Category Archives: Education (higher ed)

The Scalia School: a Bastion of Conservative Thought

The Scalia School of Law at George Mason University has significant disadvantages in the scrabbling for prestige among American law schools. Founded in 1979, it’s a relatively young institution, which means graduates have had less time to accumulate wealth, donate, and leave bequests than their counterparts at older institutions have done. As a result, the school’s endowment is a negligible $4.4 million. Scalia also is part of a public institution that for many years treated it as a cash cow to be milked rather than an asset to be invested in.

Yet Scalia fares well in rankings of law school prestige — having made it into the Top 50 among 200 law schools every year over the past 18 years and having scored 41st in the most recent US News & World-Report ranking. In a 2015 ranking of scholarly impact based upon the number of law journal citations by its faculty, Scalia did even better: It scored 21st.

One reason that Scalia “punches above its weight,” suggests Dean Henry Butler, is the intellectual diversity of its faculty. “Conservatives and libertarians are under-valued in the academic marketplace,” he says. “That allows us to recruit a stronger faculty.”

Lawyers tend to be more liberal than the general population, and law school professors more liberal than practicing lawyers. A 2017 research working paper, “The Legal Academy’s Ideological Conformity” found that only 15% of law school professors are politically conservative compared to 35% for lawyers as a whole.

Scalia is a marked exception to the national norm. Of the 49 highest-ranked laws schools in the country, Scalia had the largest percentage of conservative professors, roughly 80%. Only two other law schools, Brigham Young University and Pepperdine, had majority-conservative faculties.

Not surprisingly, the conservative faculty of GMU’s law school, named after deceased conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has made it a target of the left. A group called UnKoch My Campus used the Freedom of Information Act  to obtain emails and copies of gift agreements purporting to show undue influence by the conservative/libertarian Charles Koch Foundation and the conservative Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy over the appointment of faculty members and creation of programs. The allegations were repeated by the New York Times and Washington Post. GMU President Angel Cabrera has ordered an inquiry into the terms of the gifts, but he has described only two such deals as “problematic” and noted that both have expired.

UnKoch My Campus expressed shock — shock! — at evidence it uncovered showing that Dean Butler had communicated extensively with the wealthy conservative donors. Butler offers no apologies. As dean of the law school, he is the fund-raiser in chief, which makes him the schmoozer in chief. He is proud of the school’s success in funding programs that elevate its profile in the legal community.

I had the opportunity to visit Butler earlier this month. School was out for the summer, and the dean greeted me clad in shorts, sockless, tassled loafers, and an untucked button-down shirt. He came across as affable, enthusiastic, and passionate — but not dogmatic — about conservative causes. While Scalia’s law professors are mostly conservative, he noted that there are “a couple of Democrats” on the faculty. Perhaps more importantly, students feel free to express liberal views. “We don’t muzzle anybody here.”

Unsurprisingly for a free-market conservative, Butler touts the “marketplace of ideas,” and he sees the Scalia School playing an important role in that marketplace.

Founded in 1979, the law school entered its modern incarnation in 1986 when Henry G. Manne became dean at the recommendation of GMU’s two Nobel Prize winners, James M. Buchanan and Vernon Smith. Manne was a proponent of the Law and Economics school of thought pioneered by economist Ronald Coase and legal scholar Richard Posner. The breakthrough idea was that the discipline of economics could provide insights into not only areas of business law such as antitrust compliance but torts, property, contracts, domestic relations, procedure, even constitutional law.

In a 1994 essay Manne recounted how Law and Economics took root at GMU:

Much of the credit for what occurred at GMU belongs to the University President, Dr. George W. Johnson. He repeatedly said that he did not want “just another good law school.” Rather, consistent with his entire style at this new, innovative and burgeoning university, he wanted to be at the cutting edge, to set new models for other universities, and to take chances in order to move George Mason’s reputation along in a hurry. When he heard in some detail my idea for a law school, he is reported to have said to an associate, “whether Henry Manne comes here or not, that is the kind of law school we want.”

A student of Manne’s, Butler has built on the Law and Economics foundation. He has fought to keep a bigger share of the law school’s tuition revenue for the law school itself. He has raised money for massive renovations of the Arlington campus, including the digitization of much of the law library to replace oppressive stacks of books with light-imbued study and meeting space. He orchestrated the school’s name change to honor Scalia, a leading light of conservative legal thought. And he has increased outside fund raising. Most of the money goes to support six centers and institutes. Continue reading

Where Are the Consumer Rights Advocates When You Really Need Them?

Consumer rights advocates work themselves into a wrathful froth over the misdeeds of banks, payday lenders, credit card companies, and mortgage lenders. But what about the truth-in-lending abuses perpetrated by institutions of higher education? We don’t hear so much.

With the cost of attendance of a four-year degree routinely exceeding $100,000, selecting a college can be one of the biggest financial decisions that Americans can make — probably the biggest decision for low-income families that never purchased a house. But the financial terms and conditions provided in acceptance letters are notoriously opaque, finds a study by the New America think tank and financial-counseling firm uAspire.

The two outfits published a study last week based upon an examination of 11,000 award letters sent in 2016 by more than 900 colleges. Summarizes NewAmerica’s Kevin Carey in the Wall Street Journal: “It found most of them use obscure terminology, omit vital information, or present financial calculations that appear deliberately deceptive. Many letters are confusing in their own unique ways, making it difficult for students to compare colleges.”

Of the 515 colleges that awarded them via nonstandard letters, more than a third provided no information about how much attending school would cost. The letters highlighted grants and scholarships as a way of convincing students to enroll, but without listing tuition or explaining how much money students would owe. …

The letters that did disclose costs were inconsistent. Some listed only tuition. Others included room and board. Others added books and estimated living expenses. … Seventy percent of colleges with nonstandard letters created further confusion by lumping together grants and loans, as if both were freebies.

Carey cited a letter sent by the University of Arizona that told a student that the cost of attendance was $48,200 a year, then subtracted $5,815 in grants, $5,500 in work-study opportunities, and $26,885 in loans. “Net Costs After All Aid” were “$0.00.”

A used car dealer who delivered a pitch like that would be slammed with a fine and driven out of business.

Many (not all) public colleges and universities engage in practices that would make a payday lender blush. It all makes sense when you understand that higher-ed institutions are, beneath the lofty rhetoric about justice and equality, mechanisms for the extraction of wealth from students and taxpayers, the pursuit of status and prestige within the academic community, and the remuneration of elite faculty and administrators.

Feeding the system requires inducing as many students as possible to enroll, which is becoming increasingly difficult as the cost of attendance continues to outpace incomes and financial aid.

How can lower-income Americans be protected from the higher-ed racket? New America recommends requiring colleges to use a standardized award letter that explains expenses, grants and loans clearly so recipients can easily compare offers by competing institutions. The Department of Veterans Affairs already mandates this kind of transparency for students benefiting from the GI Bill. Congress should require a standardized letter for all institutions receiving federal money.

And if Congress doesn’t act, I would suggest, the Commonwealth of Virginia could require a standardized letter for all state institutions — or, at the very least, for institutions offering state-funded financial aid. Colleges and universities should be free to determine the substance of their own financial aid packages, but there should be full transparency in how those packages are presented to students and their families.

The Virginia529 Board Should Be Lauded, Not Criticized

Participation in Virginia 29 pre-paid tuition plan has declined in recent years as measured by the number of accounts and semester-units sold. Graphic credit: Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

State government, local government, universities and independent authorities in Virginia are larded with debt and unfunded liabilities. No one, to my knowledge, has compiled a total inventory of public institutions’ exposure to pension obligations, leases, maintenance backlogs, infrastructure debt, economic development loans, and other long-term obligations. Institutions’ exposure to the vagaries of the economy and fluctuations of interest rates is largely hidden from public view.

One fund operating in the shadows is Virginia529’s tax-advantaged, pre-paid college tuition program. In contrast to the many entities that take on unwarranted risk, however, Virginia529 is a rare instance of sterling governance. The $2.7 billion fund for the prepaid tuition plan is defensively invested to guard against market downturns. It makes a conservative assumption about future returns on its investment portfolio — only 6.25% annually rather than 7.0% for the Virginia Retirement System. And rather than being chronically underfunded as the General Assembly has allowed the VRS to be, Virginia529 is 138% funded. Indeed, the plan is in such solid shape that actuaries judge that it has a 98% likelihood of meeting future obligations to the parents who are trusting that it will deliver on promises to pay for their children’s educations.

Apparently, that’s a problem.

In a review of the 529 plan, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) suggested that the plan is too conservatively run. Its intolerance of risk means that has built up unnecessarily large reserves that make the program unnecessarily expensive. By reducing the size of the pricing reserve on future contract sales from 10% to 7%, JLARC says, Virginia529 could lower the price of an eight-semester contract by $1,851.

Key lawmakers strongly favor the JLARC recommendations, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and they have pressured Virginia529 CEO Mary Morris to adopt the recommendations. Said Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City ominously: “Sometimes there’s a very thin line between defiance and supreme independent confidence.”

True enough, the cost of participating in the Virginia529 plan has surged as the cost of college tuition has consistently outpaced inflation and income growth — a fact that can be attributed (a) to the General Assembly’s cutbacks in support for higher education, and (b) administrative bloat, mission creep and other policies pursued by colleges and universities themselves. Rather than price its plans over-optimistically as, say, long-term care insurers did a decade or two ago only to increase their premiums in order to maintain plan solvency, Virginia529’s governing board prices its product based on the conservative — one might say, cynical — assumption that tuition and fees at Virginia four-year institutions will increase by 5% in the 2018-19 academic year and by 6.5% each year thereafter.

Also true, participation in the plan has declined in the past 10 years as the price has risen, as seen in the chart above. Since fiscal 2009, the number of plan participants has declined from 71,800 to 63,900. Meanwhile, participating families are buying less coverage. The number of annual “semester units sold” has tanked 43% from 18,800 to 10,700 over the same period. Admittedly, that is a disappointing trend.

Virginia529’s investment performance has lagged industry benchmarks over one-, three- and five-year time horizons, says the JLARC report, although it has met or outperformed benchmarks for the 10-year period. “Virginia529 staff, the investment advisory committee, and the program’s investment consultant indicate that the fund is defensively positioned with the intention of protecting assets in down markets and periods of market instability.”

The JLARC report seems to accept that explanation. Staff has a bigger problem with Virginia529’s large pricing reserve. The pricing reserve is a portion of the contract price in excess of the amount needed to pay future contract benefits; the reserve generates surplus revenue to protect the fund against risk. JLARC recommends a guideline that would reduce the pricing reserve as long as the Virginia529 fund has assets in excess of 130% of liabilities. “Reducing the pricing reserve from 10 percent to seven percent would improve affordability of Prepaid529 contracts but would have only a minor impact to the fund.”

Virginia529 staff disagrees. First, reducing the pricing reserve on future contracts creates equitability concerns for those who already purchased contracts. In effect, risk would be shifted to people who paid higher premiums so newcomers could enjoy lower premiums. Second, future dips in portfolio performance could affect actuarial soundness and necessitate returning the reserve to a higher percentage, creating contract pricing volatility. And third, reducing the pricing reserve would have only a modest impact on contract prices. Slashing the reserve to 7% would reduce the price of an 8-semester contract of $67,880 by only $$1,851.

Bacon’s bottom line. Here’s what JLARC and Virginia legislators seem to miss: Virginia529 signs a contract with Virginia families locking in college tuition at a certain price. Virginia529 doesn’t promise to “try real hard” to fulfill the terms of the contract. It will fulfill the contract. It doesn’t have the luxury of raising taxes, or diverting revenue from other programs, or literally borrowing from its investment portfolio and promising to pay it back later, as the General Assembly has done with the VRS. The program should be applauded for adopting an actuarial gold standard.

While JLARC raises reasonable points worthy of discussion by the Virginia529 board, legislators need to butt out. They have no skin in the game. They don’t pay a price if Virginia529 fails to fulfill its promises. If lawmakers want to make college tuition more affordable, they should either (a) increase state funding for public institutions, or (b) do the really hard work of driving costs out of the higher-ed system. Otherwise, brow-beating the Virginia529 board is cheap grandstanding.

CyberX Not Just an Amazon.com Subsidy

Virginia economic development officials have kept their lips tight about the incentive package Virginia is extending to Amazon.com, Inc., to induce the e-commerce giant to locate its second headquarters in Northern Virginia. My concern has been that the Commonwealth might attempt to outbid other states in dangling obscene tax breaks and subsidies to attract the project, which could  generate $5 billion in investment and hire 50,000 employees. But as it turns out, it looks like Virginia might be taking the right approach.

Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, made some reassuring statements to Michael Martz in the Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter’s article today about the CyberX initiative.

[Jones] and other state officials would not comment on the contents of a state incentive package to land the coveted headquarters, but Jones confirmed the state would rely heavily on indirect incentives, such as investments in higher education and transportation improvements that Amazon has made priorities in the high-profile search it began in September.

Prominent among those investments, apparently, is CyberX, a $50 million initiative cooked up by Jones and Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands during the General Assembly’s extended budget deliberations earlier this year. Here’s the thing: CyberX, which aims to address the unfilled 30,000 positions in cyber-security and related jobs in Northern Virginia, represents a workforce-related investment that Virginia needs to make whether Amazon decides to locate in Virginia or not. The severe cyber-security skills shortage is throttling on growth in Virginia’s most economically dynamic region. If we could solve this issue, we’d get plenty of economic growth with or without Amazon.com.

As described in the budget amendment, modest sums will be allocated to the initiative in the upcoming fiscal year, with a bonanza scheduled for FY 2020. The initiative will consist of a “primary hub” located in Northern Virginia with a network of “spokes” linking to other universities around Virginia for the purpose of building “an ecosystem of cyber-related research, education, and engagement that positions the Commonwealth as a world leader of cybersecurity.” Virginia Tech will serve as the “anchoring institution” and coordinator of the Hub.

Funding includes:

  • $15 million to the Virginia Research Investment Fund (VRIF), which will do two things: (1) certify public institutions of higher education to participate as “spokes,” and (2) provide matching funds for faculty recruitment.
  • $10 million for Virginia Tech to lease space and establish the Northern Virginia Hub.
  • $15 million for Virginia Tech to provide research faculty, entrepreneurship programs, student internships and educational programming at the Hub.
  • $3 million for a cyber-physical systems security lab at the Hub.
  • $3 million to support cyber-physical systems security labs at spoke sites across the Commonwealth.
  • $3 million to establish a machine learning lab at the Hub.
  • $1 million for classroom and distributed learning infrastructure improvements at the Hub.

Increasing the capacity of Virginia’s higher-ed system to train cyber-security employees may be a necessary condition for addressing the yawning IT skills gap, but it may not be a sufficient condition. Several questions arise.

First, how much of this money is going to workforce training and how much going to academic R&D? Martz’s article focuses on the fact that Virginia Tech and George Mason University are getting $250,000 each to hire a top cyber-security researcher. How does more research impact the skill shortage?

Second, is there a sufficient supply of high school graduates with the academic preparation and aptitude to enter these programs — or will Virginia Tech have to recruit aggressively from outside the state to find students?

Third, given the high cost of housing and the horrendous, soul-draining traffic congestion in Northern Virginia, will graduates of these programs even want to seek employment in the region — or will Virginia spend money to develop the human capital that other metros end up hiring?

Fourth, Jones’ comment to Martz implies that the General Assembly might be willing to make additional transportation “investments” in Northern Virginia, which are sorely needed. But what magnitude of such investments will be required to diminish NoVa traffic congestion to a degree that anyone can notice?

Despite those questions, CyberX strikes me as sound strategic thinking. The initiative serves an indisputable need, and the funds invested don’t put money in the pockets of a company with the world’s largest market capitalization. The investment builds Virginia’s capacity for cyber-security innovation.

The Continuing War on School Discipline

Governor Ralph Northam (right) at bill signing ceremony at Henderson Middle School. (Photo credit Richmond Times-Dispatch.)

Last week Governor Ralph Northam signed two bills limiting the suspensions Virginia schools can mete out to maintain student discipline. One bill bars school divisions from suspending students in pre-K through 3rd grade for more than three days; the other reduces the cap for long-term suspensions from 364 calendar days to 45 school days.

“There is power in every child,” the governor said, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We want to keep our children in school.”

The justification cited for the changes, as Bacon’s Rebellion readers will immediately surmise, is not based upon research showing that reduced suspensions are more effective means of discipline, they are based upon the disproportionate percentage of black students referred to law enforcement. The T-D frames the issue as part of the larger movement to combat the so-called “school to prison pipeline.”

Data released by the U.S. Department of Education in April show that while black students made up 15 percent of national enrollment in 2015-16, they accounted for 31 percent of students referred to law enforcement or arrested that year.

Every Richmond-area school division posted law enforcement referral rates at or worse than the national average.

I don’t have a big beef with the bills that Northam signed. You’d have to be a really bad-ass 3rd grader to warrant suspension for more than three days. And a year-long suspension for, say, a 10th grader, amounts to an expulsion for all practical purposes. I’m more concerned about how the issue is framed to justify a more therapeutic approach to school discipline, enacted by local school boards, that makes disruptive students the primary focus of compassion and concern.

“Exclusionary discipline is myopic and harmful. We cannot continue to use access to education as a punishment for student conduct and expect positive results from either students or schools,” said Amy Woolard, a staff attorney and policy coordinator at Virginia’s Legal Aid Justice Center upon the release of a report she authored in October.

Do social justice warriors like Woolard care about the kids whose educations are disrupted by misbehaving students? Let’s re-frame the issue: What percentage of minority kids attend classes where disciplinary issues detract from the teacher’s ability to teach? What percentage of minority kids find, as a result, that they gain less complete mastery of the subject matter — as measured by SOLs and other standardized test scores — than they would have if the disciplinary problems had been removed? If the education of a disproportionate percentage of minority kids is stunted due to the misbehavior of their peers, isn’t that a form of racism, too?

We don’t know the answers because nobody asks the questions and nobody bothers to measure. When nobody measures, there’s no injustice for the SJWs to decry. When there’s no injustice to decry for SJWs to decry, the real victims remain invisible. Where Northam says, “We want to keep our children in school,” I say, “We want the children in school to learn.”

Raising the Next Generation of Snowflakes

Graphic credit: Wall Street Journal

One in four students at elite universities are now classified as “disabled,” largely due to mental-health issues, reports the Wall Street Journal. And that disabled status is increasingly entitling them to special accommodations like being given extra time to complete exams.

Under federal law, schools must offer reasonable accommodations to the disabled. A blind student, for instance, would be given access to specialized software or a reader for an exam. No one could argue with that. But what about people with less visible disabilities such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD? Some colleges are providing “low distraction” testing centers and allowing students to bring “comfort animals” to school.

“At Pomona, we have extremely talented bright students with very high expectations who are coming in with a good level of anxiety and are highly stressed,” said Jan Collins-Eaglin, the Claremont, Calif., college’s associate dean of students for personal success and wellness. “Our job here is to help them really thrive.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Got that? The way to deal with anxiety and stress is to give students safe spaces rather than learn to master their fears and emotions.

Despite the advances of modern medicine and psychiatry, Americans are becoming mentally and physically more fragile with each succeeding generation. The problem starts long before kids go to college, but it’s becoming clearer than ever that institutions of higher education are not part of the solution but part of the problem.

The American character is becoming weaker and less resilient with each passing year. Can you imagine Generation Z (or whatever the post-Millennial generation is called) producing a Teddy Roosevelt, who was born a sickly child with debilitating asthma but, through force of will, overcame his physical health problems by embracing a strenuous lifestyle? The old virtues — strength, stamina, courage, perseverance, indomitable spirit in the face of adversity — are dying, replaced by the therapeutic ethic and cult of victimhood. Truly, we are a decaying society.

Recent news articles have noted that only a quarter or so of America’s youth qualify to enter the U.S. armed services. Once upon a time, American elites looked down upon military careers, as if they were occupations of last resort for those who couldn’t get into college. But if one third of college students have disabilities, it looks like the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are more selective these days than our institutions of higher education — and perhaps our only hope of preserving the traditional virtues upon which this country was built.

Lee Demoted… at Washington & Lee

Robert E. Lee on national reconciliation, from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture: In his public letters, a number of which were reprinted in newspapers, he urged that “all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.” Lee vowed to do “all in my power to encourage our people to set manfully to work to restore the country, to rebuild their homes and churches, to educate their children, and to remain with their states, their friends and countrymen.” Thus when Congress ordered the drafting of new constitutions in the former Confederate states and disgruntled southerners contemplated a boycott of the system, Lee announced that it was “the duty of the [southern] people to accept the situation fully” and that every man should not only “prepare himself to vote” but also “prepare his friends, white and colored, to vote and to vote rightly.”

It’s not easy being Washington & Lee University these days. Talk about the ultimate politically incorrect name — an appellation based on not one but two slave owners!

Of the two, Robert E. Lee is held in the lowest regard these days, reviled as a military commander of the Confederacy rather than his role in reconciling North and South after the Civil War — largely during his tenure as president of the university. So it’s no surprise that W&L’s Commission on Institutional History and Community has issued recommendations to de-emphasize its connection with Lee. That would include re-naming Lee House and the Lee-Jackson House, along with Robinson Hall named for a Rockbridge County plantation owner, reports The News Gazette.

No mention of deleting Lee’s name from the university.

Meanwhile, the commission proposes incorporating the university’s history into its orientation program and curriculum. Among the specifics:

  • “Require each undergraduate student to take a seminar that explores W&L history, including the involvement of the namesakes, the contribution of enslaved persons, the role of W&L in the creation and dissemination of the Lost Cause narrative, the training of soldiers on campus, and the impact of our graduates on the institution and the world. The goal would be neither to mask nor to bash the university’s history, but rather to tell the full story, confident that the university’s positive contributions to society far outweigh its shortcomings. …
  • “During Spring Term, foster campus unity by selecting a topic or issue that the entire community explores and discusses, whether in multiple class offerings that address the topic from different angles; a speaker series that highlights different aspects of the issue.”

In the wrong hands, this could turn into an exercise in white guilt and self-flagellation. I don’t get the sense that W&L is loaded with professors steeped in identity politics bent upon de-legitimizing the nation’s founding… but then the content of a program like this really depends upon who is put in charge and how it is run. So, we’ll have to wait and see.

Whoever runs the program, though, I don’t see these recommendations as “fostering campus unity.” Fostering campus division is more likely.

Awkward Questions for Roanoke’s Health Sciences Campus

The Virginia Tech Carilion health sciences campus is emerging as the new economic growth engine for Roanoke. The impact of the campus on the state’s economy will grow from $214 million today to $465.2 million within eight years, according to a study issued by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

The addition of a second building at the research institute will create 828 new jobs and generate $150 million in additional spending by 2026, reports the Roanoke Times. The figures measure only direct impact, not the effect of undergraduate students studying there or spin-off development in the surrounding area.

“I think that as a region we need to think big because this is an opportunity that comes our way once a century,” said Heywood Fralin, chairman of the VTC Academic Health Center Steering Committee. The last time anything this big happened in Roanoke was when the Norfolk & Western Railway moved its headquarters in 1882 to the area then known as Big Lick.

The Roanoke Times provides the history of the initiative:

Tech and Carilion formed a partnership a decade ago to build a medical school and research institute on the Riverside campus. The research institute is at capacity, and a new building is underway that will double its size and expand its reach in advancing medical discoveries through trials and to market. Tech intends to offer more undergraduate programs in Roanoke centered around its school of neuroscience, and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine will move its cancer treatment center to Roanoke. Four companies have been spun off from research since 2010. At that pace, the economist expects 10 more companies will form by 2025.

Here’s the catch:

“Clearly, the more financial support we can give to this effort the better it will be,” Fralin said. “There is an enormous list of things that are needed. To date, the commonwealth of Virginia has funded the buildings. I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that every building going forward will be built by the commonwealth.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Before I launch into a contrarian mode of thought, let me make it crystal clear that Roanoke desperately needs a new pillar to its economy. Its old industrial-era economy has been hollowed out. The region needs to look to a knowledge-economy model of development rather than vainly try to rehabilitate the old manufacturing model. The research-center initiative brings together two of western Virginia’s key players, Virginia Tech and the Carilion health system, who have the financial clout and know-how to make things happen.

But I do find myself compelled to ask, who’s paying for all this?

Clearly, the Commonwealth of Virginia will be paying for the buildings — through state-backed bond issues, I presume. That’s fine, the state pays for higher-ed buildings across the state, and it’s only fair that Roanoke get its piece of the action.

But who’s paying for all the faculty, researchers, graduate students, and support staff? Hopefully, some of the money will come from federal and private-sector research contracts. Great! But how much? How much is coming from Virginia Tech and how much from Carilion? Digging deeper, where does Virginia Tech get its money, and where does Carilion get its money? To what extent, if any, are these new programs being subsidized by undergraduate tuition payments? To what extent, if any, are they being underwritten by higher-than-needed profits generated by the “nonprofit” Carilion health system?

Another way of asking the question: To what extent are Virginia Tech students paying higher tuition and Carilion patients paying higher medical bills in order to build the campus? To what extent is wealth being extracted from taxpayers, students, patients, and even local philanthropists to fund this research complex? Perhaps most critically of all, to what extent will the health science campus require ongoing subsidies forever?

The buildings, contracts and jobs being created are highly visible, and their economic impact is easy to measure. The funding sources are highly dispersed and largely invisible. Their economic impact is impossible to measure. Does the health science campus represent the optimal investment of society’s resources? Who knows? Nobody is even asking the question.

VCU Board Rubber Stamps 6.4% Tuition Hike

Virginia Commonwealth University admissions acceptance rate through the 2016-17 school year. Source: State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors will jack up its tuition and fees by $866 next year, an increase of 6.4%. The vote came Friday after a presentation VCU administration sparked no discussion, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Only one board member, former political science professor Robert D. Holsworth, cast a vote against the increase.

“This budget helps ensure that we will provide an exceptional educational experience while staying true to our mission of advancing student success and access,” President Michael Rao said in a statement.

The administration billed the increase as needed to provide a 3% merit-based raise for faculty and to raise adjunct salaries from $800 per credit hour to $1,000. VCU’s tuition increase was more than double that of the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, and barely exceeded by that of the College of William & Mary for incoming freshmen and transfers.

Bacon’s bottom line: So, what’s the excuse this time? VCU can’t blame the General Assembly. The legislature appears set to budget $15 million in General Fund support for tuition at VCU million in fiscal 2019, a 7.2% increase from the current fiscal year.

More prestigious institutions like UVa, Tech and W&M have the market power to increase tuition and suffer no loss in enrollment. They enjoy such strong demand that even if some students are priced out on the margins, there are plenty of other students willing to pay the higher price. The question I raised last year is how much pricing power VCU has, especially given its identity as an institution that caters to first-in-family college students who tend to be less affluent and find it more difficult to pay the tab. Can VCU continue to hike the cost of attendance without suffering a loss in enrollment?

After a 3.8% tuition hike last year, fall 2017 enrollment at VCU did decline slightly — from 24,199 in 2016 to 24,102 – about 97 students. That’s a negative direction, but the percentage is so small that it can be construed as within the normal range of variability. Still, that modest decline must be regarded in the light of a second statistic — the acceptance rate. While most colleges are getting more selective in whom they admit (because students tend to be applying to more colleges), VCU has been getting less selective. The blue and orange lines in the graph above show how the university has been accepting a higher percentage of students who have been applying in recent years.

Does that mean VCU is scraping the bottom of the barrel? Hard to say. Two years ago, VCU announced that it would no longer require with a high school GPA of 3.3 or higher to submit SAT scores. High school GPAs, the administration argued, were better predictors than SAT scores of college success. Forgive my skepticism. Against the backdrop of high school grade inflation and the wide variation in academic standards from institution to institution, some might find GPAs less than worthless.

No one or two data points can be viewed in isolation. One year’s data cannot be regarded as conclusive evidence of anything. But the data should raise questions.

And questions, according to the Times-Dispatch, are exactly what were absent at the VCU board meeting. The board rubber-stamped the administration’s proposal for the most important decision it makes all year. Rather than ask for the numbers, explore the implications of those numbers, and ask the administration to defend those numbers, the board did nothing. Which raises the question, why bother even having a Board of Visitors?

Caution, You Are Entering a No Free-Speech Zone

Bruce Kothman engaged in prohibited activity — reading out loud from the Bible.

When University of Virginia alumnus Bruce Kothman planted himself on the steps of the Rotunda last week and began reading from Isaiah 40, a university police officer ordered him to stop. He was violating rules promulgated by the university in the aftermath of the Nazi/Klan rally last year restricting the right of people “unaffiliated” with the university, which includes alumni, to speak on the grounds without properly obtaining permission from the administration.

Kothman, who is Jewish, was appalled by the United the Right rally last year, which included a torch-lit parade across the Lawn accompanied by chants of “Jews will not replace us.”

But he also worried about the freedom-of-speech implications of the new university rules. He decided to test them last week — and he lost, reports the Washington Post.

To the broader public, Kothman is a much more sympathetic character than Jason Kessler, an Alt-Right provocateur who organized the United the Right rally and has made it his business to get in the face of progressives, lefties, and Charlottesville city officials. While 99% of the population may find his behavior hateful and obnoxious, he hasn’t been convicted of breaking any laws. But when he began visiting the law school library to read up on his law — apparently, he’s the subject of civil litigation — a library employee tipped off local activists who then began harassing him. Kessler engaged in argumentation with them and posted on social media referring to the protesters as “stalkers” and “Alt-Left scumbags.”

The university then banned Kessler from the grounds, issuing the following statement by way of explanation:

The warning was issued due to multiple reports from students that Mr. Kessler threatened them, targeted them through cyber-bullying and cyber-harassment, and targeted them based on protected characteristics. Kessler also intentionally and purposefully misled officers of the University Police Department regarding the torchlight rally that he helped organize on Aug. 11. His conduct on Aug. 11 threatened the health and safety of members of the University community.

Given his role in the United the Right rally, it is totally understandable that the university would regard Kessler as a malign presence. But he was not looking for trouble when he visited the library. To the contrary, the protesters were the ones who precipitated the confrontation.

There seems to be a new logic taking hold in Virginia universities. When the presence of a non-leftist person or group causes campus leftists to get agitated and disruptive, the non-leftists are held responsible — and their activities are curtailed. (I have been informed that Virginia Tech is charging the Young Americans for Freedom and Turning Point, two conservative organizations, for the security costs of their speakers rather than disciplining the students who threaten to shut them down. But I have not confirmed the accuracy of this information.)

It’s not controversial to ban a reviled character like Kessler. But it’s a slippery slope when people like Bruce Kothman are prohibited from reading from the Old Testament out loud on the Rotunda steps. And the trend is all the most troubling when the restrictions are applied in such a way that members of protected groups can engage in harassing and disruptive behavior without suffering any consequences at all. I had hoped that Virginia institutions of higher education would prove resistant to the creeping totalitarianism on college campuses, but I’m not encouraged by what I see.