Monday, September 14, 2020

Did colleges engage in a bait-and-switch scam to maximize revenues during the coronavirus pandemic?

According to a recent article in the Washington Examiner, American universities lured students back to campus this fall by deceptively promising to offer at least some in-person instruction. Then--after the students showed up and paid their tuition and fees--the colleges changed their policies and offered most or all of their classes in an online format.

In the Examiner's view:
[C]ollege administrators pulled a classic con artist's bait and switch. They asked college students to return to campus and bilked parents out of full-freight fees with the promise that at least some instruction would be in-person rather than online. Shortly before school opened, with the money safely in the bank, they shifted exclusively or at least nearly exclusively to online instruction, but asked student to come back to campus anyway.
Is this a fair indictment? I think it is.  Schools all over the United States shifted to online teaching for the fall semester, which almost everyone agrees is inferior to face-to-face instruction. Nevertheless, the schools did not discount their tuition, and they did not close their dormitories.

How can a college tell students that in-person classes are dangerous while continuing to stuff the kids into residence halls and frat houses, where the risk of contracting the coronavirus is unreasonably high?

In my view, American colleges responded to the COVID-19 crisis to maximize revenue at the expense of their students' health. It was nuts for universities to pack young adults into dorms at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is still not under control.

But the colleges were forced to adopt this reckless policy because they need the cash flow.  Many universities financed their dorm-building sprees by floating bonds or entering into partnerships with private corporations that funded the construction projects in return for getting a percentage of the room-and-board fees. These schools have got to keep their dorms full to meet their financial obligations.

Unfortunately for American higher education, the coronavirus disrupted its business model.  Parents are not going to pay fifty grand a year for their children to take online classes, and they are not going to pay room-and-board fees so their kids can live in crowded dormitories where they face an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.

This cash-before-kids policy is not going to work for a lot of colleges. Many will close in the coming year.  And the upcoming shut-down of American schools is not just due to the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of families have figured out that that the universities are charging way too much for mediocre academic programs that don't lead to good jobs.

As James Howard Kunstler put it in a recent blog essay:
[T]he colleges and universities are [not] going down hard . . . just because Covid-19 has interrupted their business plan. Rather, because of the stupendous and gross dishonesty that higher ed has fallen into. The racketeering around college loans was bad enough but the intellectual racketeering around fake fields of study, thought-crime persecutions, and an epic sexual hysteria has disgraced the very mission of higher ed, turned it into something no better than a sick cult . . . .
I could not have said it better myself. Americans are awaking to the fact that much of our nation's higher education system is a big scam, and they are increasingly unwilling to subject their children to an education system that looks more and more like the Spanish Inquisition.

The penalty for saying "All Lives Matter" on a university campus








Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Do college leaders make too much money?

Every year, the Chronicle of Higher Education publishes its Almanac, which is crammed with answers to questions that college professors care so much about--how much money are we all making?

To borrow an expression from rural West Texas: some college leaders and college coaches are making a shitload of money.

Here are some examples:

  • Scott Malpass, vice president and chief investment officer at the University of Notre Dame: $10 million.
  • Richard Steward, Academic Director at New York University: $8,733,507.
  • Matthew Rhule, Head Football Coach at Baylor University: $7,273,372.
  • Matthew B. Luke, Head Football Coach at the University of Mississippi: $11,353,918.
  • Ronald Machtley, President of Bryant University: $6,283,616.
  • Mark Becker, President of Georgia State University: $2,806, 517.
  • Ian Bernard Baucom, Dean of College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia: $1,222,083.
I'm citing extreme cases here--the people I've listed are at the top of the salary scale. But there are a ton of football coaches and even assistant football coaches who make more than $1 million a year.  

And there are a bunch of college presidents who make more than half a million dollars a year. In fact, all of the top fifty best-paid presidents at public institutions make more than $700,000 per annum.

At private colleges, every president among the top fifty best-paid CEOs makes at least a million bucks a year. In more than half the states, the best paid public employee is either a football coach or a basketball coach.

As we are constantly reminded, tuition costs have risen at twice the rate of inflation over the past twenty years. College leaders give a variety of reasons for why this is so. Still, it is absolutely clear that unreasonably high salaries for college presidents, athletic coaches, and even professors are part of the explanation.








Sunday, August 30, 2020

Guns are more dangerous than they used to be: Don't carry a pistol

Back in 1987, Mr. Bob and Miss Smitty, beloved family elders, traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to see an exhibition of ancient Egyptian artifacts on display at a local museum. Smitty often carried a small, lady-like handgun when she traveled as protection against the hazards of the road. Mr. Bob was also known to occasionally pack heat when he traveled.

On the day the couple visited the Egyptian exhibition, Smitty was carrying a pistol in her purse, a fact she suddenly remembered as she saw her handbag moving down a rolling belt into the museum's metal detector.

Fortunately, Smitty had so much other metal junk in her purse that the attendant didn't notice her pistol, and she and Bob had an enjoyable day looking at Egyptian artifacts.

Why did Smitty travel to Memphis with a handgun back in 1987? Was she afraid that she and Mr. Bob might have to shoot their way out of the Memphis museum, like in a scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Had she seen the movie Deliverance and feared she and Mr. Bob might be waylaid by a gang of genetically-deranged hillbillies on their drive home through Arkansas?

I don't know. But I do know this. Carrying a firearm is a lot more dangerous than it was thirty years ago.

It is fashionable now in some regions of the country for people to obtain concealed-carry permits that allow them to keep small pistols tucked into their clothing. And in my corner of the world, a lot of men keep handguns in their pickup trucks, which is legal in Louisiana.

But it is risky to carry a loaded handgun, and it is getting riskier.

A few days ago, just a half-mile from my home, Jayce Boyd, a 24-year-old young man, was arrested on a murder charge after he reportedly shot and killed a panhandler in the parking lot of Trader Joe's.

Was the shooting justified? According to some reports, the panhandler was aggressively harassing two young women, and Mr. Boyd had come to their defense.

A few days before that, Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old kid from Illinois, was charged with murdering two people during the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I saw a video that apparently depicts this young man shooting at some people who were chasing him.  At least one of his pursuers appeared to be armed.

Was young Mr. Rittenhouse acting in self-defense? Ultimately a jury will decide.

Here's my point. I can hardly imagine any threat to my personal safety that would justify me killing someone in a public place.  In fact, I might be better off getting injured or even murdered by an attacker than dealing with the consequences of killing another human being--even in self-defense.

So I don't carry a handgun, and I never will even though the state of Louisiana allows me to openly carry a pistol without a license.

Who knows what will happen to Mr. Boyd and Mr. Rittenhouse? Will they be acquitted on their murder charges?

Maybe. But if you were to ask Mr. Boyd or Mr. Rittenhouse today whether he wishes he had not been carrying a weapon on the night he pulled the trigger, I feel quite he would say yes.



You'll never take us alive!


Saturday, August 29, 2020

COVID-19 is disrupting American higher education: That's a good thing

The coronavirus pandemic hit American higher education like a Cat 5 hurricane.   Virtually all colleges and universities shut their campuses down and switched from face-to-face instruction to a distance-learning format.

Many students didn't like the change and didn't like paying full tuition for a watered-down learning experience.  Lawsuits were filed. I myself was skeptical about the quality of online instruction.

However, I am teaching my second class as an adjunct professor using Zoom, and Zoom works great for me.   I can see my students on my computer screen and can talk to them directly, just as if we all were in the same room. To my surprise, I can teach via Zoom with no loss of quality.

In fact, I am beginning to think COVID-19 may be a blessing in disguise for American higher education. Here's why I take that view.

First, the latest generation of distance-learning technology (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.) closes the gap between distance learning and live instruction. Colleges now have a good strategy for dealing with this pandemic and any future pandemic.

Second, COVID-19 has caused many college students to skip the dorm experience, and this shift has been a wakeup call to colleges that went on dormitory-building sprees. The change also put the brake on privately-financed, so-called luxury student housing. Privately and publicly financed student housing was out of control. All across the United States, universities are now surrounded by massive, block-housing units, which are a dispiriting blight on the landscape.

 Now that students are shying away from multiple-occupancy apartments and dorms, this speculative overbuilding has slowed down.  That is a very good thing.

Third, the massive shift of public universities to online learning has undercut the for-profit college industry, and that is also a good thing. The for-profits distinguished themselves by offering online education for working adults who could not attend classes on college campuses.  Often the quality of for-profit instruction was inferior, and for-profit colleges were almost always a lot more expensive than public colleges.

Now that the public colleges and universities have embraced distance learning, there is absolutely no reason for someone to enroll in the University of Phoenix or any other for-profit school that offers online instruction.  The for-profits are losing students and revenues, which (I hope) will force them to shut down. 

Finally, COVID-19 will stop the arms race among colleges to offer expensive recreational facilities, which have become a public embarrassment. LSU's "Lazy River" seemed like a cutting-edge innovation when it was built, but what college would install one now?

COVID-19 will force many small liberal arts colleges to close, which is unfortunate. But this country has too many colleges, and we are long overdue for a pruning process.

American universities are discovering that they can offer instruction in a distance-learning format, and those fancy recreational facilities and "luxury" student dorms are not essential. Maybe high-quality online learning will help higher education can get back to its real mission--which is to offer worthwhile educational experiences that prepare young people to become intelligent, civic-minded, productive citizens.  Wouldn't that be a good thing?


What? No Lazy River?


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Colleges urged to go test optional: We don't need no stinkin' standardized admission tests!

More and more colleges are admitting new students without requiring them to take a traditional standardized admissions test: the ACT or SAT. According to the National Associaton for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), 55 percent of colleges nationwide have waived those tests for this academic year--that's more than 1,600 colleges.

Why? Some colleges have waived the tests because of the coronavirus pandemic. Taking those tests during the COVID-19 outbreak is a health risk, they say, and an additional burden on college-goers during an already stressful time.

Now the NACAC wants colleges to waive those tests for the 2021-22 admission cycle. According to this organization, requiring such tests makes colleges "appear to send the signal that college admission exams take priority over students' health . . . " The NACAC also maintains that some high schools now prohibit colleges that require applicants to take a standardized test "from engaging with their students through school channels." Really?

The NACAC goes on to make a couple of arguments against standardized test scores, which I view as nearly hysterical:
Should public institutions maintain that these test requirements, US Department of Education data suggest that they stand to lose tens of thousands of students (and correlated tuition)--both from within and outside the state--to institutions not requiring the tests.
In other words, NACAC claims that a college that requires standardized tests will lose students to institutions that don't, which will cost them tuition revenue. 

Moreover, the NACAC hints darkly, a college that requires applicants to take the SAT or the ACT could get sued for a civil rights violation!
They also risk [says NACAC] creating a disparate impact due to prohibitive costs of sitting for an exam, particularly among low-income and minority communities, which could expose state institutions, systems, and administration to civil rights actions.
Implicit in that statement is a warning that a college that requires applicants to take the ACT could be accused of racism.


Personally, I think the NACAC is sputtering pure bullshit. In my opinion, the reason hundreds of colleges have tossed out their standardized admissions test has nothing to do with students' health or their civil rights.

Colleges all over the country are in a jungle battle for students, as the demand for higher education ebbs. Schools must reach their enrollment targets to survive because they are dependent on tuition money--which means they are dependent on federal student loans.

By throwing out the ACT and the SAT, colleges make it easier for them to admit unqualified students.  Hey--these colleges are saying--just show up, fill out your financial aid application, and you are good to go. No need to take a stressful standardized test--a test that might document just how unprepared for college you really are.

But this trend, which is snowballing, is eroding the integrity of higher education.  As admission standards fall, more and more colleges are admitting students who are not capable of passing their courses under traditional academic standards. 

But the colleges need the tuition revenue, so weak students are not washed out. Instead, grading standards are lowered so that almost no student fails a course or even makes a D.

This trend is bad for nearly everyone. Many students who were not prepared for college-level study eventually get degrees, which deceives them into thinking they accomplished something. 

Students who are qualified to be enrolled--as evidenced by high scores on the ACT or SAT--get a watered-down educational experience as they sit in dumbed-down courses.

And jettisoning academic standards undermines the morale of faculty members--especially those who believe that students who come to college should have a basic grasp of grammar and diction. I myself have taught graduate students who had 18 years of formal education and still didn't know where to put a quotation mark.

But trash-canning the SAT and ACT is a good thing for colleges that have virtually become open-enrollment institutions(or at least nonselective institutions) but don't want anyone to know it.  It is so much easier just to admit nearly everyone who applies because even an unqualified student can get a federal student loan to pay tuition.

Already, we see the wreckage produced by a higher education industry that lowered academic standards to keep their enrollments up. Hundreds of thousands of people who were not prepared for college and incapable of completing a rigorous degree program are finding that their college experience did not equip them to get a job. Yet, they are saddled with student loans they will never repay and can't discharge in bankruptcy.





Saturday, August 22, 2020

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot gets special police protection: "I have a right to make sure my home is secure": Friggin' A!

Chicago has endured a crime wave all summer. Murder rates and shootings have accelerated. Last week, rioters looted stores in the city's luxury shopping district--"the Magnificant Mile."

Critics accuse Mayor Lori Lightfoot of allowing crime to get out of control, but now she too is being threatened by violence. According to news reports, Mayor Lightfoot and her neighborhood are getting special personal protection from the police.

This is how the mayor explained her decision to beef up security for herself and her family.
We are living in very different times and I've seen the threats that have come in, and I have an obligation to keep my home, my wife, my 12-year-old, and my neighbors safe . . . I think that residents of [Chicago], understanding the nature of the threats we are receiving on a daily basis, understand that I have a right to make sure my home is secure.
To which I say, "friggin' A," which is slang talk meaning strong affirmation (according to Urban Dictionary).

Like Mayor Lightfoot, the Minnesota City Council also believes its members have a right to be safe. Three of them are getting personal security at the city's expense, even while the Council is trying to defund the police.

 So perhaps we can all affirm at least one basic principle: Americans have the right to keep their homes and families safe in their own neighborhoods.

Or perhaps we don't agree on that. Municipal officials in Portland, Oregon, have tolerated riots, arson, vandalism, and looting for almost three months.  Seattle allowed a so-called autonomous zone to establish itself in its downtown district for several weeks, although I think that thing finally fizzled out. Even nihilists get tired of living in their own feces after awhile.

But most of us--including Mayor Lightfoot, the Minnesota City Council, and me--believe we should feel safe in our homes.  So let's expand that concept out a little bit.

Why do Nancy Pelosi and other national-level politicians (including Republicans, of course) get personal security from armed guards while the rest of us crouch behind locked doors? Why does Governor Cuomo have round-the-clock police protection while the state of New York tries to shut down the NRA? Is our politicians' safety more important than the safety of their constituents?

And why do you suppose non-criminal Americans have gone on an unprecedented gun-buying spree? Why is there a run on shotgun ammunition?

We know the answer to those two questions. Because Americans don't feel safe, and too many of them are not safe.

I have some young relatives--a married couple--who live in New Orleans and have two pre-school children. Both work in the hospitality industry and contribute to the economic life of the city. After their apartment was burglarized, the couple bought a home in the Ninth Ward.

Within a month of moving in, one of their cars was stolen. Unfortunately, someone left the house key in that car. The next night, burglars got into their home with a stolen key, grabbed the key to their second car, and stole it too!

What do our urban politicians have to say to people like my young relatives? Your life doesn't matter?

At least they would be telling the truth. Our urban politicians are endangering the safety and happiness of people who want to live, work, and raise their children in safe and prosperous cities. Instead, our so-called public servants are coddling the criminals who prey on decent Americans.

I just don't understand.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot: "I have a right to make sure my home is secure."


Friday, August 21, 2020

Are humans more like water buffaloes or crocodiles? Let's consult Family Studies professor Bethany Letiecq

Years ago, while visiting Uganda, I took a boat up the Nile River to its source. Along the way, I saw a group of crocodiles sunning on the riverbank. They were nearly identical in size--all about 12 feet long.

My guide told me that one never sees large crocodiles and small crocodiles together because the big ones eat the little ones. "And," the guide added, "crocodiles will eat their young."

I remember thinking to myself: "God, why did you make crocodiles--or black mamba snakes, for that matter? If I ever get to heaven, I'll ask God to explain himself.

Later in the day, I hired another guide to show me some lions living in the wild. My hotel ran a guide service, but the touring vehicles were restricted to the roads. My guide, however, was an official lion researcher, and he could drive wherever he wanted.

I expected my guide to show up in a Robert-Mitchum-style safari hat and driving an ancient British Landrover. But he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and he drove a Toyota Corolla.

Nevertheless, the guide could indeed drive wherever he liked, and we were soon motoring over the savannah with no thought about whether or not we were on a road. Sweet!

Soon we came upon a large herd of water buffalos, who looked up alertly from their grazing. I noticed that the adult buffalos began putting themselves between our Toyota and their calves. My guide explained that water buffalos are very protective of their young. When lions are about, the water buffalos make a circle around their calves and can usually protect them from lions or other large prey.

I was deeply impressed by the water buffalo's natural disposition to protect their offspring, and I asked myself this question: "Are humans more like water buffalos or like crocodiles?

I think the jury is still out on that question, but perhaps we should consult an expert, someone like Profesor Bethany Letiecq, a family studies researcher at George Mason University.

Professor Letiecq criticizes the traditional nuclear family because it privileges its members over other family types. Thus, she argues:
Family privilege recognizes that some families are the beneficiaries of unearned or unacknowledged advantages in our society simply based on how they are configured. For example, our society values and privileges heterosexual marriages over other relationships, including couples who live together, raise children together, and choose not to marry.
I don't think Professor Letiecq believes the traditional nuclear family is intrinsically evil, but she does say it is "patriarchal and hegemonic at its base."  She maintains that marriage "was designed by White, heterosexual men to maintain their power and social-economic dominance and control over the 'other.'" So--hardly an endorsement of the Ozzie-and-Harriet marriage model.

Unlike Professor Letiecq, I am not a family studies researcher, but I know a lot about dysfunctional families. I grew up in one, and I've seen the evil effects of divorce on children.  I feel quite sure that children need the love and protection of two committed adults to grow up to be happy, healthy, and productive human beings. And although there are many models for raising children, I don't believe there is a better one than the family, which has been a venerated institution for thousands of years.

Thus, in my view, anyone who attempts to disrupt or disparage the traditional nuclear family is not advancing happiness and wellbeing in our society. On the contrary,  when it comes to the welfare of children, people who undermine the traditional family are less like water buffalos and more like crocodiles.

Baby crocodiles: tasty appetizers for Mom and Pop