Higher education: desperately selling a grossly overpriced, generic product in America

collegecampusThe other night, I attended a college fair with my high schooler.  It featured representatives from perhaps 100 different colleges, each of them standing behind their particular space at row upon row of tables.  Hundreds of teenagers and their parents milled about, approaching one or another table to get the shtick about a specific school.

We must have spoken to about 15 different representatives from various colleges across the United States.  None of the Ivy Leagues were there, but there was a good sampling of top public and private colleges, as well as a representative sampling of all the other 1,400 private liberal arts colleges scattered throughout America.

I was impressed — very impressed — by how generic they were.  Barring college location and campus size, all but two of them gave the same shtick:  excellent faculty, small classroom size, a smorgasbord of study abroad programs (all of which seem to involve one form or another of staying in an American bubble), quality sports facilities, attentive faculty members, ridiculously high tuition, and a commitment to social justice.  I actually felt sorry for the various representatives, struggling desperately to distinguish themselves from each other when it was manifestly obvious that they had nothing unique to offer.

There were, though, two exceptions.  The representative from the University of Washington, which local kids consider a premium public university, appeared to have checked out.  He had no shtick and, whenever possible, answered most questions with the words “yes” or “no.”  When pushed, the only substantive information he offered was that, yes, of course UW had massive classes with hundreds of students listening to lectures, and that the smaller classes were taught by graduate students.  “Let’s get out of here,” my kid whispered to me.

The other exception was Northeastern, which has a program called COOP (short for cooperative).  In this program, students work for six months out of the year, every year, for two to three years (depending upon whether they want to graduate in four or five years).  When they work, they really work, at a full-time, salaried internship.  What the university offers them is training in resume writing and building, interviewing techniques, and workplace behavior.  More than that, the school offers them an entrée into premium work places such as Microsoft or Virgin or other hot, popular jobs, including jobs overseas.  Because the students are working for six months, they then have to attend summer school to make up for the missed classroom time.  Work and school take up their entire year.

Unlike all the other colleges assembled in that room, Northeastern had interested applicants lined up six deep.  The school was selling something new, different, and eminently practical, and students and their parents responded enthusiastically.  Having a college create a program with real world implications, even for liberal arts majors, is exciting.  People seemed to like this entrepreneurial, capitalist bent, although the Northeastern materials zealously promote their commitment to social justice too.  (Indeed, Northeastern’s home page, which shows happy graduates examining their newly issued diplomas, prominently features a woman wearing a hijab under her mortar board.)

To my teen’s delight, I was very pleasant to the representatives, and didn’t ask them to tell me about their campus’ policies towards the boycott, divest, and sanction movement or their campus’ version of Sex Week, and I kept my mouth shut about the high incidences of rape on their campuses and the kangaroo show trials that follow on the heels of these excessive rape claims.  I did break once, though.  When we were at the Sarah Lawrence table, one of the prominent displays was its boast about the five or six cities abroad in which it maintains a campus presence so that its students can have the Sarah Lawrence experience overseas.  One of the campuses is in Havana.

I assured the very nice representative that what I was about to say wasn’t directed at him personally, and then told him that it was an embarrassment and disgrace that Sarah Lawrence would boast about having an academic facility in a police state.  While Cuba isn’t as bad as North Korea, I said, that wasn’t an excuse.  It’s still a repressive regime that routinely imprisons its citizens for thought crimes and that denies them basic human rights.

The representative mumbled about the program going back to the early 1970s, which I said was no excuse, and he also said that students came back concerned about human rights.  I would have pursued this (“Whose human rights?  The imprisoned Cubans’ rights or are the returned students parroting even louder the usual “social justice” stuff that turns America’s young people into fascists at home?”), but my mortified teen dragged me away.

It’s clear that American education is a bubble that’s about to burst.  I just wish it would burst immediately.  I suspect that, with my usual bad timing, it will burst only after I’ve already spent ridiculous sums on my children’s “higher” education.

Universities discover that you reap what you sow

Universities have long been the incubators of climate change hysteria.  They teach anthropogenic climate change there with the same certainty that they teach accounting principles.  There is no room for debate.  Students graduate as true believers.

But what happens when the students discover that their teachers are hypocrites?  They go after them:

A group of Swarthmore College students is asking the school administration to take a seemingly simple step to combat pollution and climate change: sell off the endowment’s holdings in large fossil fuel companies. For months, they have been getting a simple answer: no.

As they consider how to ratchet up their campaign, the students suddenly find themselves at the vanguard of a national movement.

In recent weeks, college students on dozens of campuses have demanded that university endowment funds rid themselves of coal, oil and gas stocks. The students see it as a tactic that could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.

“We’ve reached this point of intense urgency that we need to act on climate change now, but the situation is bleaker than it’s ever been from a political perspective,” said William Lawrence, a Swarthmore senior from East Lansing, Mich.

Because I do not believe in anthropogenic climate change (as opposed to naturally occurring climate change, in which I strongly believe), I think we should be funding research into and production of any and all sources of energy.  Massive amounts of available energy improve people’s lives around the world.  I therefore hope that this de-funding effort doesn’t result in such massive financial losses that America is forced to abandon important energy sources.  Nevertheless, this movement appeals to me.  The universities thought that they could have both ways:  teach hysteria at the front end while making money at the back end.  It’s great to see them being called on their hypocrisy.

A matched set about the PC train wreck that is California’s higher education system

California used to have the finest public education system in America.  It wasn’t lack of funding that killed it; it was Leftist corruption and insanity.  Don’t believe me?  Read these two articles.

From Bruce Kesler:  Important Report On The Sinkhole That Is Higher Education

From Donald Douglas: California State Colleges and Universities May Screen for Sexual Orientation in Admissions Applications

Why I argue with my husband about the virtues of four years at an American University *UPDATED*

My husband and I frequently debate the virtue of sending our children off to a costly four year university (assuming, of course, that they are admitted).  I’m agin’ it, because I think it’s insane to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars so that ones child can listen to this type of gobbledygook:

American Digest, from whence this link came, properly characterizes Donna Haraway’s two and half minutes of video fame as “bitter, intellectually insane blather.”  While I never had Haraway (who is, unsurprisingly, a professor at the tax payer supported, but always loopy, UC Santa Cruz), I had plenty of UC Berkeley professors who easily gave her a run for her money when it came to spouting meaningless academic jargon, wrapped in unintelligible elliptical phrases.

My current goal, one with which my husband strongly disagrees, is to have the children spend their first two years out of high school at a strong community college, which will see them getting the basics, cheap.  My husband points out, quite correctly, that the caliber of fellow students at the Ivies, or the more prestigious public colleges is much higher than at the community colleges, so my plan will deny the children the benefit of smart peers.  I point out, correctly, that, at least in the liberal arts and soft sciences, the caliber of teachers sinks in direct proportion to the college’s or university’s prestige level.  My husband can’t see his way to acknowledging this one, which makes sense, since it is a subjective conclusion.

UPDATE:  The perfect video to wrap up this post:

Quick picks

I’ve got a project, and pretty much exhausted myself writing this morning’s post (too much thinking, dammit!), so I’ll just give you links to some stories that caught my eye today.

1.  John Hawkin’s writes about five top conservative female bloggers and discusses how they face different challenges from their male peers (not that they’re whining, mind you).

2.  Dennis Prager gives a handy-dandy list of questions for conservatives contemplating colleges for their children.  The quiz is easy, but I can guarantee you that you probably won’t like the answers you get.

3.  Robert Knight and Laer both examine Obama’s surprising theology, which effectively reduces the entire Bible to a couple of quotations from the Sermon on the Mount, that Obama interprets in his own unique, liberal way.

4.  The New York Times, no doubt forgetting momentarily what it is and what it stands for, has an interesting article about the fact that young Iraqis, rather than turning against Americans, are turning against their own fanatical religious leaders and their interpretation of Islam.  Although the Times doesn’t say so, I see it as a sort of “If you build it, they will come,” meaning that, if you build a viable alternative to fanaticism (something multiculturalists refuse to countenance), people will follow you.

5.  Neo-Neocon riffs brilliantly on the fact that Obama seems to be believing his own press as the new political Messiah whose inevitability transcends any rational analysis.

6.   Christopher Hitchens, who wields language like a scalpel, writes about the meaninglessness of modern political discourse.


If you haven’t already read Heather MacDonald’s debunking of the “Rape Epidemic” on college campuses, you must. The whole article is replete with gems such as this one:

The campus rape movement highlights the current condition of radical feminism, from its self-indulgent bathos to its embrace of ever more vulnerable female victimhood. But the movement is an even more important barometer of academia itself. In a delicious historical irony, the baby boomers who dismantled the university’s intellectual architecture in favor of unbridled sex and protest have now bureaucratized both. While women’s studies professors bang pots and blow whistles at antirape rallies, in the dorm next door, freshman counselors and deans pass out tips for better orgasms and the use of sex toys. The academic bureaucracy is roomy enough to sponsor both the dour antimale feminism of the college rape movement and the promiscuous hookup culture of student life. The only thing that doesn’t fit into the university’s new commitments is serious scholarly purpose.

The article’s first point is that the study that gave rise to the infamous “one out of four college women are raped” statistic was not merely flawed, a concept that implies that the researcher acted in good faith but erred in methodology, but was, instead, intended to arrive at the one out of four number — a result it could achieve only be stretching facts beyond all semblance of reality. There is, in fact, no rape epidemic on American campuses, and there never has been. The study’s “flaws,” of course, have never slowed down the college rape industry:

None of the obvious weaknesses in the research has had the slightest drag on the campus rape movement, because the movement is political, not empirical. In a rape culture, which “condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as a norm,” sexual assault will wind up underreported, argued the director of Yale’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Center in a March 2007 newsletter. You don’t need evidence for the rape culture; you simply know that it exists. But if you do need evidence, the underreporting of rape is the best proof there is.

In keeping with this political agenda, the fact that the highly funded rape centers dotting every college campus are ghost towns is irrelevant. Rather than scaling back on the centers to use the money for more useful purposes (education, anyone?), the feministas are going in the other direction: they are demanding more money, based on their contention that the empty rooms are a sign that more women are being raped than ever before. They’re just not talking about it.

MacDonald, after debunking the rape myth, then does something incredibly brave: she attacks a college social culture that is so nihilistic it creates the perfect environment for young women to find themselves in unpleasant sexual situations which are not rape, but which certainly lack any sign of love, respect, emotional commitment, or even mere affection:

So what reality does lie behind the campus rape industry? A booze-fueled hookup culture of one-night, or sometimes just partial-night, stands. Students in the sixties demanded that college administrators stop setting rules for fraternization. “We’re adults,” the students shouted. “We can manage our own lives. If we want to have members of the opposite sex in our rooms at any hour of the day or night, that’s our right.” The colleges meekly complied and opened a Pandora’s box of boorish, sluttish behavior that gets cruder each year. Do the boys, riding the testosterone wave, act thuggishly toward the girls? You bet! Do the girls try to match their insensitivity? Indisputably.

College girls drink themselves into near or actual oblivion before and during parties. That drinking is often goal-oriented, suggests University of Virginia graduate Karin Agness: it frees the drinker from responsibility and “provides an excuse for engaging in behavior that she ordinarily wouldn’t.” A Columbia University security official marvels at the scene at homecomings: “The women are shit-faced, saying, ‘Let’s get as drunk as we can,’ while the men are hovering over them.” As anticipated, the night can include a meaningless sexual encounter with a guy whom the girl may not even know. This less-than-romantic denouement produces the “roll and scream: you roll over the next morning so horrified at what you find next to you that you scream,” a Duke coed reports in Laura Sessions Stepp’s recent book Unhooked. To the extent that they’re remembered at all, these are the couplings that are occasionally transformed into “rape”—though far less often than the campus rape industry wishes.

For the unthinking, it would be easy to believe that the above paragraphs are yet another part of the old “blame the victim” mentality. (Laer, in a wonderfully thoughtful post, highlights a perfect example of this knee jerk reaction to any challenge to the campus rape paradigm.) There’s a world of difference between the two approaches, though. The old view took what was indubitably rape — forced sex on a completely unwilling victim — and pointed to inconsequential factors to justify the man’s conduct: she walked with a swing to her hips, she smiled at him, she wore a pretty dress, she’d been “flirting.” By ignoring the man’s conduct, and focusing solely on the woman’s, the legal system was able to ignore the fact that, as the woman was screaming “no,” the man was forcing sex on her.

The new rape paradigm has a very different scenario, one in which the “victim” admits that she did in fact say “yes” (although she may have intentionally reduced herself to virtually incoherent drunkeness first):

The magazine Saturday Night: Untold Stories of Sexual Assault at Harvard, produced by Harvard’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, provides a first-person account of such a coupling:

What can I tell you about being raped? Very little. I remember drinking with some girlfriends and then heading to a party in the house that some seniors were throwing. I’m told that I walked in and within 5 minutes was making out with one of the guys who lived there, who I’d talked to some in the dining hall but never really hung out with. I may have initiated it. I don’t remember arriving at the party; I dimly remember waking up at some point in the early morning in this guy’s room. I remember him walking me back to my room. I couldn’t have made it alone; I still had too much alcohol in my system to even stand up straight. I made myself vulnerable and even now it’s hard to think that someone here who I have talked and laughed with could be cold-hearted enough to take advantage of that vulnerability. I’d rather, sometimes, take half the blame than believe that a profound evil can exist in mankind. But it’s easy for me to say, that, of the two of us, I’m the only one who still has nightmares, found myself panicking and detaching during sex for many months afterwards, and spent more time looking into the abyss than any one person should.

The inequalities of the consequences of the night, the actions taken unintentionally or not, have changed the course of only one of our lives, irrevocably and profoundly.

Now perhaps the male willfully exploited the narrator’s self-inflicted incapacitation; if so, he deserves censure for taking advantage of a female in distress. But to hold the narrator completely without responsibility requires stripping women of volition and moral agency. Though the Harvard victim does not remember her actions, it’s highly unlikely that she passed out upon arriving at the party and was dragged away like roadkill while other students looked on. Rather, she probably participated voluntarily in the usual prelude to intercourse, and probably even in intercourse itself, however woozily.

Men actually have a name for the kind of sex described above. It’s called “coyote ugly” sex, a term that I was introduced to when I lived in Texas. It posits a man so drunk that he beds a physically unattractive woman. In the morning, he is so horrified by the ugliness lying in his arms that, rather than wake her to escape, he’s willing to gnaw his own arm off to sneak away. (The analogy being to the fact that coyotes will gnaw off a leg that’s caught in a trap so as to escape.) Interestingly, this response imagines the man imposing a punishment on himself for being intoxicated enough to climb into bed with someone he never would have considered otherwise. Women, faced with the same situation — the morning after regret following the night before — are now encouraged to place the blame elsewhere for their own conduct and to cry rape.

As indicated in the last paragraph I quoted from MacDonald, she too understands the difference between women assaulted just for being female, and women who have sex they later regret:

A large number of complicating factors make the Saturday Night story a far more problematic case than the term “rape” usually implies. Unlike the campus rape industry, most students are well aware of those complicating factors, which is why there are so few rape charges brought for college sex. But if the rape industrialists are so sure that foreseeable and seemingly cooperative drunken sex amounts to rape, there are some obvious steps that they could take to prevent it. Above all, they could persuade girls not to put themselves into situations whose likely outcome is intercourse. Specifically: don’t get drunk, don’t get into bed with a guy, and don’t take off your clothes or allow them to be removed. Once you’re in that situation, the rape activists could say, it’s going to be hard to halt the proceedings, for lots of complex emotional reasons. Were this advice heeded, the campus “rape” epidemic would be wiped out overnight.

But suggest to a rape bureaucrat that female students should behave with greater sexual restraint as a preventive measure, and you might as well be saying that the girls should enter a convent or don the burka. “I am uncomfortable with the idea,” e-mailed Hillary Wing-Richards, the associate director of the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Women’s Resource Center at James Madison University in Virginia. “This indicates that if [female students] are raped it could be their fault—it is never their fault—and how one dresses does not invite rape or violence. . . . I would never allow my staff or myself to send the message it is the victim’s fault due to their dress or lack of restraint in any way.” Putting on a tight tank top doesn’t, of course, lead to what the bureaucrats call “rape.” But taking off that tank top does increase the risk of sexual intercourse that will be later regretted, especially when the tank-topper has been intently mainlining rum and Cokes all evening.

The only area in which I’d differ with MacDonald is with regard to her second to last sentence or, at least, I’d expand upon it: “Putting on a tight tank top doesn’t, of course, lead to what the bureaucrats call ‘rape.'” If a woman is forced into non-consensual sex that the attacker justifies by pointing to her tank top, that’s rape. However, I’m in complete agreement with MacDonald that, if the same woman gets drunk, makes out with a complete stranger, takes off the tank top on the dance floor, and then goes into a room and climbs in the bed naked with that same stranger, while she may later have regrets, he hasn’t raped her.

(I’m going to stick with this topic for the rest of this post, but I do urge you to read the rest of MacDonald’s article, which also has an extended discussion of the way in which universities encourage the hypersexualized culture at American colleges by doing such things as inviting sex shows to perform on campus.)

On the subject of that tank top: One of the things the anti-blame the victim movement did was to create an environment in which women were told that they ought to have the right to do anything they want without any risk at all. This is a striking departure from the original challenges mounted to the old “blame the victim” mentality. The original feminist attack, which was valid, challenged a legal system that allowed men to walk away without any consequences despite the fact that they had clearly forced sex, often horribly brutal sex, on an unwilling woman. These early (and rational) feminists weren’t looking at whether women should be able to engage in any conduct they wanted without consequences. Instead, they were looking at the men and saying that, if a man engaged in certain illegal sexual acts, there would inevitably be consequences regardless of the woman’s own conduct. Under this original and equitable feminist system, women were still expected not to be stupid. The only difference was that, whether the woman was stupid or not, a man who committed rape was denied the “it’s all her fault” legal defense.

I strongly support that world view. It’s a tragedy and a travesty that it’s morphed into a view that is the mirror image of the view prevailing in the pre-women’s rights era. Back then, the man was never at fault; now, the woman is never at fault. Both systems are equally abhorrent and equally damaging to the relationship between the sexes. It makes all of them enemies of each other.