually false. Hate facts substitute personal emotional reaction for scientific verification; feelings trump science. Critically, the more scientifically true an offending assertion, the greater the fact’s hatefulness. This, of course, contravenes science where the stronger the confirming evidence, the “better” the fact. Making purely factual statements can thus be judged harassment, if not persecution.

Scientific proficiency requires multiple talents, but a willingness to follow the evidence regardless of outcome is essential. This inclination is vital for success but the existence of hate facts destroys truth-seeking.

In today’s academy hate facts can generally be found in anything touching on gender, class, sexual identity, and race or an assertion that challenges the value of racial/ethnic diversity. To aver that compared to men women lack writing skill is indisputably false thereby not “hateful.” But, to demonstrate down to the third decimal point that men are better mathematicians than women is true is a hate fact since this offends some women.

The world of hate facts also undercuts the benefits of professional specialization. Since the hatefulness has nothing to do with scientific validity, anyone can pass judgment regardless of expertise. Now an innumerate professor of Women’s Studies can legitimately condemn the statistically complex work of an economist despite knowing zero about the research other than its conclusion (the opposite–an economist criticizing Women’s Studies–is highly unlikely, however, since that criticism would be harassment). To paraphrase an old expression: “I don’t know anything about economics, but I know hate.”

Unwelcome truths are often called “stereotypes” as if an exception (real or invented) renders a generalization totally false. But, if the offending evidence is unambiguously conclusive, the offending fact becomes a “dangerous stereotype” and thus horribly wrong. Another anti-knowledge ploy invokes “controversial”–while the evidence is rock solid scientifically, some people nevertheless disagree, so the solid finding is only one opinion among many and therefore dismissible. If all else fails, just insist that there is no single truth, but many truths based upon personal identify, and so-called “scientific” truth is just the white-male version. On the other hand, if the preponderance of evidence has a happy ending e.g., global warming, the facts are a “settled scientific consensus” regardless of conflicting findings.

Academic outsiders seldom grasp the personal consequences of expressing hate facts. The penalties are especially grim for those who mistakenly soldier on marshalling yet more solid evidence for their “hate.” Nor can distinguished academics escape the anti-hate rage. In fact, it seems the more renowned the messenger, the greater the indignation, a perfect strategy to intimidate those with less prestige. The world famous Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson was physically assaulted and repeatedly harassed for his work on sociobiology. Noble Prize winning geneticist James Watson suffered a similar fate when he said that according to his reading of the research literature, low IQ among sub-Saharan Africans Africa limited their economic progress (he also emphasized his unease about that conclusion, but this hardly helped). The American Sociological Association’s campaign once tried to excommunicate James S. Coleman after his infamous report on schools’ limited ability to boost academic achievement.

These high-profile attacks are only a small part of the campaign. Messenger-shooting is endemic in today’ social sciences and as such is barely noticed. Most censorship is probably self-imposed without public witch burning. Few academics want to be called a racist, homophobic, a sexist, or fascist. It is not that social scientists are anti-science; personally I’d guess that most are secret believers but why invite trouble when so many trouble-free research opportunities exist elsewhere?

The nature of today’s academy facilitates the bullying. Between First Amendment protection and a pervasive tolerance for leftist bien pensant there are zero costs for the most vile, unfair attacks. Hard to imagine any academic being punished for being excessively PC (think Ward Churchill). Indeed, when it comes to fighting “hate,” even vandalizing property, there are only benefits, no costs. What professor or administrator favors “hate’? There will certainly be calls to have offending culprit removed from the classroom lest he infect students. Better yet, publish attacks in an anthology and thereby not only “fight hate” but earn academic busywork points (disparaging The Bell Curve helped countless professors pad their vita).

Professional ostracism is perhaps the most consequential–not being invited to academic conferences, denied funding, and socially shunned by colleagues (especially anxious junior faculty). Add boycotts of the author’s other works having nothing to do with the hateful offense (I recall reading that introductory sociology textbooks seeking course adoptions dare not cite George Gilder’s Sexual Suicide, even to condemn it since mere mentioning might entice impressionable students to read it).  And, of the upmost importance, colleagues who know the truth will never defend the “hater” in public.  Never.

What makes the social sciences especially vulnerable to messenger shooting is the low entry cost. Everybody is an “expert” on what social scientists study and hardly anybody wants to wade through all the claims and counter-claims. Just follow the PC crowd. Social sciences are totally unlike the hard sciences with its arduous technical material–no enraged undergraduates will demand the firing of some heretic physics professor who rejects string theory. A professor whose brilliant research might, for example, demonstrates that housewives have fewer mental problems than career women will not be so lucky.

Killing truth is also helped by the lack of clear social-science research standards. Rebuttals, no matter how flawed, are all too easy when the audience is already convinced. In the case of sex differences in mathematical ability, just use a measure that combines everybody from a little above average in mathematical ability to those four standard deviations above the mean into a single category. Guaranteed, this will show zero sex differences. Or just assess mathematical ability among pre-adolescents since large sex-related differences there have not yet emerged. Or use multiple statistical controls to “eliminate” any sex differences (outsiders seldom understand this smoke and mirrors tactic). Or insist that “artificial” gaps will vanish once society becomes totally gender neutral. Pretty soon the rock solid “hateful” research findings will be hopelessly out-numbered and who has the gumption to defend a single outlier finding?

This anti-intellectual flight from hate facts can only grow worse as fans of unvarnished truth leave the academy or, more likely, flee into uncontroversial safe harbors. Moreover, in today’s dismal academic job market there are few incentives to be a martyr. Not even tenured faculty, including the President of Harvard can stand up to the abuse from angry thin-skinned activists. Yes, lots of our ills could benefit from solid scientific social science (think James Q. Wilson among others of an earlier era), but personal survival will always take precedence.         

How the Koch Boys Could Save American Higher Education


Charles and David Koch are reportedly interested in buying the Tribune Company’s eight newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun. According to The New York Times, this is less about making a profit than acquiring a platform to extol the brothers’ laissez-faire ideas. Current estimates put the price tag at about $623 million (privately owned Koch Industries have annual revenues of about $115 billion).


Leaving aside the obvious arguments about buying dinosaurs and whether the brothers could ideologically re-shape these papers, let me suggest a better investment–establish an undergraduate college heavy on the humanities and social sciences (including economics) that recruits only top students. (David Koch took a step in this academic direction in 2007 when he gave $100 million to MIT for the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research). In a nutshell, it’s better to create an elite alternative to today’s left-leaning academy than to exercise the owner’s droit de seigneur to write weekly op-eds on the evils of Washington’s regulation. The Koch boys surely must appreciate how innovation can destroy the old economic order and higher education is no exception. Moreover, creating a college via a 501(c)(3) foundation would provide huge tax savings, perhaps even making the enterprise “free.” 

Continue reading How the Koch Boys Could Save American Higher Education

Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

old-fashioned-school-room.jpgBy Robert Weissberg

huge investment in higher education has always had a democratic justification: everyone
should be able to attend college because this opportunity would flatten the
social pyramid. Yes, a North Dakota State and Harvard degree differ in
prestige, but at least the North Dakota State graduate can join the game. Put
ideologically, investing in higher education–more schools for more kids–is

it seems, has refused to cooperate. The billions poured into higher education
have not flattened the social pyramid. If
anything, income gaps have widened as graduates from the top schools often earn
“obscene” salaries while those from lesser schools struggle to find decent jobs
to pay down student loan debt. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart depicts an America where the rich and poor increasingly live in diverging worlds. Clearly,
something is wrong with the traditional narrative that insists that a well-
funded, open access higher education for all can ameliorate the evils of

Continue reading Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

The Affirmative Action Zealots Have Won: Time to Surrender

white flag.jpg

For a half century
I’ve vehemently opposed racial preferences in higher education. Opposition was
partially ideological–I believe in merit–and partly based on sorrowful
firsthand experience with affirmative action students and faculty. Though my
principles remain unchanged I am now ready to concede defeat, throw in the
towel and raise the white flag. Abolishing racial preferences is the academic
equivalent of trying to win a land war in Asia: the enemy is just too strong,
too tenacious and willing to use whatever means necessary. Our side may win a
few battles, e.g., California’s Proposition 209, Hopwood, but at the end of the day, hoards of faceless
bureaucrats and left-wing faculty soldier on. If it takes a village to uncover
special abilities that justify admitting the academically marginal, rest
assured, the village will be recruited, trained and then celebrated as
champions of social justice. Our side just lacks the stomach to outlast zealots
who shamelessly use every ruse imaginable.

Continue reading The Affirmative Action Zealots Have Won: Time to Surrender

A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

Weissberg essay.jpegAs one who has spent
nearly four decades in the academy, let me confirm what outsiders often
suspect: the left has almost a complete headlock on the publication of serious
(peer reviewed) research in journals and scholarly books. It is not that
heretical ideas are forever buried. They can be expressed in popular magazines,
op-eds and, think tank publications and especially, on blogs. Nevertheless, and
this is critical, these off-campus writings do not count for tenure or
promotion. A successful academic career at a top school requires publishing in
disciplinary outlets and with scant exception these outlets filter out those
who reject the PC orthodoxies.

Continue reading A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

How Academics Concocted a New ‘Middle Class’

middle_class.jpgTo hear politicians tell it, the college diploma is the guaranteed gateway to middle-class life, so everybody should probably go to college. The argument seems self-evident–over a lifetime, college graduates far out-earn those without a degree ($2.1 million, supposedly), so go to college, live the American Dream. Unfortunately, as many recent college graduates have discovered, diplomas no longer guarantee success. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, for example, reported that in 1992 some 119,000 waiters and waitresses had college degrees. But by 2008 this figure had soared to 318,000. The study also found similar increases of under-employment in other low-level occupations. In 2010 the unemployment rate for college graduates was the highest since 1970.

Continue reading How Academics Concocted a New ‘Middle Class’

For Just $195, the Elizabeth Warren Problem Is Solved!

Here’s the answer to the Elizabeth Warren problem: DNA testing. If you believe you are just 1/32nd or 1/64th minority, a simple test–costing just $195–could garner you that elusive admission to an elite college that you may not be qualified for at all. Several commercial products are on the market including Ancestry by DNA and Family Tree DNA. To be sure, Ancestry by DNA offers the disclaimer that it does not predict or establish one’s race, just estimations. You just take a swab from inside your cheek and mail it off; in a few weeks you know your family ancestry (for an overview of such testing, see the Times essay by Nicholas Wade).

Continue reading For Just $195, the Elizabeth Warren Problem Is Solved!

The Next Toxic Ism: Realism

reality-check-ahead.jpgThe social sciences and humanities have not produced much of intellectual value for 25 years or so, but they have been enormously productive in generating “isms”widely held allegedly toxic beliefs that are said to undermine a professor-defined “good society.” The notable classics“racism,” “sexism,” classism, and nativismonce sufficed, but unexpected bursts of faculty creativity have given us ableism (privileging of the so-called physically “able”), Eurocentrism, ethnocentrism, elitism, masculinism, fatism (disdaining the differently sized), phallocentrism, and scentism (imposing the odor of one’s perfume or cologne on others), but not yet phalloscentismthe belief that men smell bad.

Ageism, lookism (judging people by physical appearances),
heterosexualism (privileging heterosexuals) and credentialism
(emphasizing paper credentials) are approaching classic status. So is
speciesism, the faulty belief that humans are somehow more important
than deer ticks.

Continue reading The Next Toxic Ism: Realism

Why Campus Mascots and Nicknames Are Under Attack

sky diver.jpgThe University of North Dakota sports teams have been known as the “Sioux” or the “Fighting Sioux” for more than 80 years. But this week the university’s hockey team played and lost in the NCAA playoffs wearing uniforms that said simply “North Dakota.” The reason: Last November, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple signed legislation permitting the university to retire its “Fighting Sioux” nickname so its hockey team could play schools that had boycotted teams with offensive mascots. This was a triumph for the NCAA in its years-long war against “hostile and abusive” nicknames and logos.

Quarrels over the dropping of long-cherished “offensive” nicknames often
generate immense acrimony. I personally observed this battle in my 28
years at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Arguments over
the Fighting Illini and Chief Illiniwek were fierce, even contributing
to the firing of uber-PC campus Chancellor Nancy Cantor.

Continue reading Why Campus Mascots and Nicknames Are Under Attack

Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

adjunct union protests.jpgSome two-thirds of America’s college students are taught by adjuncts, and now the battle is on over whether these low-paid, low-status workers should be unionized. Adjuncts, also called contingent faculty, are teachers hired without tenure, paid a small fraction of those on tenure-track positions, (typically $2700 per course, with minimal benefits). All three college faculty unions–the AAUP, American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association–have recently ramped up unionization campaigns while non-academic unions like the United Auto Workers have likewise entered the battle. The stakes are high both for institutions and for individuals.

One does not have to be a Marxist to yell, “Exploitation!” Endless tales of “Gypsy Scholars” abound–young men and women struggling with no job security to teach as many as six courses per semester, occasionally at multiple schools, lacking any health or pension plan at a salary comparable to working at McDonalds. Meanwhile tenure-track colleagues, some of whom may be brain dead, enjoy a princely wage (with generous benefits) for teaching identical courses. So, what better way to eliminate this blatant unfairness than unionization?

Continue reading Unionize All Those Adjuncts?–Let’s Not

Admission Standards and How to Lower Them Legally

Surprise, surprise. Affirmation action for college admissions is yet one more time in the hands of the Supreme Court (Fisher v. Texas). Given the Court’s changed personnel from the last go around (Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 2003), race-based preferences may soon be history. But, would this judicial outcome finally doom preferences? Opponents of affirmative might wish to hold off celebrating.

Continue reading Admission Standards and How to Lower Them Legally

The White Male Shortage on Campus

animal-house.jpgSoviet ideologues were famous for adjusting Marxism to the zigs and zags of history, but they were pikers compared to today’s campus affirmative-action apparatchiks. The latest installment from university diversicrats is–ready for this–affirmative action for men, not black or Hispanic men, but white men (see here and here and especially here). Allan Bakke, come back, all is forgiven!

More is involved than the usual “fairness” via biological quota. The financial stakes are huge. Compared to women, white men disproportionally gravitate to wealth-generating fields–business, engineering and the sciences. This predilection will be no small matter in a few decades, and universities are justifiably nervous as the pool of future rich donors shrinks vis-a-vis those who majored in French literature.

What explains this male flight? Let me speculate a bit and offer a reason that dare not speak its name in today’s PC climate: universities are increasingly becoming feminized and many men, to use the anti-discrimination vocabulary, loathe a hostile working environment. In a word, males increasingly feel emasculated in today’s universities. Yes, being outnumbered by women may fuel certain male adolescent fantasies, but believe it or not, a young male who visits a school dominated by women will suddenly have second thoughts about predatory opportunities.

Feminization is most apparent in how schools now combat “boyish behavior.” The movie Animal House depicts this behavior perfectly–drunken frat parties, stupid pranks, clumsy intoxicated sexual aggression, coarse scatological language and countless other crude behaviors celebrating adolescent masculinity. It is not that these behaviors are condemned (and we can all agree that extreme versions deserve punishment). Rather, it is the form of the punishment that is anti-male. Miscreants are often social-worked, and for many young males, therapeutic punishment, complete with public confessions of dubious offenses, is a near-death experience. Imagine Bluto (the Animal House “hero” who famously said, “Grab a brew. Don’t cost nothing”) suffering the obligatory freshperson lectures given by a feminist counselor on non-alcoholic alternatives to beer and on the need for informed consent in all “intimate encounters, including same-sex ones.” Not even the mighty Bluto could survive being told that his manliness is merely socially constructed.

Support Services for Hetero Males?

Antagonism toward fraternities is the most visible outcropping of campus feminization. Recall the disastrous faculty-led imbroglio over the Duke Lacrosse team. What happened at Duke could probably happen almost anywhere given today’s faculty.

Further, add the abolition of male-dominated sports such as wrestling, while adding women’s teams, regardless of demand, in sports like rowing, to satisfy Title IX requirements. And don’t forget all the attention lavished on Women Studies Programs, everything from academic majors to expensive conferences and hefty speaker fees. And where are the support services for heterosexual males? Try putting Playboy in a college bookstore or decorating a dorm room with female pin-ups. These problems are almost inconceivable if the magazines in question were Out or the Advocate, two leading male homosexual magazines. Indeed, a student–let alone a Christian group–protesting gay magazines and homoerotic pin-ups would certainly risk being disciplined for impermissible hostility (and those complaining about Playboy may even benefit from this socially sanctioned outrage).

Underlying this public emasculation is a deeper, less visible faculty-led war on maleness that is currently concentrated in the humanities and social sciences but may well spread into the “hard” disciplines. (For the record, “feminine” and “masculine” here do not exactly correspond to biology. This is about psychology not anatomy. I know “male” female academics that drive their female colleagues crazy with their “male” mentality.)

Guys-Hanging-Out.jpgThis difference is about how to find truth. For males (and again keep in mind the non-overlap with biology), truth is discovered as follows. First, it is axiomatic that a single objective truth exists and this drives inquiry. Second, social niceties are subordinated to truth-seeking and uncivil, upsetting behaviors like sarcasm are therefore tolerable. Emotional feelings about what is right or wrong are irrelevant. Thomas Sowell once told me that he would never return to the classroom since he did not want to hear, “I feel….” Indeed, many males relish the verbal jousting and put-downs and these do not undermine personal friendship. Third, not all views are worth hearing and those wasting time will be forcefully and brusquely cut-off. Those able to marshal hard evidence prevail. In a nutshell, male truth-seeking is authoritarian.

By contrast, the feminine approach will stress social etiquette–woe to those who interrupts the speaker with, “there’s no hard evidence for that, so let’s move on.” And unlike a male-dominated discussion, everyone, regardless of background and expertise, is permitted to “share” their views and then is thanked for sharing. Consensus-building is central and those rejecting harmony will be castigated as disruptive. Personal relationship often shape discussions–one never disputes friends even if one sharply disagrees and being attacked, no matter how mild, can destroy a friendship. Needless to say, everybody taking a turn to speak can make for long, rambling meetings.

No Eyeball-Rolling–Niceness Counts

To make this concrete, consider a stereotypical male (a nerdy “John”) in a small liberal arts college enrolled in Economics 101 whose instructor (a knowledge facilitator, not a sage on stage) embodies the feminine approach. John wants to learn economics to become rich. The class begins with the instructor explaining that contemporary statistics-heavy economics is only one way of knowing, and this class will focus on alternatives to conventional knowledge. Moreover, there will be group projects to discover ways of making society more just by equalizing wealth and the group project will count for 50% of the final grade. The first two class periods are spent asking each student to explain what he or she hopes to learn plus their opinions on economic inequality. Nobody is criticized or told to stop talking, regardless of factual errors.

Matters go badly for John. The instructor repeatedly chides him for belittling the ideas of others by rolling his eyes and making facial expressions of disbelief. His insistence on finding a single best possible solution to an economic problem becomes repetitive to the point where the instructor suggests that he seek help at the school’s counseling center to manage his anger. John’s recourse to statistical data is interpreted as just showing off. By the third week is he no longer blurting out “What about trade-offs and opportunity costs?,” since nobody pays attention. He discovers that the Internet offers multiple sites explaining economics, he finds a nerdy on-line discussion group, stops attending class and eventually drops out.

Thanks to his Internet contacts, John joins a small start-up and three years later patents a program to detect lying on the Web. It is widely licensed and John is an instant multi-millionaire. Though rich as Croesus he never sends a nickel to his “alma mater.”

This depiction is, of course, an exaggeration but not by much. And this anti-male atmosphere will probably escalate as fewer and fewer males even apply. Meanwhile, those males who do attend and graduate will probably be ghettoized in such traditionally male fields as business, engineering and the sciences (and one wonders how long these majors will survive outside of major universities).

Reversing this pattern, assuming that gender equality is a problem requiring a solution, will be exceedingly difficult. The traditional affirmative solution of lower admission standards to achieve diversity is politically risky. What judge will rule that today’s complex diverse world economy requires students to learn how to interact with white males?

It is equally hard to imagine universities attracting more white males by making the campus more white-male friendly. Will Deans subsidize a fraternity as a “while-male theme house” or sponsor beer-blast toga parties to achieve a critical mass of white males to lessen their social isolation? (But Brandeis did make a faint attempt to attract more males: it gave free baseball caps to the first 500 males who applied.).

Make no mistake–the numbers are indisputable but the source of the problem is unspeakable. No university wants to admit that sex differences are real and often intractable. Men and women are not interchangeable and as many (but not all) women feel uncomfortable in an uber-macho setting, many males (but not all) similarly reject an environment dominated by female values.

Look Who’s Endorsing a Race-Based View of Knowledge

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The campus diversity warriors are once again pounding at the gates. This time the pounding comes from on high–the American Political Science Association (APSA) itself. It is a serious clamor: a 76 page report called Political Science in the 21st Century authored by fourteen professors, many from elite research-oriented schools such as Berkeley and UCLA. The report received National Science Foundation money plus ample professional funding.

It is a curious document since nearly every university, top to bottom, has for decades sought diversity, and has even been willing to over-pay and compromise traditional academic standards. The Task Force includes Diane Pinderhuges, past president of the APSA and my former colleague (and friend) for 20-plus years. The two of us regularly sat in the same room discussing how our department could be more inclusive and heard all the administration entreatments to hire yet more blacks and Hispanics.

The obvious question, then, is why yet one more plea is necessary, given that scores of university bureaucrats are already striving to admit more minority graduate students and hire more black and Hispanic professors, and once hired, help them get tenure. Moreover, since many those currently admitted to graduate school or hired are barely qualified, the additional recruits will bring even more problems (many of these potential recruits will also have ample better-paying private sector opportunities). What can possibly necessitate yet more inclusionary vigor? Have these fourteen academics discovered a better solution to a seemingly intractable problem?

Nothing in the real world justifies the report, but that said, Political Science in the 21st Century is still worth scrutinizing for informing us about the latest wrinkle in what might be called, “The Life of the Diversity Mind.” Most important, for those uncomfortable with incessant demands for inclusion uber alles, the report provides advance warning in what seems to be a long war of attrition.

Why should any department double or even triple its efforts to hire more blacks and Hispanics when demand already outstrips supply? Might the reason be that newly emerging problems requiring expertise are currently in short supply, for example, hiring Middle Eastern experts in the wake of 9/11? The report’s justification is remarkably vacuous: demography is altering the political landscape, and the profession must adjust. In their words, “Is political science positioned to embrace and incorporate the changing demographics, increasing multicultural diversity, and ever-growing disparities in the concentration of wealth present in many nation-states? Can political science do so within its research, teaching, and professional development.”  A bit further on, “Task Force assessed the practice of political science to determine whether it is living up to its full potential as a scholarly discipline to enrich the discourse, broaden the understanding, and model the behavior necessary to build strong nation-states in a rapidly changing world where population shifts and related issues regarding race, ethnicity, immigration, and equal opportunity structure some of the most significant conflicts affecting politics and policymaking.”

Professional sounding verbiage aside, this is an unmitigated race-based view of knowledge. In effect, the world is increasingly dominated by people of color, and only people of color can understand the transformation. Let there be no misunderstanding, whites are inherently unable to grapple with this altered new world order, the scholarly equivalent of saying that since whites lack “soul” they cannot relate to Hip Hop or Rap. Again, in their own words, “Moreover, who does political science does not currently include scholars with backgrounds from the full range of positionalities (sic) including race, class, gender, and sexual orientation that are often the most marginalized in societies.” So forget about whites becoming experts on black politics as home-grown Americans once mastered Soviet politics. Race may be socially constructed but not when it comes to employment. Whites are disqualified since they lack the “positionalities.”

To appreciate the absurdity of this view, imagine if black or Latino/a political scientists were told that they could not, say, study Swedish politics since only Nordic types could relate to fellow Norsepeople? Might a single homosexual experience qualify one to study gay politics? We are not being sarcastic–this is intellectual biology-based apartheid.

It gets worse. Not only are whites, males and heterosexuals unqualified to understand blacks, women and gays, but not even science can overcome this limitation. Yet again, in their own words, “The tendency to accept its approaches as ‘objective’ science, for example, tend to inhibit the development of a more critical debate about the potential phenomenological bases of much empirical social science.” In the search for truth the researcher’s genes (or for gays, just preference) trump the scientific method. Truth is a matter of authenticity, something that comes with certain chromosomes and enzymes, not something  uncovered by experiments and statistical analysis. To paraphrase Descartes, “I know because of who I am.”

But, obstacles arise in today’s intellectual climate–top graduate schools demand rigorous training in the scientific approach, including statistics, and these requirements can be barriers to black and Hispanic students despite their otherwise vital inborn abilities. The report’s solution is to expand the definition of “training” to include approaches seldom found in research-oriented Ph.D. programs. “Methodological training must also be much more inclusive of critical analytical approaches and more self-reflective of potential biases in the use of accepted methodological categories.” In practice this new training will resemble Critical Race Theory–the endless search and destroy missions to expose unearned “white privilege” everywhere. Now while white graduate students master Intermediate Statistics, students from historically disadvantaged groups pass the methodology requirement by learning about the inherent racism of the SAT.

And what happens when the freshly minted faculty are hired and must compete with “privileged” professors skilled in the latest scientific skills? This is especially troublesome since top journals use anonymous reviews and accepting race/ethnic screeds will inevitably lower the journal’s prestige. Again, no problem: “Departments should also be more inclusive of the types of journals valued in the assessment of scholarly productivity.” And these alternative approaches should also be amply funded–“Faculties must receive substantial technical, institutional, and departmental support if alternative strategies are to be widely developed, implemented, and assessed.” As an academic lifer, let me translate: the MasterCard approach to research funding–you cannot be turned down.

Let me be blunt. More than access is involved here. The report is an attack on the very essence of the modern university, at least those precincts committed to the pursuit of objective scientific truth. These academics are putting jobs for fellow tribe members ahead of the search for truth. The Rev. Al Sharpton in a tweed sport coat. Perhaps a decade-long frustration of receiving what appears to be only crumbs from the table has instilled a smoldering tribe-based hatred for those who have succeeded in ways that these self-defined outsiders do not grasp. They want to replace “The data show….” with “I feel this to be the truth and don’t contradict me since my genes tell me that….”

That the American Political Science Association legitimizes this profoundly anti-scientific and racialist (“white knowledge, black knowledge”) view, and the National Science Foundation funds it, is remarkable. Alas, this is not one more crackpot idea destined to fade once the adults catch wind of it. Those committed to biology diversity hardly need much encouragement. In fact, almost immediately after the report’s release, Wheelock College, in Boston, Mass., announced a new Political Science major based on the report to put “the voices, experiences, and struggles of marginalized groups at the center of scholarly inquiry.”  According to the Chair of the Political Science Department,  “For us, the major will take the issues they say are ignored — race, inequality, gender, marginalization — and make them front and center.”

Needless to say, Wheelock will not set the standard for Yale or Harvard. Traditional political science will be safe at top schools. But, far more likely will be the spread of this new approach to third- and fourth-tier schools, schools that often attract large numbers of black and Hispanic students. Now, rather than learn traditional political science, even a bit of the scientific method, they will just have their victimhood certified and legitimized. Replacing “How a bill becomes a law” will be, “How white-dominated institution pass laws to sustain institutional racism and inequality.” Yet one more time, the substitution of ideological claptrap will further debilitate youngsters who need real knowledge, not just empty slogans.

Why Academic Gobbledygook Makes Sense

teaching the Constitution.jpgWhen I first began teaching political science in the late
1960s I would routinely assign articles from top professional journals to
undergraduates. This is now impossible–without exception, they are
incomprehensible, overflowing with often needless statistical complexity. The
parallel is not the hard sciences where mathematics replaced philosophical
speculation. If anything, these articles reflect a trivialized research agenda.
Consider, for example, an August 2011 American Political Science Review essay
asking whether democratic electorates chose better educated leaders, a
question, it would seem, hardly requires mathematical complexity. To quote from
one key passage:

Continue reading Why Academic Gobbledygook Makes Sense

A Study Sets Out to Prove Tea Partiers Are Racist

tea_party.jpgAmong those prizing truth, modern social science does not enjoy an especially good reputation. As a political scientist myself, I’ve long encountered conservatives who often complain that much contemporary social science does little more than demonize conservative views. Unfortunately, such grumbling is often correct but that said, complainers rarely grasp how this bias is imposed and, more important, why bias passes professional scrutiny. The answers are simple, the rules for conducting research themselves permit social scientists to create “reality” and with that power, run-of-the mill dishonesty is unnecessary.

To illustrate how research can be weaponized for ideological purposes, all the while honoring the conventions of modern social science, consider a paper presented at the 2011 American Political Science Association’s annual national meeting castigating the Tea Party movement as “racist.” It was written by a well-respected academic who heeded all the accepted (and scientific) disciplinary conventions. Indeed, I strongly suspect that the ideologically-driven Tea Party bashing was scarcely noticed by peers who initially screened the paper or were in the Seattle audience when it was presented. This is the point: bias is so deeply ingrained, so professionally acceptable, that it escapes notice.

Continue reading A Study Sets Out to Prove Tea Partiers Are Racist

In Defense of Bad Teaching

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In rounding up the usual evil-doer suspects in today’s university, “bad teaching” always makes the short list. After all, who can possibly favor “bad teaching? What’s next–praising bad food or, worse, demanding bad sex?

Unfortunately, this commendable impulse to improve teaching may bring a cure far worse than the disease. This is not defending sloth or professional irresponsibility. Most professors can up their game but to make “improved teaching” an administrative priority in today’s PC-infected university invites dangers not evident to academic outsiders.

Let’s start simple: “good teaching” can be a nightmare to define, given all the complexities of subject matter and personalities. People can honestly disagree and what might be good teaching in one course with certain students may be a disaster elsewhere with different material and different students. Instructional excellence is not like the standard kilogram against which everything can be measured. Over my own career I have been honored for outstanding teaching and I have suffered complaints. I always do better with smart students who appreciate my esoteric asides while the less intellectually talented are dumbfounded.

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The Cupcake War as a Religious Event

Berkeley bakesale.jpgBy now the “Cupcake War” in which the Berkeley College Republicans sold cupcakes with different prices for various ethnic/racial/gender groups is well known. Drawing less attention is why it produced the panicky overkill reaction, including strong condemnations from some university administrators. After all, the anti-affirmative action bake sale hardly threatens the diversity infrastructure and is a far cry from past disruptive student protests. An impartial outsider might reasonably argue that the affirmative action cause would be better served by ignoring the bake sale to deprive college Republicans of any free publicity.

Let me suggest that the true purpose of the outrage is not to stamp out opposition to racial preferences. Rather, the overreaction is best understood as a reaffirmation of a faith that is slowly (but inevitably) going wobbly. And, I suspect, this includes most Berkeley students. If beliefs about the value of legally imposed racial preferences were rock solid, the over-the-top indignation would be unnecessary.

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Do We Really Want Professors to Be Productive?

charlie-chaplin.jpgAccountability is all the rage in today’s education reform industry and at the university level, “productivity” typically means upping scholarly publishing.  The allure is simple–who can resist prodding lolling-about professors to generate more knowledge?  Unfortunately, putting the thumbscrews on idle faculty will only push universities farther to the left.  Better to pay professors for silence.

When I began my academic career at Cornell University in 1969 publications were important but production was not yet industrialized.  Quality–not volume–was overriding and it was tolerable that some senior faculty had published almost nothing for decades.  By the time I retired in 2002 from the University of Illinois-Urbana, however, scholarly publication there and elsewhere often mimicked Soviet-style manufacturing.  Every year we received detailed annual report forms with multiple categories to list every last publication, all categorized according to supposed prestige rankings, as the basis for salary increases and promotion.  Volume (“productivity”) was now deep in the academic DNA, even at schools hardly famous for original research.

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What the Madison Confrontation Reveals

student protesters.jpgMost observers have framed the recent disruption by backers of racial and ethnic preferences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a free-speech conflict. Free speech is clearly involved but lying below the surface are three issues that warrant close attention, specifically how Wisconsin once handled “inclusion;” how the protest reflects the transformation of the idea of “opportunity;” and how the university’s policies to help select minorities breeds dependency.

I attended UW-Madison from 1965 to 1969 as a graduate student and back then, at least for in-state residents, the University was highly inclusive. It simply admitted the top three-quarters of all Wisconsin high school graduates (non-residents faced tougher standards) and pretty much left them to survive on their own. I recall seeing only a few blacks on campus, but this undoubtedly reflected the state’s then largely white demography. Surely, if this generous admission standard were applied today, the affirmative action issue would be moot.

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