Author Archives: James A. Bacon

A College-Student Bill of Rights

by James A. Bacon

College students should be reimbursed if they don’t receive the full benefits they pay for in tuition, fees, room, and board, declares the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.

“COVID-19 has illuminated the long over-due need for basic consumer protections for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of college,” said Partners president James Toscano in a statement launching the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights.  “As we saw in the spring when campuses were forced to close, colleges and universities cannot guarantee delivery of the quality of instruction, services and benefits they advertise. Still, very few are offering tuition discounts or are refunding fees, and in fact, some are actually raising their tuition.”

Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered. Toscano believes the litigation would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed. “For any other investment the size of college tuition, there are fundamental consumer rights in place to make sure that consumers are fully informed of the cost and benefits of the services for which they are paying, and they have a recourse if these are not delivered.”

The situation in Virginia is in flux as public and private universities receive an influx of college students for the new academic year. Higher-ed institutions are adopting an array of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, including frequent testing, contact tracing, and social distancing. Athletic events are being canceled. More classes are being taught online. While the policy mix varies from institution to institution, campus life will not be the same, and in many cases neither will the learning experience. Continue reading

Closing the Digital Divide More Imperative than Ever

by James A. Bacon

As K-12 schools, community colleges and universities shift ever more learning online, the so-called “digital divide” — disparate access to high-speed Internet access and computers — is looming as a bigger problem than ever before.

A new analysis by the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) finds that more than 200,000 K-12 students (14%) and more than 60,000 college students (10%) lack broadband subscriptions in the home. The survey also found that 173,000 K-12 students (12%) and nearly 23,000 college students (4%) lack a laptop or desktop computer.

The lack of access to broadband is most acute in rural areas, where broadband infrastructure is spottiest, but is widespread in Virginia’s urban areas as well. Half of all students without devices live in urban areas.

“The research looked at whether students actually had broadband service in the home,” said Tom Allison, SCHEV’s senior associate for finance and innovation policy and author of the report, “rather than if it was available in their area. That is important because a household might have a dozen companies to choose from, but won’t benefit if they can’t afford it.” Continue reading

Substandard Schooling for All!

by Kerry Dougherty

File this under “You just can’t win.”

Parents of Fairfax County school children have had enough. For decades these folks were accustomed to excellence in public education. They proudly sat atop the Virginia educational heap. Shoot, Fairfax is home to Thomas Jefferson High School, widely considered the best public high school in the country:

“Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is a Fairfax County public magnet school so competitive that its 17-percent acceptance rate is identical to Georgetown University’s. Since 2008, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report have both ranked it the number-one high school in the country three times,” according to Washingtonian Magazine.

So, imagine parents’ chagrin when they found that the county was completely unprepared for distance learning when the governor ordered the schools closed last spring. Fairfax County’s experiment in virtual education was a complete disaster.

This is not what families in one of Virginia’s wealthiest counties expect or will tolerate.

To make matters worse, militant teachers groups in Northern Virginia — including a bona fide union, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers — made their opposition to in-person learning abundantly clear earlier this summer. Continue reading

Do Summer Camps Warrant Bail-out Funds?

Camp Mount Shenandoah: less screen time, more time outdoors

by James A. Bacon

A philosophical question to ponder: If the Commonwealth of Virginia shuts down an entire industry by executive order to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, what moral obligation does it have to help the businesses survive the epidemic?

Literally no industry in Virginia has been more impacted by the emergency shutdown than overnight summer camps. Summer camps do not comprise a particularly big industry — one guesstimate is that 75 establishments generate in the realm of $100 million a year — so they cannot be said be be economically “essential.” But they are essential, camp advocates say, for the mental health of thousands of Virginia kids, who need physical activity and social interaction.

Many industries have been slammed by the emergency shutdown. However, none but the summer camps have been entirely shuttered for all three phases. Camps generate 90% or more of total revenue from seven to 12 weeks during the summer, and if they are forced to close during that period, there is no way to make up for lost revenue. Continue reading

As COVID Looms, W&M the Latest to Cut Executive Compensation

W&M President Katherine Rowe

by James A. Bacon

We won’t know for another week or two, when kids show up on campus, what enrollments will be at Virginia’s colleges and universities. Due to massive uncertainties engendered by the COVID-19 epidemic, no one is sure how many students who committed to attend will appear when dormitories open in the next week or two. Higher-ed institutions across the state are bracing for the worst. Indeed, uncertainty is so acute that some college presidents and senior officers are proactively taking pay cuts.

College of William & Mary President Katherine Rowe and two senior colleagues, the university’s provost and chief operating officer, are the latest. Rowe, who earned $672,000 last year, is asking the Board of Visitors to reduce her compensation by 15% through the end of the year. The other two executives have voluntarily taken cuts of 12%.

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and other school leaders have announced 10% salary cuts. Ryan racked up $1,189,000 in compensation last year. Virginia Commonwealth University has said that “employee furloughs may be necessary.” Among those furloughed would be President Michael Rao. Continue reading

Saylor Invests a Quarter Billion in “Digital Gold”

Michael Saylor

It’s one thing for some geeks in a garage to spin up a new Bitcoin currency. It’s another when a sophisticated data-analytics company with nearly a half billion dollars in revenues dives in the cyber-currency. MicroStrategy Inc., one of Northern Virginia’s more prominent IT firms, has invested $250 million from its cash stockpile to purchase 21,454 Bitcoins.

CEO Michael Saylor is none too optimistic about the long-term future of the economy. Returns on its $550 million cash hoard are declining, and the dollar is weakening.

“Those macro factors include, among other things, the economic and public health crisis precipitated by Covid-19, unprecedented government financial stimulus measures including quantitative easing adopted around the world, and global political and economic uncertainty,” Saylor said. “We believe that, together, these and other factors may well have a significant depreciating effect on the long-term real value of fiat currencies and many other conventional asset types, including many of the assets traditionally held as part of corporate treasury operations.” Continue reading

UVa Task Force Doubles Down on “Anti-Racism”

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia’s Racial Equity Task Force has released its final report, recommending 12 initiatives to promote “systemic change” and racial equity, and it’s everything you’d expect it to be. Reflecting the blinkered thinking of the academic Left, the report provides a lot of navel-gazing, virtue-signaling and window dressing while doing nothing to change the power structure at UVa or address the underlying causes of racial disparities in Virginia.

The task force proposes investing hundreds of millions of dollars toward equity initiatives, committing to “represent Virginia” in its study body demographics, hiring more minority faculty, and providing “anti-racism education” to all members of the University community. In contemporary academic parlance, “anti-racism” ideology insists that white privilege and white fragility underlie a system of white supremacy and must be extirpated. In other words, adopting these recommendations would place UVa among the institutions that replace critical thinking about race, poverty and justice with Leftist dogma.

Nothing in the report, “Audacious Future: Commitment Required,” alludes to the high and increasing cost of attending UVa, the practices driving the increasing costs, or the burden those costs impose upon all lower-income students of whatever color. Nothing in the recommendations would threaten the mechanisms by which UVa transfers wealth from tuition-paying students to faculty and staff in the form of greater pay, perks and prestige. The proffered solution is to paper over the high costs by steering more academic aid to minority students. Continue reading

Worthy Cause, Wrong Approach

The Pellerito family: “We go through each day just trying our best. What are the new rules? What is right?”

by James A. Bacon

Give Amanda Chase credit for one thing: She knows how to get into the news. Whether the resulting headlines help the Chesterfield state senator win the Republican Party nomination for governor is quite another matter. The latest brouhaha over her refusal to wear a mask in a Harrisonburg restaurant is not likely to help.

After making a campaign stop in New Market over the weekend with rock musician Ted Nugent, Chase visited Vito’s Italian Kitchen in Harrisonburg for a meal. She did not wear a mask. On two separate occasions, according to her Facebook account, employees denied her service, even though she explained that she had an underlying health condition that did not allow her to wear one. Upon providing a letter from her doctor, she was provided service but “not without being harassed and belittled in front of other store patrons.”

Katharine Nye Pellerito, who owns the restaurant with her husband, posted her own version of the encounter on Facebook. Chase got confrontational and threatened to sue, she wrote. “The uncertainty of Covid … as it threatens our ability to maintain our restaurants has been exhausting, to say the least. Last night was tough. We go through each day trying our best What are the new rules? What is right? What does the law expect? Who is going to yell at us for trying to do the right thing today?” Continue reading

Law School Deans Ask for Mandated Anti-Racism Training

University of Virginia law school dean Risa Goluboff

by Hans Bader

As lawyers like Barack Obama have noted, law school is already a year too long, with lots of nonessential classes. As a result, law students often graduate with over $150,000 in student-loan debt. Yet law students may soon be required to take more unnecessary classes.

One hundred and fifty law school deans have asked the American Bar Association to require that “every law school provide training and education around bias, cultural competence, and anti-racism.” These include the deans at the University of Virginia, the University of Richmond, and the College of William & Mary.

In their letter, the deans argue that “preparing law students to be lawyers requires that they should be educated with respect to bias, cultural awareness, and anti-racism. Such skills are essential parts of professional competence, legal practice, and being a lawyer. … We are in a unique moment in our history to confront racism that is deeply embedded in our institutions, including in the legal profession.” Continue reading

Everyone Has the Capacity to Be Great

The following post republishes an excerpt from B.K. Fulton’s new book, “The Tale of the Tee: Be Kind and Just Believe.” Fulton, an African-American Christian,  entrepreneur and philanthropist, co-wrote the book with Jonathan Blank, who is Jewish, a lawyer and an activist. The two men did not know each other prior to June 14, 2020. A single act of kindness began an e-mail thread that provides the basis of this book. — JAB

by B.K. Fulton

What can we learn from [the] people who change the world for the better in spite of the obstacles? What their work tells me is that the real genius in the world is in recognizing the genius in others. My hypothesis is that we all have the capacity to be great. God distributes talent generously throughout our species and all of us get to have the life we are willing to work for. It is in our naked self-interest to invest in everyone – every girl and every boy on the planet – because we have no idea where the cure for ALS is coming from. We have no idea where the cure for cancer is coming from. We have no idea where the cure for Alzheimer’s is coming from. What we do know for sure is that the cures that will help your family and mine are randomly distributed somewhere out there in the world. What we do know for sure is that the cure we need right now might just be [reading this message]. What we do know for sure is that the antidote for all that ails us is YOU. I challenge you to decide to be GREAT. Because if a person on the margins can achieve at the highest levels, what is our excuse for dabbling in mediocrity? Continue reading

Pining for the Days of Hanging Chads

A Virginia voting booth. How quaint!

by James A. Bacon

It’s been twenty years since the Bush-Gore presidential election that brought the term “hanging chads” into common parlance. But that controversy, which plunged the nation into intense partisan acrimony, was mere dress rehearsal for what could be coming. Thanks to the COVID-19 epidemic, there likely will be an unprecedented volume of mail-in ballots in the 2020 presidential election. And if you thought it was difficult determining votes from punch cards that left dangling bits of paper, just wait until we start sorting out the confusion over mail-in ballots.

The potential for electoral chaos was driven home here in Virginia by the recent mass mailing of mail-in ballot request forms by a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, the Center for Voter Information. A new Virginia law allowing no-excuse early voting for the 45-day period before election day. Asserting that voting by mail “keeps you healthy and safe,” the mailer urged voters to “just sign, date and complete the application.” The application forms had the recipient’s name and address pre-filled out.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook because of the absentee ballot forms,” Susan Saunders, Suffolk’s voter registrar, told the Suffolk News Herald. “It has created vast confusion.” Continue reading

Let-Em-Out-of-Jail Policy Ends in Tragedy

by Kerry Dougherty

Last spring, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that he wanted to release about 2,000 state prisoners to save them from the pandemic that promised to turn the prisons into COVID-19 killing fields.

These would be inmates with less than a year to serve and who were not deemed to be public safety menaces. He urged local officials to do the same with their jails.

As it turned out, predictions of mass deaths in correctional facilities were wrong.

So were promises that only non-violent offenders would be freed. In fact, the parole board embarked on a freeing frenzy of convicted killers. And at least one judge made a fatal mistake by freeing a violent detainee.

Oh, and guess how many inmates — in all of Virginia’s prisons and jails — have died of COVID-19?

Last time I checked – yesterday – the number stood at 15. Continue reading

No Equal Justice for Landlords

The Virginia State Supreme Court extended yesterday the judicial moratorium on eviction proceedings for another 28 days. The split decision prompted a blistering rebuke from D. Arthur Kelsey, which L. Steven Emmert summarized yesterday in the post below, republished here from his blog, Virginia Appellate News & Analysis. — JAB

Today the court responds to the Governor’s request for reimposition of the judicial moratorium on eviction proceedings. A bare majority of the court grants that relief, suspending the issuance of writs of eviction from August 10 (that’s next Monday) through September 7, a period of 28 days. The moratorium only applies to writs sought for nonpayment of rent; a landlord can still evict a tenant who has breached a lease agreement in other ways.

With two exceptions, all previous judicial-emergency order have been unanimous. The exceptions are the first, issued March 16, where the chief justice acted before he could consult his colleagues; and the June 8 modification to the fifth order. That one cites “the agreement of a majority of the Justices of this Court,” and also suspended writs of eviction, among other landlord remedies. The order didn’t state which members of the court didn’t go along.

Today the court names names. Justice Mims signs the two-page order for his colleagues, Justices Goodwyn, Powell, and McCullough. This majority notes that the pandemic fits the definition of a disaster, since the Code defines that term to include a  “communicable disease of public health threat.” It goes on to note that that statute is triggered when the disaster substantially impedes the ability of citizens to avail themselves of the court system. The court accordingly does as the Governor had requested, in the terms that I mention above. Continue reading

More Evidence Demolishing the Oppression Narrative

by James A. Bacon

Hamilton Lombard has posted some fascinating data on the University of Virginia Demographic Research blog, Stat Chat, that illuminates the income gap between whites and blacks. For Lombard’s spin on the data he presents, I suggest that you read his commentary here. It’s different from my take. I wouldn’t say that his interpretation and mine are in conflict, but I don’t want to imply that he would necessarily agree what I’m writing here.

The black-white income gap. The first point worth noting is that between 1950 and 1970 (inside the magenta circle in the chart above), when blacks’ economic opportunities were curtailed by segregated institutions, the gap between black and white incomes narrowed significantly. In the 50 years since then, the income gap between blacks and non-blacks has not budged.

“The fact that the income gap for Black Virginians has not changed considerably since 1970 is particularly notable,” writes Lombard, “because the intention of the Civil Rights Era reforms and the Great Society programs that have existed since the late 1960s are in large part to help close the income gap.” Continue reading

What if COVID-19 Never Goes Away?

by James A. Bacon

Here’s a question my wife and I have been asking ourselves recently: What if COVID-19 doesn’t go away?

From the beginning of the epidemic, we assumed that we (along with the rest of the country) were enduring a temporary inconvenience. We’d hunker down, restrict our social interactions, wear masks in indoor public places, avoid airplanes, and the like, and in a few months — by the end of the year at latest — it would be over and we could return to normal.

Now it is August, and the virus is spreading with no sign of respite. Our thinking has swung to the other extreme. We’re wondering, what if nothing works? What if the much-touted vaccinations are only partially effective? What if antibodies confer only temporary immunity? What if the virus mutates? What if all our efforts at “flattening the curve” do nothing but delay the inevitable and everyone — including us, and those we love — gets exposed to COVID-19 eventually?

Will there ever be a return to “normal”? And, if not, how long can we sustain the partial shutdown of our economy, the shuttering of public school buildings, the gusher of government red ink, and the helicoptering of relief dollars, all of which were predicated on the assumption that the virus would be tamed and all emergency responses would be temporary? Continue reading