Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

A “Best Universities” Ranking Virginians Can Be Proud Of

by James A. Bacon

There are multiple college rankings these days. Results vary widely based upon the criteria used to rate the institutions: prestige, social justice, affordability, and the like. Money magazine uses 24 factors reflecting upon the quality of the education, the cost of the education (net price after adjusting for financial aid), and outcomes (post-graduate earnings, economic mobility and return on investment).

I could give a flying fig about “prestige” — prestige in the higher-ed world doesn’t translate into anything I value — or “social justice,” as defined by leftists. Money magazine’s ranking comes closest to reflecting my values and priorities, which can be summed up as educational value added.

Of the 671 institutions that met Money’s qualifications (minimum size, reliable data, above-median graduation rate), here is how Virginia institutions fared under Money’s methodology.

University of Virginia — No. 3.
Virginia Military Institute — No. 5
Washington & Lee University — No. 11
Virginia Tech — No. 22
George Mason University — No. 72
James Madison University — No. 86 Continue reading

VCU Circular Firing Squad: Nazis, Terrorists and Racists

Former Governor L. Douglas Wilder. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

There’s a whole lot of crazy going on at Virginia Commonwealth University right now, and, not surprisingly, former Governor L. Douglas Wilder is in the center of it. Between the accusations of racism and alleged threats to physical safety, the controversy is a window into the demented rhetoric inside higher education today — everyone’s a racist or a Nazi — and, insofar as universities are incubators of rhetoric that spills into broader society, it is symptomatic of the fever that afflicts us all.

The story, as best I can reconstruct it from the account provided by Eric Kolenich at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, began when James M. Burke, a faculty member at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, sent an email Jan. 30 to Wilder, after whom the school is named, decrying his advisory role in Governor Glenn Younkin’s 2021 transition team.

Burke, judging by the contents of this email, does not think highly of Republicans. Indeed, he likens them to Nazis. He wrote:

Wow. What a shit show. It will be four years of disaster…. I am beyond disgusted and disappointed in anyone who could have missed the obvious. Welcome the Nazis. I have no respect for anyone who supported [Youngkin]…. Is this what you wanted, Doug? I can’t believe you fell for it. You fucked up badly…. Trust me these jerks will come after me for teaching history. They will come after my Black colleagues for saying what is true. I will not capitulate to these people. Someone has to stand up. Will you stand up with me? Continue reading

Why Not Virginia for Semiconductor Manufacturing Expansion?

Virginia Engineering Programs

by James C. Sherlock

Among the things that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has made clear is the vulnerability of Taiwan and with it, the access of the U.S. economy to the 90% of advanced computer chips manufactured there.

The national security requirement for domestic chip manufacturing brings opportunity. It is the nation’s most urgent manufacturing priority. So, why not build the needed plants in Virginia? Is the Commonwealth organized to attract those investments?

For the answer to the last question I looked at the Virginia Department of Commerce and Industry, the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) and Virginia’s engineering schools and found nothing to suggest Virginia is making an organized effort.

Much of Virginia’s headline effort in engineering education is to expand opportunities for Amazon workers in Northern Virginia.

I suggest Virginia focus its Department of Commerce and Trade on chip manufacturing, create dedicated educational consortiums, identify available facilities and workforces like those of the shuttered Rolls Royce plant in Prince George County and offer tax abatement packages to actively recruit semiconductor manufacture. Continue reading

Diverse Opinions in Higher Ed

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Those commenters on this blog who are always decrying the dominance of liberal ideas and the quashing of conservative viewpoints in Virginia’s higher ed institutions need to broaden their horizon beyond the University of Virginia.  As reported by The Washington Post,  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito spoke yesterday to a crowd of law students and faculty at the Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University.  In reaction to a recently-leaked draft of his opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, there were, as would be expected, demonstrations from both sides of the abortion question outside the building in which the lecture was given.

Alito’s topic was not abortion, and he dodged questions on the subject following the lecture.  Rather, he talked about textualism, a method he favors, and how the late Justice Scalia’s advocacy of this approach had transformed the court’s methods of reviewing federal laws.  This is an important subject and one over which there is considerable debate.  The point here is that Virginia law students were being exposed to the conservative perspective.

These sorts of lectures are scheduled well in advance.  Had it not been for the leaked draft opinion, I suspect that this event would have taken place with little public notice.  Such is the diversity in Virginia higher education circles.

Youngkin’s Education Agenda — Raise Standards, Pursue Excellence, Help Those Who Need It

by James A. Bacon

Former Governor George Allen likes to say that the best social program is a job. One might suggest that a corollary to this proposition is that the best way for Virginia’s public school system to advance “social justice” is giving students the skills they need to get quality jobs in the 21st century knowledge economy.

That seems to be the philosophy adopted by the Youngkin administration.

“We are reorienting everything to how education is geared towards preparing people for the jobs of today and of tomorrow,” said Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera in a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) last month. “Virginia needs to be the best place to learn…. So, everything we do in the next four years in the Youngkin administration will be guided by our North Star: to prepare every single learner for success in life, in our economy, our democracy, and our communities.” 

The Youngkin administration’s benchmarks of success will be graduates stepping into jobs that earn family-supporting wages, companies investing in Virginia due to the quality of its labor force, and a growing state economy. Continue reading

How Partisan Bias Affects Law School Rankings

U.S. News & World-Report 2022 rankings

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is known for the number and quality of its law schools. Eight law schools are located in the state, making almost one for every 1.1. million residents. Nationally, there are 192 law schools for 330 million people, or roughly one for every 1.6 million. Woohoo, we have lawyers out the wazoo!

The University of Virginia is widely held to be the most prestigious of the Virginia law schools, holding an 8th place ranking in the latest U.S. News & World-Report survey. The George Mason University and William & Mary law schools are highly regarded as well, tying for No. 30 on the list. Washington & Lee and University of Richmond (almost) also place in the Top quartile.

One can argue whether college and university rankings are worthwhile or pernicious, but there’s no question that they confer bragging rights and drive applications. Sadly, Michael Conklin, a professor of business law at Angelo State University, has found that the rankings are influenced by the political leanings of the law school deans and select faculty whose views are incorporated into the “peer rankings” of law school reputation. Continue reading

Peay’s Service at VMI Honored

by James A. Bacon

A  year and a half after he was forced into resigning amidst allegations of “relentless racism” at the institution he ran for 17 years, J.H. Binford Peay III, has been honored by the VMI Board of Visitors.

The board bestowed upon him the title of superintendent emeritus and ordered that a planned leadership building be named Peay Hall in his honor, and its dining room be named for his wife Pamela Peay. Further, General and Mrs. Peay will be honored at VMI’s Founders Day celebration Nov. 11. Superintendent Cedric T. Wins announced the recognitions at a class-of-1962 alumni reunion dinner April 26.

Stated the press release: “The Institute celebrated many successes during Peay’s 17 years as superintendent, including improved academic and co-curricular programs, major renovations of many buildings, and the construction of Third Barracks, Marshall Hall, and the Corps Physical Training Facility. During his tenure, the former superintendent was dedicated to an environment of excellence where cadets were provided countless opportunities to develop traits of successful leadership—honor, respect, civility, self-discipline, and professionalism.” Continue reading

Miyares Names Iler as UVa’s University Counsel

Cliff Iler

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Jason Miyares has selected Clifton M. Iler as the University Counsel for the University of Virginia. As the university’s lead attorney, he will supervise a team of nine other attorneys, including three for the health system.

The press releasing announcing the appointment stressed Iler’s experience in higher-education and healthcare law. He comes from the University of Kentucky, where he served as Deputy General Counsel for Faculty, Students, and Research. Like UVa, the University of Kentucky has a medical school and healthcare system.

“Cliff is a brilliant attorney with over a decade of experience in higher education and healthcare law. I am confident he will be an excellent addition to the University of Virginia and serve the students, faculty, staff, and Commonwealth well,” said Attorney General Miyares in the prepared statement.

Miyares caused a media kerfluffle when he sacked the previous university counsel, Timothy Heaphy, with vaguely-worded reasons relating to the circumstances of his appointment and his legal reasoning. There followed a wave of speculation that Miyares had fingered Heaphy because he had taken a leave of absence to lead the congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 mob scene at the U.S. Capitol.

Continue reading

JMU: Where Not Only Are You Wrong, But How Dare You Ask?

Lia Thomas (left) and Emma Weyant (center) after notorious swimming event.

by James A. Bacon

Western Civilization went more than 2,000 years with people dividing the world between male and female. About 10 years ago, the idea gained traction in the United States that gender wasn’t based on biology — XX and XY chromosomes — but was a social construct. Within an extraordinarily short time, transgender ideology has cemented into an orthodoxy on college campuses. Indeed, the notion has become so deeply embedded that many now consider it bigoted to even question it.

At James Madison University, a faculty-run group called Ethical Reasoning in Action posed a hypothetical situation: Suppose a state was considering a law that requires transgender athletes at the high-school and college levels to compete against only those “with the same assigned sex at birth.”

“A transgender female swimmer competes at your university who, as a man in competition was not especially successful, but as a woman just two years later set school and conference records. While the university opposes the proposed law because it doesn’t align with their emphasis on diversity, inclusion and equity on campus, they ask students, faculty and staff to vote on the issue.

“Should transwomen be allowed to compete with other athletes?”

Madison Equality, a student LGBTQ organization, condemned the ethical scenario as “transphobic.” It wasn’t even a question fit to be asked.
Continue reading

Dissident Alumni Open a New Front in the Higher-Ed Culture Wars

by James A. Bacon

A Saturday meeting of the VMI Alumni Association, convened to elect a new board of directors, broke up in acrimony and confusion. In a series of votes, dissident alumni voted to remove the existing board and replace it with a hybrid slate comprised of some old board members and some new. But association President Sam Stocks declared the votes in violation of the association’s bylaws, and the meeting concluded with no new board being chosen.

The fracas reflects deep divisions within the Virginia Military Institute alumni community since The Washington Post, former Governor Ralph Northam, and the Northam-instigated Barnes & Thornburg report declared VMI guilty of “systemic racism.” The Northam-anointed superintendent, Cedric Wins, is implementing recommendations of the report by building up Diversity, Equity & Inclusion programs that some traditionalist alumni fear are antithetical to the hallowed Rat Line and Honor Code. Dissident alumni perceive that the VMI Alumni Association has sided with Wins in the ongoing controversies and has not been transparent in its activities.

The aborted Saturday election has significance beyond VMI. Dissident alumni groups — including The Jefferson Council at the University of Virginia and the General’s Redoubt at Washington & Lee University here in Virginia — are organizing around the country. There is a widespread sentiment that established alumni associations have been captured by university administrations, function mainly as fund-raising arms for their institutions, and, as self-perpetuating cliques, are unresponsive to the concerns of conservative alumni.

The effort by dissident VMI alumni to gain control of the VMI alumni association represents a new front in the campus culture wars. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that conservative alumni have ever tried to take control of an association. And, in my estimation, it won’t be the last. Continue reading

The General Assembly Adds New Requirements for Teachers that Virginia Schools Do Not Have and Cannot Hire

by James C. Sherlock

A tip of the hat to Dick Hall-Sizemore for pointing out the following bills.

I have written often on how Virginia is constantly loading up teachers and schools with additional reports and requirements.

This General Assembly is trying to add new requirements for teachers that we do not have and have proven unable to hire.

The bills listed below were passed almost unanimously in both houses of the General Assembly and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.

I recommend the Governor veto all of them. Continue reading

Richmond University Cancels Douglas Southall Freeman

by Phil Leigh

The University of Richmond is “canceling” one of its most distinguished graduates, Douglas Southall Freeman (1886 – 1953). Specifically, they are dropping his name from Mitchell-Freeman Hall.

After leaving Richmond University to earn a PhD at Johns Hopkins, Freeman returned to Virginia’s capital where he joined the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1909 and, in 1915, at the age of 29 became editor of the Richmond News Leader—a position he held for 34 years. During those years he wrote a four-volume biography of Robert E. Lee, a four-volume study of General Lee’s Lieutenants, and finished two volumes of a seven-volume biography of George Washington. He completed four more volumes of the Washington biography after retirement whereas two of his associates finished the seventh volume after his death. The Lee and Washington bios won Pulitzer Prizes and Lee’s Lieutenants put Freeman into a close circle of military friends including Generals George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower. Continue reading

UVa Has Issues, But At Least It Is Not Yale

by James A. Bacon

On March 10 the Federalist Society, a group promoting conservative/libertarian principles in law schools, hosted a panel discussion at Yale Law about freedom of religion and speech. About 120 student protesters descended upon the event, shouted down the speakers, and then, after repeated warnings, continued their noisy demonstration in the hallway. In the aftermath, more than 400 law students, about 60% of the student body, signed an open letter voicing support for the protesters and assailing the presence of armed police. While the protesters were excessively loud and “engaged in rude and insulting behavior,” wrote Law School Dean Heather Gerken, they did not violate the school’s “three-warning protocol.” Heated debate over the contours of free speech continues to this day.

At the University of Virginia, by contrast, the Federalist Society held a symposium on the topic, “The Federalists Vs. the Anti-Federalists: Revisiting the Founding Debates.” The event went off without a hitch. There were no protests, no open letters, and no need for statements by the dean.

The exercise of free speech and free expression leaves very much to be desired at the University of Virginia, but students, parents, faculty and alumni can console themselves: at least UVa is not Yale. (Which is fairly ironic, given the fact that President Jim Ryan, Provost Ian Baucom, and law school Dean Risa Goluboff all hold Yale degrees.) Continue reading

UVa, Defend Your Women!

Letter to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors from Walter Smith.

Now that International Transgender Day of Visibility is behind us, it is safe to discuss your lack of visibility in the matter regarding UVa student Emma Weyant, who, in the world where reality and truth are valued, is the true women’s NCAA 500 freestyle swimming champion. None of you has spoken out regarding the injustice of her loss of the 1st-place trophy to a transgendered individual, Lia Thomas — a silence, I suspect, that arises from your terror of woke intersectionalists.

The only statement I have seen from any UVa official was a quote in The Jefferson Independent, in which President Jim Ryan bravely stated, “I’m not an expert on this and I haven’t been following it as closely as others… I have to say it seems unfair to me, at a very basic level.”

Wow! What clarity of thought! What bold leadership! I now see how Ryan was selected to lead Thomas Jefferson’s University — to make it Great and Good as only he can! Continue reading

Policies at War With Themselves

UVa President Jim Ryan

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan and Provost Ian Baucom have finally begun to engage in a discussion about university “cancel culture.” In the abstract, they’re against it. Their latest musings represent a step beyond the mere protection of free speech, which the Board of Visitors had endorsed previously, toward respectful engagement of people with different views.

“We can teach our students not only about the right to free speech but also how to be empathetic speakers and generous listeners,” they wrote in the higher-ed trade publication Inside Higher Education. “We should teach them to dismantle arguments, not people.”

UVa Provost Ian Baucom

They even go so far as to acknowledge the value of entertaining a wide variety of viewpoints in academia. “Colleges and universities … could stand to be more intellectually diverse than they are, just as they could stand to be more racially and socioeconomically diverse.”

These are fine sentiments, and the critics of UVa — and higher education in Virginia generally — should welcome them. There may be reason to hope that UVa, after an orgy of self-flagellation for its past, the renaming of buildings, the dismantling of statues, and the blackening of the name of Thomas Jefferson, will live up to the aspiration of its founder to “follow the truth wherever it might lead.” Continue reading