Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

Virginia Tech Profs Dis-Invite Conservative Columnist to Avoid Controversy

Jason Riley: the wrong kind of black man

Jason Riley: the wrong kind of black man

by James A. Bacon

Jason Riley is an African-American editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page who opines on the condition of black America from a conservative perspective. He receives roughly 15 invitations a year to speak on college campuses on issues ranging from police shootings, the Black Lives matter movement and mass incarceration. One such invitation came recently from Virginia Tech. Here’s what happened:

Last month I was invited by a professor to speak at Virginia Tech in the fall. Last week, the same professor reluctantly rescinded the invitation, citing concerns from his department head and other faculty members that my writings on race in the Wall Street Journal would spark protests. Profiles in campus courage.

This incident follows close on the heels of a move to dis-invite controversial conservative sociologist Charles Murray that was blocked by President Tim Sands. (See “A Small Victory for Academic Freedom.”) Judging from Riley’s brief description, his speech never came to Sands’ attention. What happened was actually worse. The professors in the academic department in question acted proactively to stave off objections before they could even rise to the level of a controversy. What occurred was self-censorship.

Excluding speakers from campus because of their political beliefs makes a mockery of universities as centers of intellectual diversity and free inquiry. (While the tantrums of leftists get all the attention in conservative media, protests, disruptions and dis-invitations are initiated by those on the right as well as the left, as can be seen in this Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) database. They’re not as frequent, but they do occur.)

It’s time for push back. If university administrators can’t maintain intellectual diversity on campus, then maybe it’s time that the boards of visitors start applying pressure. If board members have acted behind the scenes to safeguard free speech, it’s not clear how effective they have been. To made a difference, the public needs to put pressure on board members.

If you know a board member personally, you need to speak up. One board member is within my circle of acquaintances, who I see a couple of times a year, and I can promise you, he’s going to catch an earful!

I don’t know how well Virginia Tech board members will respond to hectoring by me, a Wahoo. But they will listen to Virginia Tech alumni. They will really listen to Virginia Tech alumni who start withholding contributions. What does it matter if a university gains a new building or research lab and loses its soul?

Update: Virginia Tech contends that no formal invitation was ever issued to Riley, according to a letter issued by Robert T. Sumichrast, dean of the Pamplin College of Business. Here’s what he says happened:

A faculty member did reach out to Mr. Riley to inquire of his interest in speaking at Virginia Tech. When Mr. Riley was not selected by the committee the same faculty member emailed Mr. Riley with his personal explanation of why he had not been selected. This faculty member does not represent the committee’s voice and this faculty member did not extend an invitation nor rescind an invitation.

Here follows a list of Virginia Tech’s board of visitor members: Continue reading

Reader Alert: Another Jeremiad about Debt and Risk

Richmond Fed "Bailout Barometer" -- federal backing of total U.S. debt   increased another 0.7% in 2015 to reach almost 61%.

Richmond Fed “Bailout Barometer” — federal backing of total U.S. debt increased another 0.7% in 2015 to reach almost 61%.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., at the Wall Street Journal reminds us how countries around the world, including the United States, are doubling down on debt to stave off recession:

The Richmond Fed’s “bailout barometer” shows that, since the 2008 crisis, 61% of all liabilities in the U.S. financial system are now implicitly or explicitly guaranteed by government, up from 45% in 1999.

Citigroup estimates that the top 20 advanced industrial economies, in addition to their enormous, recognized public debts, also face unrecorded additional debts of $78 trillion for their unfunded pension systems.

Six years after a crisis caused by excessive borrowing, McKinsey estimates that even visible global debt has increased by $57 trillion, while in the U.S., Europe, Japan and China growth to pay back these liabilities has been slowing or absent.

No one likes recessions but they serve a useful purpose — they wring bad investments out of the economy and reallocate resources to more productive uses. But that’s not much consolation to a laid off Intel employee in the U.S. or a laid off cement-plant worker in China. So, politicians and central bankers around the world are doubling down on variations of the same strategy of spending, borrowing and financial repression (driving down interest rates to transfer wealth from savers to debtors) to perpetuate economic growth. When countries start experimenting with negative interest rates, the consequences of which no one can predict, you know that policy makers are desperate.

The global economy is entering a new phase: the end game in which democratic welfare states struggle to maintain massive entitlements in the face of aging populations and slowing economic growth. The United States is not as far down this road as some other countries, but absent major policy changes, deficits and the national debt are heading inexorably higher. Don’t believe me — believe the Congressional Budget Office.

Meanwhile, the four leading contenders for U.S. president are advancing platforms totally disconnected from reality. The cost of Bernie Sanders’ programs, if implemented, would cost $18 trillion over ten years, estimates the Wall Street Journal. Donald Trump’s tax-cut plan would cost $9.5 trillion over 10 years, says the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, while the Ted Cruz tax plan would cost $8.5 trillion, according to the same group. The least fiscally irresponsible candidate, Hillary Clinton, would expand government spending by a mere $1 trillion over ten years, according to the McClatchy news organization

We can argue about the biases of the groups crunching these numbers, but that would miss the point. The odds are overwhelming that the next president of the United State will not be remotely serious about balancing the budget. Liberals argue that bigger spending can be paid for with taxes on the rich with little or no adverse impact on the economy, and conservatives can argue that the “dynamic” effects of tax cuts will stimulate economic growth and bring in more revenue than static models would indicate. Yeah, right.

Hither Virginia? There is little that Virginia can do to buffer its economy from these national and international trends, nor can state and local governments insulate themselves from collapsing tax revenue in the next recession. But they can protect themselves by maintaining AAA bond ratings and putting their public pensions on a sound footing so that when the crunch does come, they will be better positioned to meet long-term obligations without debilitating tax increases.

I am particularly worried about two categories of state-local debt. The first category is university debt backed by revenue from students. The higher ed bubble is unsustainable even during a period of modest economic growth. A recession will leave many institutions destitute, and a Boomergeddon-scale calamity could leave the entire industry in a shambles. A second category is debt taken on for “economic development” projects like sports stadiums, convention centers, golf courses, and other glittering objects that are best paid for by private investors trained in analyzing risk.

You can add a third category of long-term obligation: maintaining transportation services such as Washington-area metro, Virginia Beach light rail, Richmond bus rapid transit, and the like, which will require government subsidies in perpetuity. Could local governments support those services in a severe revenue downturn? Doubtful. Likewise, I am suspicious of toll-backed highway bonds assuming long-term traffic growth even as the evolution to more dense, mixed-use communities scrambles traditional commuting patterns, and as Uber, Lyft, Bridj, transportation-as-a-service enterprises, and self-driving cars seem destined to radically alter Americans’ driving habits.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes about building “anti-fragile” enterprises and institutions — entities that are not merely resilient in the face of massive adversity but can thrive in adversity. Virginia can become anti-fragile if state and local governments, in the face of a global economic meltdown, can maintain the ability to provide core government services while other states and metros are falling apart. Talent and capital will migrate to the oases of stability. A handful of states will prosper. Will ours be one of them?

Thumbs up for Virginia Undergrad Business Schools


McIntire School of Commerce

The new Bloomberg ranking of undergraduate business programs in the United States provides the following rankings among the top 100:

University of Virginia (McIntire): No. 5
College of William & Mary (Mason): 12
James Madison: 41
University of Richmond (Robins): 46
Virginia Tech (Pamplin): 64

Virginia universities may not be leaders in R&D, but they produce a wealth of human capital. It would be really interesting to know how many graduates of these business school pursue careers in Virginia. The fact that McIntire, Mason and Robins are rated much higher by students than by employers suggests that they are under-recruited by business, particularly out-of-state firms. I would conjecture that a disproportionate number of these grads stay in Virginia. That may or may not be good for them professionally, but is undoubtedly beneficial to the Virginia economy.


Polite but Restrained Applause for UVa’s Scaled-Back Tuition Hike


by James A. Bacon

Let’s give a polite golf clap to the University of Virginia. After getting a $3 million boost in state support in the new FY 2017 budget, the Board of Trustees has scaled back its planned 3% tuition increase for continuing in-state students to 1.5%, reports the Daily Progress. The planned 10% increase for incoming state students will be trimmed to 8.5%.

After years of relentless tuition increases, the action comes as a welcome break to Virginia parents. The 1.5% adjustment still exceeds the rate of inflation, which was close to o.5% between 2015 and 2016, but it’s in line with recent increases in household incomes. (The median household income figures for 2015 aren’t available, but the figure increased about 1.8% between 2013 and 2014.)

“The University of Virginia’s decision is a direct result of good governance by both state and university leaders,” said House Speaker Howell, R-Stafford in a press release. “The General Assembly made significant investments in higher education aimed at improving access and affordability for Virginia families and UVA responded decisively by cutting its tuition increase in half.”

Howell said the General Assembly deserves credit for coughing up $78 million more for higher education than Gov. Terry McAuliffe had included in his original budget proposal. “The House of Delegates led the effort this year to increase funding for higher education, resulting in $120 million specifically to help hold costs down for Virginia families, who continue to struggle with the ever-increasing cost of college.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Howell’s statement is fascinating. To me it shows how the Republican Party of Virginia has given up any pretext of driving fundamental reform of state-run institutions, and has evolved instead into the party that panders to the rural and suburban middle class. Thus, rightly observing that the middle class parents feel crushed by the rising cost of a college education, the entry ticket into a middle-class lifestyle for their children, the Republican answer is to increase the public subsidy without strings or conditions. That is essentially the same solution proposed by President Obama on the national level — increase the availability of Pell grants and student loans.

That wasn’t always the case. I remember how soaring college tuition was an issue during the Allen administration between 1994 and 1998. (Yeah, I’m that old). I can’t recall whether the General Assembly cut or increased state funding back then, but I do remember how Gov. George Allen pushed the idea of restructuring higher ed. There was a recognition that publicly assisted colleges and universities had obligations to make hard choices: by re-engineering processes, cutting administration, or pruning academic programs that were no longer relevant or suffered declining enrollment. While the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia does exercise some oversight — mainly over the expansion into new programs — I don’t see anyone pushing hard for those kinds of reforms today. Much is given to universities but little is asked in return.

With the exception of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which are struggling for relevance and survival, and perhaps the community colleges, which have maintained a focus on job training, the priority of Virginia colleges and universities is on erecting new buildings, hiring more renowned faculty, bolstering scientific research, recruiting students with higher SAT scores and launching new programs. They are not driven by profit; they are driven by a hunger for prestige. And they compete against other institutions also seeking to enhance their prestige. There is no finish line, just an endless, open-ended competition in which public subsidies and student loans feed the beast.

Higher ed is out of control, and the only solutions the political class can devise are bigger state subsidies and more generous student loans. So, while I regard UVa’s tuition decision as a minor tactical victory for college affordability, the Board of Visitors inevitably will come back in later  years with new, grandiose plans that require higher tuition and fees. We are nowhere near winning the war of college affordability.

Debt Bondage Update

debt_bondageby James A. Bacon

As student loan debt passed the $1.3 trillion mark, 43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with student loans were not making their loan payments, according to new numbers published by the U.S. Department of Education. About 3.6 million borrowers were in default on $56 billion in student debt as of Jan. 1, meaning they had gone at least a year without making a payment. Meanwhile, another three million owing $110 billion were in “forbearance,” meaning they had received permission to temporarily halt payments, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Advocacy groups fault loan service companies for not doing enough to reach troubled borrowers. But Navient Corp., which services student loans and offers payment plans tied to income, says it attempts to reach each borrower on average 230 to 300 times through letters, emails, calls and text messages in the year leading up to default. Ninety percent of those borrowers never respond. A large percentage of borrowers have fallen off the radar screen — they are untrackable.

Meanwhile, worried about the federal government’s astronomical bad debt exposure — borrowers are behind on more than $200 billion overall — the government is garnishing wages and tax refunds. Needless to say, falling behind on loans also hurts credit ratings, making it more difficult or more expensive to take on other forms of debt.

The WSJ quotes Carlo Salerno, an economist who studies higher education and consults for the private student-lending industry:

The government imposes virtually no credit checks on borrowers, requires no cosigners and doesn’t screen people for their preparedness for college-level course work. “On what planet does a financing vehicle with those kinds of terms and performance metrics make sense,” he said.

Bacon’s bottom line: All told some $200 billion in student loans are at risk of not being repaid. Much, if not most, of that sum has accumulated in recent years as the result of liberalized federal lending policies, creating a massive potential liability for taxpayers. The country now faces a hideous choice — either hound millions of Americans for repayment of their loans, driving many of them out of the workforce or into the underground economy, and ruining their credit ratings in the bargain, or institute a debt-forgiveness jubilee that rewards irresponsible behavior and punishes taxpayers.

The reckless expansion of student lending over the past several years is one of the most disastrous social policies in U.S. history, harming many of the lower-income Americans the program was designed to help. There has been nothing to compare to this creation of a new class of indebted servitude… well, nothing since the home-ownership mania of the 1990s and 2000s that lured lower-income Americans into houses they could not afford and obliterated their net worth in the real estate crash.

Americans think Wall Street is stealing them blind. While the big financial institutions did benefit enormously from the federal bailout during the last recession — a bailout thousands of Main Street businesses never got — at least they repaid their loans! The biggest blight on lower-income Americans over the past 10 to 20 years hasn’t been the Chinese, or the Mexicans, or Wall Street, or greedy millionaires and billionaires, it has been calamitous social policy that has immiserated those it intended to help.

When will we ever learn?

Update: Probably never. Headline from today’s Washington Post… “Obama administration pushes banks to make home loans to people with weaker credit.” The federal government doesn’t just tax us to advance its social-justice goals, it commandeers the credit system of the entire country, creating a new form of systemic risk.

JMU’s War on Men

James Madison -- now rolling in his grave

James Madison — now rolling in his grave

“John Doe,” accused of sexually assaulting a classmate at James Madison University, has filed a lawsuit accusing the university administration of denying him due process. He had sex with “Jane Roe” on multiple occasions, then, after she spotted him with another woman, she charged that the first time they had sex had been non-consensual on the grounds that she had been incapacitated, i.e. drunk, at the time. After reviewing the evidence, a three-person panel cleared John Doe of sexual misconduct. But the administration initiated a second hearing culminating with his suspension from the university for five-and-a-half years. Now Judge Elizabeth Dillon with the federal district court of Western Virginia has ruled that his lawsuit can proceed. Read the account in the blog here.

My question is this: Has JMU’s administration embraced radical feminist ideology so tightly that it has tossed out all notions of due process in order to achieve a politically correct result? Or does JMU fear retaliation from the Obama administration if it shows insufficient resolve in combating the supposed “epidemic of rape” on its campus? My hunch is it’s a little bit of both. Meanwhile, no one dares address the real problem: a student culture of widespread drunken and promiscuous sex in which women conduct themselves with appallingly poor judgment and men with crass selfishness.


Getting with the Bro-gram

broThe University of Virginia is the most bro-gressive college in the Sweet 16, according to Andrew Beaton with the Wall Street Journal. Writes Beaton:

There is no standard definition for what makes a person a “bro,” but you generally know one when you see one. They are mostly male students from the East Coast who join fraternities, gravitate to majors in finance and can tell you exactly how many beers they “crushed” last night. They like to wear bow ties in a sort of neo-Preppy way, but oddly, also tank tops. They’ve seen every episode of “Entourage” five times and like to address each other as bro, broski or brofessor.

By Beaton’s reckoning, UVa squeaked ahead of Notre Dame, Syracuse and Duke for the coveted No. 1 spot in bro-dom. It really helps to have a lacrosse program and a J. Crewe store nearby. See the ranking here.