Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Report: Majority of Campuses Severely Restrict Free Speech

And that's an improvement. According to a new report released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit educational organization, 59 percent of campuses around the country severely restrict free speech. These campuses maintain restrictions on students through speech codes and other policies. Here are the main findings from the report:

 59% (58.6%) of the 427 schools surveyed have speech codes that clearly and substantially restrict protected speech. (FIRE labels these “red light” schools.) Another 35.6% have “yellow light” policies that overregulate speech on campus.

This represents a nearly 17% decline in red light schools from six years ago, when policies at 75% of schools seriously restricted student speech.

The percentage of red light public schools, which are legally bound by the First Amendment, continued to drop, from 61.6% last year to 57.6% this year.

The percentage of red light private schools (which promise free speech but do not deliver it) also fell, from 63.4% last year to 61.5% this year.

In more good news, Eastern Kentucky University eliminated all of its speech codes this year, earning FIRE’s highest, “green light,” rating.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has called America's colleges and universities 'vital centers for the Nation's intellectual life.' However, the reality today is that many of these institutions severely restrict free speech and open debate. Speech coeds -- policies prohibiting speech that would, outside the bounds of campus, be protected by the First Amendment -- have been repeatedly struck down by federal and state courts for decades," the executive summary of the report states. "Yet they persist, even in the very jurisdictions where they have been ruled unconstitutional."

Although the speech police on campus still exist, FIRE is hopeful moving forward as some campuses come to their senses to either pull back on speech restrictions or to eliminate them altogether.

“We are heartened to see another drop in the percentage of campuses maintaining restrictive speech codes,” FIRE’s Director of Policy Research Samantha Harris said in a statement. “There is much more work to be done, however, particularly in light of the confusing messages coming from the federal government about the relationship between harassment and free speech. For starters, the Department of Education needs to make clear to universities, once and for all, that prohibiting harassment does not mean restricting protected speech.”



Conservatives Embrace Fancy Book Learnin’!

Who hasn’t had some liberal sneer at him, “Why don’t you conservatives go read a book?” This powerful critique of the intellectual deficiencies of my ideological brethren always cuts me to the bone. I’m usually so upset that I run weeping to my fine German touring sedan, completely forgetting to tip the nose-studded holder of a degree in Gender Neutral Puppetry who pointed out my educational failings while he fetched my latte.

This meme is nonsense. In fact, conservative tastes in books can be quite eclectic. One day last week, Amazon delivered Hugh Hewitt’s new book on happiness concurrently with bassist Peter Hook’s memoir of Joy Division, a band best known to the public for its lead singer hanging himself.

Joy Division’s often depressing, tragic music could provide an appropriate soundtrack for James V. Lacy’s Taxifornia: Liberals' Laboratory to Bankrupt America.If you like footnotes with citations to damning data, Taxifornia is for you. Lacy, a lawyer who I have never met but who shares a book agent and a publisher with me, makes an air-tight case that liberalism is crushing the California dream. There’s no way to come out of reading it not seeing that the reverse alchemy of liberalism is turning the Golden State into a commonwealth of rusty tin.

Lacy powerfully evokes the California’s past as a mecca for those striving to build their futures. My family moved here in 1972; I can still remember how vibrant, exciting and new it was. Today, California is a plodding, dull and decaying mess. Outsiders think of California as a state run by wacky, freaky kooks, but Lacy shows that’s not it at all. It’s now run by the most common and conventional liberal political hacks, Democrat politicians owned by rent-seeking public employee unions who would be comfortable in any Chicago ward. Give me the free spirited hippy-dippy wackos of the past over these cynical plunderers any day.

Much cheerier is Glenn Harlan Reynold’s The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself. It’s cheerier because it predicts the inevitable death of the bloated liberal educational complex that, from kindergarten to grad school, simultaneously vacuums up enormous resources while generally delivering very little in the way of results.

Reynolds curates the legendary Instapundit website, an oft-updated aggregation of links to the most interesting stuff on the web. I’ve been starting my day at Instapundit since around 9/11, and it seems to me he’s moved from more libertarian to straight-on conservative over the years. He’s certainly no friend of the statists, the collectivists, or the status quo.

Reynolds (who I have never met but know from Twitter) is a law professor, and every young person even thinking about law school should consider what he says about that foolish course of action. Law school used to be the go-to fall-back option for the liberal arts major with nothing better to do (Hello, me!). Now it’s a way to get $200,000 in debt in exchange for a 50/50 chance of getting a job making about what I made as a new attorney back in 1994.

Like Lacy, Reynolds points out the incalculable damage teachers’ unions do – I’d ban them and consign the concept of tenure to hell along with them. His recitation of the vast number of useless, costly “diversity deans” at my own alma mater, the University of California, is as sickening as it is hilarious.

Reynolds is kind of a techno cheerleader – I guess he never got the memo about how conservatives hate science. The New School makes a compelling case that the unsustainability of ever-rising costs and the growing perception of a low return on investment, combined with technological advances, will totally change education as we know it. Why pay a fortune to sit with a thousand other suckers in a cavernous lecture hall learning almost nothing – except that America is a heteronormative vortex of imperialist oppression – when you can do it online for 5% of the cost? Reynolds predicts that soon no one but spawn of the super-rich will.

Then there is the cheeriest of the books, The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers & the Secret to Genuine Success by radio host and Townhall columnist Hugh Hewitt. Hugh’s point about happiness is an old one, and it’s no secret really. You get by giving, not mere material goods but a part of yourself. You gain joy by choosing to sacrifice your attention, your effort, your time – and the book is infused with reminders that we only have a limited time in this life.

Hugh lives that ethic too – he’s given me and many other folks a lot of help along the way. It must work. Hugh is also, without a doubt, one of the most consistently cheery people I’ve ever met, despite his being a high profile lawyer.

The Happiest Life firmly places the responsibility for happiness upon the shoulders of the individual; happiness is a result of how you choose to live your life. Though it is not a political book, it begs the question regarding how a liberal might view happiness. Liberals believe in giving too, except they “give” what are another’s material possessions to those the liberal believes more deserving. But this seems to bring liberals no happiness – they often seem so miserable – and under Hugh’s construction it cannot. Redistribution not an act of sacrifice; it’s an exercise of power.

I found myself stopping frequently to think about what I had just read, and I cannot conceive of higher praise. Also, you’ll also find one of the best selection of epigrams ever, including my new favorite from Thucydides: “The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage.”

Oh, and Unknown Pleasure: Inside Joy Division is a brilliant book, illuminating and often hilarious. It’s also deeply conservative. The lads weren’t snooty artist types (though that became their fan base after Ian Curtis’s tragic suicide). They were working class Brits who really wanted to be musicians and worked hard to do it. Joy Division’s story is as inspiring as their music is classic.

The uppity barista who chides conservatives for failing to measure up tome-wise would be well advised to take his own advice and do a little reading himself. Taxifornia might help him understand why the best job he can get is making coffee drinks for lawyers who laugh at his pretentions. And The New School might have warned him away from taking on $150,000 in debt to end up with a job making coffee drinks for lawyers who laugh at his pretentions.

As good as it is, The Happiest Life probably isn’t going to help him find happiness – the discussion of faith might make him spontaneously combust – but Unknown Pleasures at least might get him into some cool music and away from that Mumford & Sons crap.

Finally, here’s a shameless plug for my own writing. My short, snarky parody of liberal love 50 Shade of Liberal just came out on Amazon Kindle, and Post Hill Press will publish my book, Conservative Insurgency: The Struggle to Take America Back 2013-2041, this spring.

Yeah, liberals, maybe conservatives would read more books if we weren’t so busy writing them.


Student loan problems attracting attention

Tiffany Roberson works for the state of Texas as a parole officer, teaches part time and is living with her parents after finishing a master’s degree. She’s held off marrying her boyfriend of four years and starting a family because she owes more than $170,000 in federal and private student loans.

“I’ve never gone into default,” the 30-year-old said. “What really hurts is people say I’m a bum for living at home.”

Federal Reserve economists are trying to determine whether people like Roberson represent a trend that will damage U.S. growth, partly by restricting sales of houses and cars. Student loans are one of the only deteriorating pockets of consumer credit, with balances and delinquency rates rising to record highs even as a strengthening economy allows Americans to reduce total borrowing.

Outstanding education debt exceeded $1 trillion in the third quarter of 2013, and the share of loans delinquent 90 days or more rose to 11.8 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. By contrast, delinquencies for mortgage, credit-card and auto debt all have declined from their peaks.

“I’m always made very nervous by a credit market that benefits from government guarantees and is expanding very rapidly,” Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said in response to audience questions after a speech at a Jan. 10 Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce event in North Carolina. “That’s what we’re seeing with student loans, and it’s what we saw with housing.”

Debt Analysis

Economists at the New York Fed are analyzing student debt as part of their quarterly reports on national household credit. That project emerged six years ago as the credit crisis unfolded, when the researchers and their then-boss, Timothy F. Geithner, realized there wasn’t a good way to study total consumer borrowing.

They began assembling their own figures, relying on credit reports from Atlanta-based credit bureau Equifax Inc. (EFX) -- and found that information on student borrowing was particularly sparse because of gaps in the frequency and type of publicly available data.

The Department of Education releases defaults rates on federal loans once a year and only for borrowers who haven’t made required payments for at least 270 consecutive days during the two- and three-year periods after they graduate or drop out. The rates don’t include students with extensions -- such as deferrals and forbearance, or federal income-based repayment programs -- which can indicate signs of borrower distress. They also don’t include private loans, which account for about 15 percent of the market.
Little Data

“We didn’t realize there was so little data,” said Wilbert van der Klaauw, one of the New York Fed economists involved in the analysis.

Studying the growth of education debt as part of total consumer borrowing is important because it may limit access to credit for financing homes or autos, van der Klaauw and economists Donghoon Lee and Andrew Haughwout said in a Jan. 9 interview at the district bank. They and their colleagues also are trying to understand how the rising burden influences living arrangements -- such as college graduates like Roberson who stay with their parents because they can’t afford to move out. That, in turn, may reduce marriage and birth rates.

The New York Fed has played an important role in analyzing the potential problem by focusing on outstanding student loans, delinquencies and how this borrowing fits into the larger consumer-debt picture, said Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit group based in Oakland, California.

‘No Question’

There’s “no question” we need to know more “than the current data tells us,” she said.

Students are borrowing more to fund college and graduate school as the cost of higher education rises faster than the rate of inflation. The price tag at some of the most expensive private colleges is now more than $60,000 annually. Average tuition and fees at private schools in the 2013-2014 academic year was $30,094, up from $18,060 in 2002-2003, according to the College Board, a New York-based nonprofit representing more than 6,000 educational institutions.

The share of 25-year-old Americans with student debt increased to 43 percent in 2012 from 25 percent in 2003, and the average loan balance rose 91 percent, to $20,326 from $10,649, New York Fed data show.

Real-Time Calculations

While the district bank’s calculations don’t distinguish between private and federal loan debt, they are more real-time than those of the Education Department: They reflect balances on a 5 percent sample of people with a Social Security number and a credit report. The Education Department’s default rate covers only dropouts and graduates two and three years after finishing a program.

The department began publishing data on its website in July 2013 about the current status of outstanding federal student loans, such as forbearance and deferment, to provide more information in a user-friendly format, a spokesman said.

There remain a lot of “missing pieces,” including the link between debt levels and specific universities or courses of study, van der Klaauw said.

“If you’re a pre-med student, you’re an engineering student, and you take out $40,000 or $60,000 of loans, I have no problem with that,” John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo & Co., said in response to audience questions after a speech at the Jan. 10 Raleigh, North Carolina, event. “But if you’re going to be a French major, you’re going to study social welfare, and you’re going to take out $60,000 of loans, who is making the economic judgment there?”

Government Loans

U.S. borrowers, including students and their parents, owe $1.2 trillion in educational-loan debt, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB -- surpassing all other kinds of consumer borrowing except for mortgages. About $1 trillion is government loans and the rest is an estimate of private loans based on data submitted for a 2012 report.

There’s a discrepancy between the CFPB’s number and the New York Fed’s: The district bank calculates the total at $1.03 trillion.

“We do hear from borrowers that they sometimes find missing or inaccurate information in their credit reports when it comes to student loans,” said Rohit Chopra, the CFPB’s student-loan ombudsman, who published a blog post in August that analyzed federal debt. “This does raise questions” about the accuracy of information servicers give reporting agencies.
Borrow More

While undergraduates are limited in how much they can finance through federal programs, parents and graduate students can borrow much more. They can take out federal PLUS loans up to the cost of attendance -- including tuition, room, board, transportation and personal expenses -- minus any aid received.

A student-loan crisis would “force parents and students to think about” their expected return on education, Silvia said. “Like in housing, we learn by going through that craziness, and now hopefully the next generation won’t make that same mistake.”

Borrowers already have a harder time with repayments. About one in seven, or 14.7 percent, of students defaulted on federal loans in the first three years they are required to make payments, according to Education Department data released in September. The rate was was 13.4 percent a year earlier.

While the New York Fed and CFPB data “have their limitations,” they are “helping to flesh out the clearer picture and key dynamics,” said the Oakland nonprofit’s Asher.

‘More Opaque’

“Compared to other financial products, performance data on student loans is much more opaque,” Chopra said. Given that the market has grown so rapidly, “financial regulators must significantly increase the level of monitoring.”

“Our job is to really understand what’s happening in the financial system,” and the “very rapid rise in student-loan debt over the last few years” can “actually have some pretty significant consequences to the economic outlook,” New York Fed President William C. Dudley said at a Nov. 20 briefing with reporters at the district bank.

“People can have trouble with the student-loan debt burden -- unable to buy cars, unable to buy homes -- and so it can really delay the cycle.”

Tiffany Roberson now is looking for a third job, partly because rising interest rates have increased her debt to about $72,000 in federal loans and $102,000 in private loans. She pays almost $1,000 a month on the latter and about $33 on the federal loan through a program based on her income.

“These payments eat up my paycheck,” she said. “It puts a huge drain on living the American dream.”


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