Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

Civil Rights for Me, Not for Thee

Justice-free zone?

Justice-free zone?

A former University of Virginia law student filed a federal lawsuit yesterday alleging that the university, following guidelines issued by the federal Office of Civil Rights, violated his due process when finding him responsible for sexual misconduct with an intoxicated student and banned him from the university.

According to the suit, a retired judge serving as fact-finder in the U.Va proceeding found that the plaintiff, identified only as “John Doe,” did not have “effective consent” when he had sex in August 2013 with a fellow law student, “Jane Doe” on the grounds of her alcohol consumption. The judge, who called the decision “very close,” was required by the Office of Civil Rights to use the “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof rather than the stronger “clear and convincing” standard.

John Doe was found responsible for the incident and sanctioned with a life-time ban and four months of counseling. He received his degree but has not yet been admitted to the bar and cannot practice law, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Bacon’s bottom line: Details from the news account, and presumably the lawsuit itself, are so meager that it is impossible for a reader to draw strong conclusions about the incident itself. We don’t know how drunk the woman was, how drunk the man was, or what communication may have transpired between the two. If the woman passed out and John Doe had sex with her, he should be charged with rape and, if convicted, sent to prison to serve a sentence between five years and life as called for in the Virginia penal code. If they had both been drinking heavily, engaged in sex and the woman later regretted the act, he shouldn’t suffer punishment at all.

Most likely, the circumstances were more ambiguous that those two examples. Regardless, it seems that the system of administrative justice imposed by the Office of Civil Rights likely led to a miscarriage of justice. If a real rape occurred, John Doe got off easy. If the incident was a case of mutually agreeable drunken sex, he shouldn’t be punished at all. Because the incident occurred in a university environment, the normal rules of criminal procedure were suspended in order to achieve a politically driven result dictated by Washington.


The UVa Model: More Money for R&D, Faculty and Financial Aid

rotundaThe University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors gave fast-track approval to the university’s $3 billion year-ahead budget. The budget includes a $64 million increase, 22%, for research funding; an additional $12 million, 11%, for financial aid; and $13.5 million more for faculty hiring. Meanwhile, despite rolling back a planned 3% next-year tuition increase to 1.5%, reports the Daily Progress, in-state students entering this fall still will pay about 20% more than those entering in 2014.

There was only one dissenting vote: from soon-to-be-outgoing board member Helen Dragas. The Virginia Beach home builder said the university should have done more to avoid tuition increases. “I think we’ve been adopting a private model of high tuition-high [financial] aid that’s unsustainable,” she said.

Dragas repeated her opposition to the plan before Thursday’s vote, saying it is a “tax” on middle-income families to help pay increasing cost of attendance for low-income families.

“If we have the constitutional authority to tax one family to pay for another, without being elected, then surely we’ve found a loophole in — rather than an intention of — the Constitution,” she said.

Rector Bill Goodwin took issue with Dragas’ statistics. The Daily Progress quotes him as saying the increase in financial aid would help middle-income families, as well as those below the poverty line. The Affordable Excellence plan, he said, used tuition increases to lower net costs.

Now, I know that Bill Goodwin is a very hard-nosed guy, and he knows numbers, but I don’t know how his numbers add up. Maybe families of middle-class students do get a small rebate. But do they come out ahead after that 20% tuition increase? I’m betting they come out behind — although I will publish any numbers that say otherwise.

Meanwhile, the larger point still stands: UVa is being run in the interest of the institution itself, not the students or the families that pay their tuition. The board salves its conscience by providing financial aid to the poor and maybe a few crumbs to the middle class. Perhaps pursuing policies that bolster R&D, hire star faculty and increase the national prestige of the institution is what UVa should do. Maybe we Virginians should begin thinking of UVa as an economic engine for Charlottesville and the state, not a vehicle for providing an affordable quality education for Virginians. But if that’s what’s happening, let’s be honest about it.


Another Shot across Higher Ed’s Bow


by James A. Bacon

Economist James V. Koch knows a thing or two about higher education. He spent 15 years as president of two public universities, including Old Dominion University, where he still serves as president emeritus. So, when he thinks that higher education leadership has lost its way, we should pay attention.

In an op-ed in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, Koch starts with numbers that readers of Bacon’s Rebellion will find familiar: Between 2001 and 2015, in-state tuition and fees have increased 305% at the College of William & Mary, 248% at Virginia Commonwealth University, 241% at the University of Virginia, and lesser but still hefty percentages at other state universities. That compares to growth in Virginians’ median household income of 6.8%. (ODU hiked its fees a relatively modest 143%.)

Koch acknowledges that the decline in state support for higher education — from $8,310 per student to $4,771 over the same period — was partly to blame. But only partly. Data for 79 flagship public universities indicate that higher ed institutions are spending smaller percentages on instruction, and more on institutional support, academic support and research.

“One can argue that many of our public colleges have been sucked into cost-inflating behaviors that almost inevitably end up requiring tuition and fee increases,” he says. Do “spiffy residence halls and climbing walls” really help prepare students for the world after education? “Virginians ought to be more interested in seeing evidence that students emerge from our public colleges as critical thinkers who have acquired the tools and appreciations that will enable them to compete for jobs.”

Legislators and boards of visitors, Koch says, need to ask more pointed questions about the “cost-inflating behaviors, rankings competitions, and mission creep activities” that are pricing many Virginians out of higher education.


Tech’s “Smart Infrastructure” Initiative Progresses

Virginia Tech's Goodwin Hall: traditional hokie stone on the outside, braniac smart building on the inside

Virginia Tech’s Goodwin Hall: traditional hokie stone on the outside, braniac smart building on the inside

by James A. Bacon

Virginia Tech has been re-thinking for a several years now how to invigorate traditional engineering disciplines by integrating civil engineering and computer engineering to create “smart infrastructure.” The $100 million initiative received a $5 million boost yesterday from the Hitt family, owners of Falls Church-based Hitt Contraction, a company that typically recruits eight to ten Virginia Tech graduates every year, according to the Washington Business Journal.

The Tech initiative is incredibly timely. In arguably the biggest revolution since the invention of structural steel that made possible the construction of new classes of bridges and skyscrapers in the 1930s, the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) is introducing radical change to the construction industry. The IoT is a catch phrase for the integration of ubiquitous sensors into buildings and structures that generate data that can be used to improve performance.

An in-house Virginia Tech article made note last year of Virginia Tech’s “Smart Infrastructure Laboratory,” which includes smart building technology that, among other things, can guide occupants to safety during disasters, and its Structural Systems and Lifecycle Reliability Team, which works at the intersection of engineering materials and systems to advance structural safety, resiliency and durability.

Virginia Tech’s Goodwin Hall … is known as the world’s most-instrumented building for measurement of vibrations. Measuring motion and vibration inside and outside the walls, 212 accelerometers can detect even the slightest movement. The sensors feed data into data acquisition boxes via 65,000 feet of cable interconnecting the entire system. Data can be used to save energy costs, guide maintenance crews, or deploy first responders in an emergency.

The Structural Systems and Lifecycle Reliability Team has a measurement and visualization system that can generate 3-D representations of any object or environment over time. These models can identify gradual changes such as a gusset plate buckling in a bridge or cracks in a building after an earthquake. The system has been used to measure deformations in a steel plate wall and in the field to identify cracks in a concrete bridge over the James River.

Virginia Tech will start work in January on “Hitt Hall” for smart construction and another unnamed building for intelligent design. Meanwhile, Tech is expanding and linking its smart road partnership with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), its smart city partnership with Arlington County, and a 300-acre “smart neighborhood” to serve as a proving ground for new technologies.

Bacon’s bottom line: The Internet of Things is revolutionizing the built environment — everything from buildings to roads and bridges, from waste water systems to electric grids. The cost of sensors is plummeting, and so is the cost of transmitting data to the Cloud. The idea of “smart” bridges and “smart” buildings is not hype — it’s real. It’s here. And leading construction companies like Hitt are building teams that can pull all the pieces together. Tech is wisely making the program multidisciplinary, opening it up to engineers, business majors and students in other study areas, reports the WBJ, “as the lines between technology, infrastructure and business continue to blur.”

I can’t believe that Virginia Tech is the only university exploiting this opportunity — I don’t track what other institutions are doing — but at the very least it deserves kudos for being an early mover. Hopefully, Virginia-based companies like Hitt Construction will tap graduates with the new skill sets to gain a competitive economic advantage in the marketplace.

Meanwhile, Virginia political and government leaders would do well to acquaint themselves with the state-of-the-art work at Virginia Tech and start thinking creatively how to apply the Internet of Things to Virginia’s own infrastructure. The potential maintenance savings from the application of smart technologies to government-owned buildings, utilities and transportation infrastructure is immense. The potential to optimize transportation systems, conserve energy and reduce man’s impact on the environment is transformative. VDOT and Arlington County are ahead of the curve. Everyone else needs to get with the program.

W&M Takes the Money and Runs

History of William & Mary cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room, board,

History of William & Mary cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room, board) for in-state students.

by James A. Bacon

The General Assembly boosted state funding for higher education by $300 million in the upcoming two-year budget in the hope that public universities would restrain tuition increases. Most universities have complied. Even the University of Virginia dialed back its planned tuition hike from 3% to 1.4%. But the College of William & Mary has decided to take the money and run. An extra $3.8 million from the state is not enough to induce the university to back off its plan to jack up tuition 12% for the incoming freshman class this fall.

W&M’s defense, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch: Technically, the tuition does not constitute an increase, for it applies to incoming undergraduate students only, and the university has pledged to freeze their payments for their four-year attendance at the college.

Maybe so, but tuition just keeps climbing, along with the overall cost of attendance, as can be seen in the graph above taken from online W&M data. (You might notice that four years of data are missing. That’s because W&M switched formats for reporting the cost of attendance, omitting the cost of room and board for four years, making it impossible for anyone drawing information from the Web to make a continuous, apples-to-apples comparison of the total cost of attendance.)

If the total cost of in-state attendance had marched in lockstep with the Consumer Price Index, it would be about $9,400 today. Instead, the actual cost will be an eyelash shy of $36,000 — four times higher.

The perennial excuse for higher tuition and fees is cuts in state funding. There’s just enough truth there to be semi-plausible. State support for William & Mary has rebounded in recent years but it is still lower than back in 2001. Here are the numbers for state support:

2000-2001 school year — $50 million
2012-2013 — $40.6 million
2013-2014 — $42.4 million
2014-2015 — 42.5 million
2015-2016 — $43.7 million
2016-2017 — $47.3 million

Adjusting for inflation, the General Assembly has fallen $20 million behind over 16 years. But consider: there are 6,300 undergraduates enrolled at W&M. At $36,000 a pop, increased tuition, fees and revenues (before adjusting for student aid) should bring in $227 million, an increase of about $189 million. Cuts in state support for higher education account for about 10% of that increase. Clearly, there are far more important factors at work, and just as clearly, those costs are out of control.

Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, is not happy. “I’m extremely disappointed,” he told the T-D. “This is mind-numbing ad potentially shows the (college) board of visitors are out of touch with reality.”

Said Vice Chair R. Steven Landes, R-Augusta: “”They’re really making it tough for middle-income individuals and families to afford William & Mary.” The board’s decision, he said, is “outrageous.”

Bacon’s bottom line: William & Mary perceives itself as a “public ivy.” Its administration, faculty and board of visitors are all driven by a desire to maximize the prestige of the institution, which means enrolling students with higher SAT scores, recruiting more prestigious faculty, building a bigger endowment, and doing all the other things that win accolades in the U.S. News & World-Report top college rankings — even while competing against other prestigious institutions who also want to climb in the rankings. Meanwhile, the university is buckling under higher regulatory costs, with the federal government playing a more intrusive role than ever before, and it needs more money to pay for financial aid for poor and working class students.

Of all the competing goals that W&M would like to achieve, affordability for the middle class gets the short stick… which happens to be a top goal of General Assembly politicians catering to middle-class constituents. Tension is built into the state-university relationship.

Deep down inside, William & Mary wants to privatize, jack tuition and fees to the level the market will bear, recycle money back to the poor, and increase its standing and prestige compared to peer institutions. While I vacillate on the topic, I usually tend to the view that we should let W&M be W&M. Let the institution go private, end state support, and re-direct the $47 million a year to other public institutions.

How Diversity Initiatives Could Increase Black Alienation

VCU student protest. Image credit:

VCU student protest. Image credit:

by James A. Bacon

Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim make a scary prediction: The expansion of diversity programs in response to racial protests in American universities will serve to isolate and alienate African-American students and increase racial tensions, the very opposite of their intended result.

Haidt and Jussim, professors at New York University and Rutgers University respectively, advance their argument in an important Wall Street Journal op-ed last week. Their argument is as germane here in Virginia as anywhere in the United States, where African-Americans students at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University have demanded that the universities enroll more blacks, hire more black professors, implement sensitivity “training” programs, and dedicate more funds to black cultural organizations.

“The existing research literature suggests that such reforms will fail to achieve their stated aims of reducing discrimination and inequality,” write the authors in “Hard Truths about Race on Campus.” “In fact, we think that they are likely to damage race relations and to make campus life more uncomfortable for everyone, particularly black students.”

What follows is essentially a Reader’s Digest summation of the Haidt-Jussim argument. I have done my best to avoid injecting my own perspectives into the narrative until the “bottom line” segment, although I readily concede that I agree whole-heartedly with the conclusions.

It is a trait of humankind to draw distinctions between “us” and “them,” and for people to discriminate in favor of in-group members. That does not mean that drawing distinctions based on race is inevitable, however. When groups face a common threat or challenge, enmity dissolves and a mindset of “one for all and all for one” emerges.

The problem is that the demands of black students on many college campuses would sharpen race-based distinctions.

A common demand is to admit more black students into college. In a world in which the K-12 pipeline of graduating high school students vary widely by race in their academic preparation, meeting that goal would require adopting different admission standards for applicants of different races. Even now, in the absence of such aggressive recruiting, Asian students enter with combined math/verbal SAT scores on the order of 80 points higher than white students and 200 points higher than black students.

If a school commits to doubling the number of black students, it will have to reach deeper into its pool of black applicants, admitting those with weaker qualifications, particularly if most other school are doing the same thing. This is likely to make racial gaps larger, which would strengthen the negative stereotypes that students of color find when they arrive on campus.

Not only would such aggressive recruiting of black students perpetuate negative stereotypes, it would perpetuate segregation on campus. Students tend to befriend those who are similar to themselves in academic development. “If a school increases its affirmative action efforts in ways that expand those gaps, it is likely to end up with more self-segregation and fewer cross-race friendships, and therefore with even stronger feelings of alienation among black students.”

As minority students retreat into the ethnic enclaves enabled by increased funding for cultural organizations, the perception will increase that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and the feeling that they are victimized by virtue of their ethnicity. “If the goal is to foster a welcoming and inclusive culture on campus, the best current research suggests that the effort will backfire.”

Could such results be offset by diversity “training”? The limited literature on the subject suggests not. Such programs “often induce ironic negative effects (such as reactance or backlash) by implying that participants are at fault for current diversity challenges.”

How about “microaggression” training? That, too, will likely inflame racial tensions. Continue reading

Meanwhile at GMU… a Battle over Scalia’s Name and Legacy

GMU President Angel Cabrera. Photo credit: Washington Business Journal

GMU President Angel Cabrera. Photo credit: Washington Business Journal

by James A. Bacon

There are only a few prestigious outposts of free-market thought in the world of higher education. The Hoover Institution at Stanford comes to mind, as does the University of Chicago School of Economics. Then there are two gems at George Mason University — the Mercatus Center and the George Mason School of Law.

Mercatus scholars opine on economic issues with an emphasis on fiscal conservatism and free-markets, while the School of Law is renowned as a center of the discipline of “law and economics,” which applies microeconomic theory to the analysis of the law. Mercatus has come under scrutiny for its support by free-market industrialist Charles Koch, the very mention of whose name sends progressives into paroxysms but until recently, the school of law had escaped vilification. But that’s all changed since $30 million in donations from the Charles Koch Foundation and an anonymous donor would rename the law school in honor of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Various schools, centers and institutes in higher education across the country are named in honor of liberal, progressive and Democratic icons, but the thought that a single law school being named after a conservative paragon is too much for some to bear. Last week, GMU’s faculty senate passed a resolution expressing “deep concern” about the gifts and the renaming of the school in honor of Scalia.

Faculty members objected to memorializing a Supreme Court Justice who contributed to the “polarized climate in this country that runs counter to the values of a university that celebrates civil discourse” and worried about external branding of the university “as a conservative institution.”

Furthermore, the faculty senate said the administration had failed to disclose the terms of the gifts that would provide funding for 12 new faculty, additional staff and support for two new centers for a ten-year period, and wondered what long-term liability the university might incur from these new commitments.

The controversy has gotten considerable press in the Washington area. Some were quick to play the race card. Washingtonian magazine, for instance, gave prominent attention to the remarks of the president of GMU’s Black Law Student Association, who called Scalia “a borderline racist who’s made terrible comments” referring to affirmative action. Such an action, she said, would only contribute to a feeling of “isolation” in a student body that’s only 4% black.

But GMU President Angel Cabrera stood firm in a letter responding to the faculty:

Agreement with his views is, however, not the reason why we are renaming the law school for Justice Scalia. We are not endorsing his opinions on any specific issue. We are recognizing a man who served our country at the highest level of government for 30 years and who many experts of diverse ideological persuasions—from faculty colleagues in our law school, to his peers on the Supreme Court, to the president of the United States—consider to have been a great jurist who had a profound impact in the legal field.

Earlier this year, Cabrera noted, GMU had been criticized for “opinions expressed by some of our faculty in the area of climate change prevention.” Some colleagues suggested that he publicly condemn those views and distance the university from them. “My position then was clear and has not changed: we must ensure that George Mason University remains an example of diversity of thought.”

(Cabrera was referring, of course, to the criticism of Jagadish Shukla, the climatologist who signed a letter urging the Obama administration to criminally prosecute Exxon-Mobil under the federal racketeering act for misrepresenting what it knew about climate change. I can’t think of the last time a GMU law school faculty member recommended criminal prosecution of an ideological foe. Shukla also, as it happens, came under scrutiny for doubling his university compensation by paying himself from his federal grant money, not to mention putting his wife on his foundation payroll.)

As for GMU taking $50 million from the Koch Foundation over the past decade, it is “farfetched,” Cabrera said, to suggest that such gifts could shape the ideology of the largest public research university in Virginia.

“I want to emphasize that our commitment to diversity and inclusion will not waver,” he said. On the contrary, the $30 million gift will make scholarships available to “help attract diverse students to the law school.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Here is one more example of leftists trying to squelch conservative thought on campus. Thirty-eight percent of all Americans may self-identify as conservative, more than the 24% who self-identify as liberal, but liberals and progressives are so cocooned with like-minded brethren that conservative thought seems to them not merely misguided or wrong but grotesque and offensive — indeed, so offensive as to be run off campus.

I have criticized GMU for the way the university has seemingly swept the Shukla controversy under the rug, but I have to give credit to Cabrera for his cajones this time. The Washington media mostly ignored the Shukla story, but the Scalia story has generated massive publicity. Cabrera’s goal is building the institution. If that means welcoming climatologist Shukla and his Institute for Global Environment and Society from the University of Maryland (an effort that preceded Cabrera’s tenure), then OK. If it means accepting gifts from Charles Koch to endow chairs for the law school, then he’s OK with that as well.

I would agree with the faculty senate on one thing, remarkably enough: There should be transparency to these mega-gifts. If the donors attach strings, the university community should know what they are. Also, it is a legitimate question to ask if the $30 million gift could create long-term financial obligations for the commonwealth. Of course, that transparency applies to all mega-gifts, not just those donated by the Koch Foundation.