Tag Archives: college

Bias Against Conservatives in Academia

As students begin to flock to college campuses for the fall, we are reminded of the sad truth that on many campuses, conservatives are considered backwards, bigoted, anti-intellectual fools who are against the progress of mankind. It is no secret that academia is full of liberal minded Phd holders. I have written on this subject before, but I think it is worth re-visiting.

I have no problem with liberal professors on campus. I think that universities ought to have an intellectually diverse faculty so that students can be exposed to opposing views, and ultimately decide for themselves where their loyalties lie. Perhaps someday this will be a reality at schools, but I won’t hold my breath because it has been this way for a long time. Even in the 1920s, academia saw the conservative presidencies of Harding and Coolidge as dark spots in history that followed the “enlightening” terms of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson may have been responsible for thousands of American deaths by entering us into World War 1, but at least it was with the good intentions of “making the world safe for democracy”. Bush may have used the same excuse to go into Iraq, but I doubt academics will ever give him the same “good intentions” credits they give Wilson. In comparison, the presidencies of Harding and Coolidge ushered in a new era of rising living standards for the average American. It wasn’t called the Roaring Twenties for nothing.

This brings me to my central point: despite being scoffed at by “smart people”, true small government conservative policies work. Free markets are responsible for our prosperity and constitutionally limited government (not simply majoritarian politics) is responsible for securing our liberties. The types of policies peddled by the “smart people” are what cause the problems in our society. A few examples:

We have poor people, so lets create government programs that traps the poor in poverty and treats them like children instead of human beings.

People should own houses so lets use a series of government policies to encourage banks to give loans to people who can’t afford them (what can possibly go wrong?).

The economy has crashed due to our poor policies, so lets spend trillions of dollars we don’t have and hope growth magically happens (if that doesn’t work, maybe we should put sawdust in the economy’s engine).

Our health care system is broken because government distorts the market, so lets use more government to try and administer a national health plan.

These examples could go on and on, but that is a good taste. Maybe someday academia will wise up and realize that perhaps societies are too complex for them to micromanage and engineer.

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Is Reading Books too “Dangerous” for College Students?

In high school I remember my english teacher handing out a list of “challenged books” to the class. These were books that various parents around the country had lobbied their child’s’ schools to ban because they contained offensive content. The list included many classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye as well as books like Captain Underpants, which is a favorite of rambunctious little boys. Some books have good reason to be challenged. I don’t blame parents for not wanting their high schooler to read Fifty Shades of Grey. Even I am afraid of the content that lies within that one. Other books such as To Kill a Mockingbird are challenged because they contain bad language and heavy topics like racism and rape. I understand parents’ concern about their kids reading these books, but in the name of intellectual freedom we must not ban them. While the books tackle tough subjects, they are meant to teach people the evils of racism, help kids understand sex and sexual assault, and generally educate people on the cold realities of our world in an accessible way. This is the lesson I was always taught in school and I thought it was a pretty accepted fact in our society that intellectual freedom and facing hard truths are necessary if we wish to build a better world.

And then I was informed of the recent movements on college campuses concerning “trigger warnings”.

They go like this: Professors may assign a reading that discusses a topic such as rape, which could induce stress in a student who was previously raped. Therefore the professor needs to warn students about potentially offensive subject matter before it is taught so that the student can avoid mental anguish. While this specific situation may have some credibility, The Wall Street Journal does a good job explaining the more foolish aspects of these situations here.

This development is absolutely ridiculous. These are not little kids we are talking about “protecting”. These are adults who can vote, buy a gun, join the military, buy cigarettes, buy alcohol (some), reserve hotel rooms and get married. The idea that we have to coddle these quasi-adults to the point where we warn them if a book deals with homosexuality or issues of class should be beyond imaginable to any person committed to learning. I understand that a situation could arise where a rape victim would be traumatized by certain readings, but these instances should be accommodated using the discretion of the professor on a case to case basis. Trigger warnings, in contrast, start with the assumption that all students are potentially so fragile that any material beyond Dr. Seuss needs to be prefaced with a parental warning.

More dangerous than the trigger warning movement though is where it may lead if it goes unchecked. Today students are calling for warnings if a book has offensive material in it, but how long until these same misguided youths call for the outright banning of books at their universities? Protests this spring have already brought down a slew of commencement speakers such as Condi Rice, so why not get books ban as well? If it is “good” to bar Condi from speaking on campus because of her support for waterboarding, is it not also “good” to ban George Bush’s book Decision Points? And why stop there? Lets ban Jefferson’s writings. He did own slaves after all. We could go all day thinking of things to ban until the only book left in the library is The Communist Manifesto. 

The only good thing about this whole situation is that universities are fighting back. Attacking academic freedom is even out of bounds for some of the most liberal professors. Maybe this will serve as a catalyst for our universities becoming actual centers of learning instead of overpriced daycare centers for petulant children who refuse to toughen up. 

No Thomas Friedman, Privacy and Average are Not Dead

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What Thomas Friedman’s meetings with young people probably consist of

 

I have some issues with Thomas Friedman’s new column, which can be found here. In it he complains that unlike “the good old days,” today no one has any privacy, and there are no more “simple,” or as he puts it “average,” things left in the world. I’m not a fan of “good old day” rhetoric to begin with. While I think some traditions and cultural norms are important to preserve, I am under no illusion that somehow life was “better” for those who lived with primitive dentistry, no cell phones, no internet and no air conditioning. But lets look at two of Friedman’s claims more closely.

First, privacy. Friedman uses the example of Donald Sterling to show lament the fact that in a society where everyone has a mini video camera, one cannot even have privacy in their own home anymore. I think this is a poorly thought out statement because I don’t think people had as much privacy in the past as Friedman claims. Before the age of suburbs, people often lived in closely packed apartment buildings or even tenements where I’m sure privacy was a rarity. If my experience in dorm apartments is any indication, if a couple is having a loud argument on the other side of the wall, it can clearly be heard. Also, especially in small towns where everyone knew everyone, I’m sure it was awfully hard to keep secrets. Anyone who remembers high school knows that rumors travel fast. Because of these points, I disagree with Friedman’s apparent contention that we “used” to have much more privacy than we do now. 

Secondly, Friedman uses the example of dairy farms to basically claim that nothing is “simple” anymore. He says that in the past farm hands only had to know how to milk a cow, but nowadays they need to know how to use automated milking machines controlled by computers. I actually find his claims insulting because he is assuming that farm and other blue collar related tasks are simple. So simple, that he probably never even took the time to use his advanced brain to look into what these common-folk tasks require in terms of skill and intelligence. I don’t know much about dairy farming, but I can almost guarantee that even before the age of computers, blue collar tasks were much more complicated than Friedman thinks they were. He is insulting American workers by essentially claiming they are no longer “smart” enough to compete in the modern economy where blue collar jobs are increasingly demanding the use of technology. Their jobs were never as simple as Friedman thinks they were. And If American workers are lacking skills today, it is not because they are “stupid”. In fact, it is the fault of college “cheerleaders” who claim that every kid needs to go to college and learn Shakespeare and liberal political ideology if they want to be successful. This is actually the opposite of the truth. As the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, 48% of college grads are in jobs that DON’T require a college degree. Meanwhile, there are 600,000 blue collar manufacturing jobs unfilled in this country because our workers don’t have the proper hands-on skills. And these are not poorly paid jobs. Welders have become so short in supply that some are making $150,000 a year in Ohio. So maybe Thomas Friedman should stop assuming that blue collar work is “simple” and start preaching the truth: you don’t need college to be a success, and bring back shop class to high school.

Are College Students Really “Food Insecure?”

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/more-college-students-battle-hunger-as-education-and-living-costs-rise/2014/04/09/60208db6-bb63-11e3-9a05-c739f29ccb08_story.html?tid=pm_pop

 

 

Apparently college students are so poor that they cannot afford food and are therefore “food insecure”. Or at least that’s what the Washington Post wants us to believe. Now I must admit that I do not have my own research and data to dispute them in an empirical manner, but I am still very suspicious of their claims.

For one, it points to a survey saying that 59% of students at Western Oregon University have experienced food insecurity. Thats a very high number. I know college students are poor, but to have well over half of them struggle to buy food seems awfully odd to me considering that we are simultaneously told that the vast majority of college kids drink too much (who pays for that?) and that our population as a whole is much too fat (to put it bluntly). The article mentions that students are often “too proud” to ask their parents or charities for help affording food. I understand that some kids have legitimate reasons why they want to not interact with their parents- perhaps a history of violence or abuse, and I understand not wanting to use private charity. But if our society has eroded to the point where we can’t expect families to help each other and therefore we need government to step in (undoubtably many reading this article will say “lets give all college kids food stamps!”) we have big problems as a country. And as for being too proud for private charity I understand this feeling, but I doubt these same students wouldn’t think twice about accepting food stamps from the government paid for by taxpayers. I remember seeing one past Facebook acquaintance who would put up lots of pictures of alcohol abundant parties and vacations on the beach, but between these pictures he once posted a status bragging that he was eligible to receive food stamps and would promptly take advantage of them. 

Now I do not think that all is well in food in America. We have agricultural subsidies that get paid out to big agribusiness that distort food markets and we have mindless ethanol mandates that actually have the effect of polluting the environment more, raising food prices by turing corn into fuel rather than food, and enriching politically connected businesses at the expense of taxpayers. Naturally these mandates were put in place to save the environment. But what else would you expect from big government “solving” our problems?

As for food stamps, undoubtably there are people in our society that truly need help affording food and we ought to help them. Private charity may not be able to help everyone in need and I personally don’t have an issue using modest government programs to pick up the slack. This is mostly because I believe that the slack ought to be very small. But today we spend billions more on SNAP (food stamps) than we did in the days of Bill Clinton. Part of this is because the Great Recession, but even during our current slow but nonetheless existent recovery the numbers of people enrolled in SNAP continue to increase. Why would an improving economy lead to MORE people struggling to afford food? Something tells me that SNAP is reaching more than just the ones who truly need help…

Of course the big tragedy of this situation is that as we spend more and more on government entitlements and welfare programs and move closer and closer to the cliff of fiscal disaster, we endanger the future of these programs that are desperately needed by the least fortunate in our society. We need to be fiscally responsible today so that we can be compassionate tomorrow.

 

The Cost of College

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If you read the budget reports of some colleges (not naming names…) they actually do brag about “only” increasing tuition by thousands of dollars each year.

 

 

Everyone is familiar with the fact that the cost of attending college has skyrocketed over the past 30 years and that students are finding higher education to be less affordable and less beneficial to their lives. For many the gut response to solving this problem is to increase government aid to students in the form of grants and loans. The problem with this strategy is that we have tried it already and the results are our current state of higher education. As college costs have been rising, government spending on financial aid such as student loans has risen as well. The theory behind this correlation is that colleges know they can increase tuition nearly as much as they want because they know that the government will give students more and more money to pay for college. Unlike a regular marketplace, there seems to be no incentive for traditional colleges to keep costs down. They have a long list of prospective students willing to pay whatever the price may be for that college degree we are all told is essential to our future. 

So what to do about the problem?

First, not everyone should go to college. I think education is great, but there is a difference between education and schooling and for some people it just doesn’t make financial sense for them to get a 4 year college degree. We all have different talents. Some are naturally geared toward academic subjects and some are excellent plumbers. Before we start looking down on plumbers, try to imagine the world without any running water…

Second, the people that decide to go to college should bear a big chunk of the financial burden so that they have to think hard about whether or not a college degree is their cup of tea. Its been long known that public schools have higher dropout rates than more expensive private schools. One explanation is that many students attend school for the “college experience” more than for studying, so they gravitate toward the cheaper schools where they have to pay less money to party on the weekends. One side effect of this is high dropout rates. Now I’m not against my fellow college students having a good time at school, just don’t do it at the taxpayer’s expense.

Third, and this is my own idea so it need a lot of refining, all people from the age of 18 to 25 (age is flexible) should be exempt from income taxes. This way, if you don’t go to college and start working right out of high school you can have a head start in saving money and accumulating wealth. And if you do go to college and get a job soon after graduation you can use your earnings to pay back student loans instead of paying taxes. This scheme can probably best be done with some sort of system of tax credits for young people with student loans or for working young people wanting to save.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, we need to let free market forces work to innovate the way we educate people. The future seems to be in online education that can be highly effective and drastically cut costs. At Boston College I have taken intro courses where you sit in a lecture a few times a week, write a paper, and take a couple tests. There is no reason why this course couldn’t have been given online at a much cheaper cost. Perhaps the future of higher education is a sort of hybrid system where you take cheaper online courses half the time and more expensive traditional on-campus courses half the time. This way you can get the benefits of both styles of education.

Expect many professors and college administrators to fight hard against these changes in the name of “protecting the student.” If costs of college goes down, college revenues will probably decline as well.

Bias on Campus

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Anyone who has bought Paul Krugman’s Econ textbooks can relate to this meme.

 

Whenever I tell older adults that I am a political science major they often ask me if my professors brainwash their students into being progressive liberals. I always reply that I am lucky that my school (Boston College) does a great job at balancing out their political science department with a pretty diverse faculty. Have I had liberal professors whose classes I have suffered through, hesitating to express my “radical” beliefs that the European welfare state model just might be unsustainable in the long run? Yes. But I have also had excellent conservative professors who were brilliant as well as professors whose political views I could not even predict, which is good too. 

But despite my mostly positive experience, I have to say that some bias still exists. For instance, if a student is going to share an example of shoddy/biased media coverage it is expected that he use an example from Fox News and not MSNBC (which is equally stupid and biased). Also, if a professor ever talks about a fringe political movement in America that is a little crazy (that is the implication), the Tea Party is always used. Occupy Wall Street on the other hand is often held up as a noble movement that is fighting for justice, even if they cause some property damage and engage in unlawful behavior from time to time. As a conservative student, this gets pretty annoying pretty fast. 

But I consider myself lucky. I don’t see my school as heavily biased in its teaching of politics, especially compared to other schools. I am glad that there are conservative and liberal professors in the political science department. I wouldn’t want a school to brainwash their students into being conservative either. And when I have to experience conservative bashing on a small scale I often think of my counterparts at schools like Brown, and how much worse it could be.