Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I had just been thinking...

about what a shame it is that Phi Beta Cons, National Review's blog ostensibly about higher education, is such an embarrassing waste. The idea of a consistent source of conservative commentary on higher education, written by people who can distinguish between good and bad research, and who are invested in and knowledgeable about higher education, is quite appealing. It seems to me like something that's genuinely missing from the world. But, of course, PBC none of these things. It is instead dedicated to arguing that professors have too much vacation time except that they're all busily whittling away at the foundations of western civilization, that the successful firing of a fraud-committing tenured professor shows the importance of abolishing tenure, that standards of excellence are under mortal threat from the multiculturalist left but shouldn't be compared in importance to, say, fraternities and the need to admit football players, and that affirmative action (for blacks who are not football players) is the very worstest yucky thing in the world, ever.

Then I noticed that it was Inside Higher Ed, and not PBC, that was carrying the following news item-- something that would be of interest to a large number of conservatives who are interested in higher education:

Hillsdale College, which for more than 20 years has declined to accept federal funds, said Monday that it would no longer take financial aid money from the state of Michigan either, The Detroit News reported. Hillsdale officials said in a statement that they would relinquish about $670,000 in state tuition aid that about 350 students at the private institution receive annually and replace the money with private scholarship funds.

Not a huge deal-- but since Hillsdale is both a minor cause celebre among American conservatives for its rejection of federal funds and a longtime patron of conservative thought, the people most likely to find it interesting and important would be PBC's likely readership. Instead, the blog is busy with Candace de Russy's response to the (well-known and correct) argument that the humanities and most social sciences are over- and badly-regulated by Institutional Review Boards that inappropriately apply standards derived from biomedical experiments to all research involving "human subjects."

Her response? The rhetorical "But is there too much oversight or too little?" followed by an non-sequiter about inadequate oversight... of three biomedical studies.

Update: Phoebe Maltz suggests that the problem is structural, that there probably couldn't be such a venue for responsible conservative commentary on the academy. I think she's onto something but that it doesn't have to be as bad as PBC...