Friday, January 30, 2004

A witness to sausagemaking 

Minnesota Education Reform News has been keeping notes on the social science reform hearings. Of my own three minutes of suckitude he writes that I "provided a lively testimony in favor of the standards in general and economics education specifically." That's far too generous; I enjoyed myself, but that elevated horseshoe at which the representatives sat felt like I was facing court-martial before Starfleet. Anyway, here's what I put into testimony. Fellow letter signer Jim Tracy was a much smoother cucumber in his turn.

A couple of other observations. The social science minority report, presented by a disgruntled group of public school teachers, started out well with concern over the amount of material covered. But their suggestion to send this draft back to a whole new committee seemed to me like they were still mad they had lost the battle on the Profiles of Learning (our previous educational standards which were repealed last May.) One of the teachers spent his time trashing private and charter school teachers and homeschoolers as over-represented and not worthy of a place on the committee because they don't have to follow these standards. (This is the same chap who complained on MERN that he was misrepresented in his slam on another presenter's school's debate team.) When pressed on specifics, they refused -- they simply don't want to work with this draft at all.

Our "buddy" Paul had a gift for melodrama. I thought Rep. Jeff Johnson called our pal for what he was. Paul was showing off his "report card" on the new standards (with silly pieces of paper with C, D, and F like the 8, 9, 10 we used to hold up for the NBA Dunk contest). Rep. Johnson asked whether, because his group is called Minnesotans Against the Proposed Social Science Standards, that Paul's grading might display a little bias. Oh no! says our multiculti warrior. "I had an open mind. I waited and didn't comment when the revisions came out. I read them first. I don't even really want to be here today." There were a few eyes rolling over that one. This is also bull, since he called in to this NPR program (in RealAnnoyingPopupAudio, go in about 19.5 minutes) by December 22nd to criticize the standards, so he gave them less than a week's review to go back on the attack. It's worth remembering that his petition was given over on the 15th, and the second draft came out on the 19th. Was he really going to go away a week after delivering his petition? No. Will they offer any realistic alternative? No.

Bright orange 

Mitch also asks whether we would get a red light from Given our still-simmering civility code issue, I'd say we're bright orange right now. We've had worse times that FIRE has noted.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

An idea whose time has come 

Reaganmas. Celebration rituals include:Figured it out? No? Then follow Mitch. Think we can have a display in the student union?

Think they're trying to tell us something? 

On the cable channel's local weather screen (simulcasting radio, good for background noise):
Tonight: Partly cloudy and brutally cold. Low 28 below zero.

Tomorrow: Bitterly cold despite partial sunshine. High 6 below zero.

Someone needs to kick the adverb subroutine.

And further yet 

Following on Dave's comment just below: The evisceration of the state universities by MnSCU continues.
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities propose to strengthen K-12 education and prepare the skilled employees neccessary to accelerate the growth of advanced manufacturing, health care, biosciences and other targeted Minnesota industries.
Sounds like we need a few more years for school-to-work to work out, eh? The proposals are to create an online university by 2006; create educational "SWAT teams" to support Governor Pawlenty's JOBZ plan (a bad idea if I ever heard one); "create a world-class Teacher Center"; and increase the number of nurses in the state. I'm sure that increased supply of nurses will thrill those already in the health care industry.

Look at Chancellor McCormack's work plan and tell me if you see anything about academic excellence. Anywhere? Dig around the site. I'll wait.

Nope. This week we finally saw something that discussed academics: in our email came a proposal for a Business Practice Alignment Committee to make our academic standards more uniform. Great, I thought! About time someone looked at this. What do I find? Discussion of the grading scale and how the transcripts will look, to be sure everyone knows you're at a MnSCrUd-up school. (There actually is one piece of good news: They will permit students to retake classes only once ... unless they get special permission. Think special permission will be hard to get? Doubt it.)

And I love this claim that "the system returns $6.28 in economic benefits for every $1 in net state appropriations." Well then, tax the state at 100% and give the money to us!* Untold wealth awaits!

So we will grow more teachers and nurses, two jobs that pay handsomely. And, interestingly, two industries that are increasingly run by the state rather than the market. Think that's a coincidence? Guess again.

*--well, not us as in SCSU, except for nursing and education.

As for MnSCU - Let them eat cake 

Are you interested in reading about a comprehensive regional university that:

- is located in smaller city of a Midwestern state,
- is a short freeway-drive to a major metropolitan area,
- enrolls somewhat more than 15,000 students,
- is scheduled to play the Minnesota Gophers in a major sport, and
- was started as a teachers� college in the mid 19th century?

No, although the campus to which I�m referring looks like that of SCSU, I�m now reading about a different university. Before drafting a resolution to take to my precinct caucus in a few weeks, I�m checking out the web pages of Illinois State University.

Why does its master plan now use �QUANTITATIVE goals and action outcomes,� rather than �qualitative key performance indicators?� Why, it even has a quantitative objective to raise the salaries of its faculty! Check out ISU�s 7 goals and 16 Actions.

Why do the levels of Illinois State�s endowment and annual-giving now dwarf those of SCSU?

Perhaps the answer to these questions and ISU�s remarkable turnaround over the past seven years can be found here:

�in the fall of 1995, the 89th General Assembly of the State of Illinois passed Senate Bill 241 which was sent to and signed by the Governor to become Public Act 89-0004. This new legislation established autonomous governing boards for seven state universities as part of a continuing reform of the state's higher education system. With the reorganization of Illinois' higher education system, state universities will be governed by boards whose duty is to assure their students are receiving the highest quality education possible and that tax and tuition dollars are being used wisely. The [independent] Board of Trustees of Illinois State University began operation on January 1, 1996.�

Some Minnesota legislators are now proposing that we need to take a critical look at the burgeoning bureaucracy that is comprised of MnSCU�s minions, who today apparently seek to micromanage everything � even down to the layout of the transcript to be used by our once great and distinctive university. Others advocate our secession from MnSCU as essential for SCSU to return to its �tradition of excellence and opportunity� for individuals. They say that we must turn away from MnSCU�s alternative vision of �mediocrity and equality of programs.� They espouse a competitive, rather than collectivist model under which excelling campuses and programs should be rewarded, while failing campuses should be closed, believing that not all of us deserve a 3.7 GPA.

As we eat cold ice cream tomorrow (following a night of 20 below-zero temperatures) on �Minnesota state-employee appreciation day,� let�s dream of a warmer climate � not necessarily that of the tropics, but of Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. There at ISU, independent trustees, administrators, faculty, and staff have worked together to craft a truly remarkable �action plan for distinctiveness and excellence.� As for those at MnSCU, maybe some of us in our various political caucuses around the state this winter will have the courage to draft resolutions that state, �let them eat cake.�

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Trackback down temporarily 

Apparently busted his bandwidth limit. Shoot.

UPDATE (1/29): Back up.

Rational expectations in admissions 

I think one of the least understood and most valuable insights in economics is Goodhart's Law. `Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes,' or as restated in that link, when you try to target some measure, that measure ceases to measure what you thought it was measuring. Michael has a lovely example of this in terms of college admissions, and ways to work around the problem.

UPDATE (1/29): John Bruce reacts with a shrug.

Emory to vote on eliminating its speech code today 

The full story has been covered by Critical Mass. The code has been in place since August 1988 and four prior attempts at repeal have failed. We hope for success today.

This additional article from Emory illustrates the difficulties of speech codes. Using the code, as Critical Mass has documented, led to censure of another faculty member and sensitivity training, but the aggrived faculty member who filed the complaint for censure also wants a finding of hostile work environment, a claim which failed in the university's Equal Opportunity Programs office. So, she wants the president to overturn the finding. Failing that, we can imagine, there will be a claim to the EEOC, and so on.

Does this sound familiar, SCSU readers?

UPDATE (1/29): Meanwhile, the campus newspaper either gets sensitive or the vapors. They report, you decide?

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Where have I been? 

Everywhere at once, it seems. We're trying to hire people into the department and I started the morning for a phone interview of one (missed the candidate, as it turns out.) Then I went to the House Education Committee hearings on the social science standards. I got to speak for three minutes and answer some questions. I'll give you a longer post on this later; I normally can speak just fine, but today I just never believed a mouth could get so dry without use of an Avo Domaine. I enjoyed myself.

Later, at a secret location in the heart of DFLland, members of the Northern Alliance joined together to discover shared histories of music, radio, and wondering what it would take to create a decent newspaper in Minnesota. One note about the location -- the quality of the graffiti in the men's room was much higher than anything ever read in St. Cloud. At this location I also made predictions on the outcome of the NH primary, which is the place of my homeland. I thought Kerry 31-34%, Dean over 25% and Edwards near 20%, with Lieberman surprising and Clark perhaps fifth and seeyalater.

Drove home and heard the day's woes and did not get here to the laptop and primary coverage until after 9pm. The only surprise watching this stuff now is that Edwards did less than the buildup that was all over the news channels in the last week. How can his talks seem to generate so much noise on TV and so few votes? Kerry is on the TV right now talking to Greta and his face looks tons thinner and he has even less energy than ever. Someone battened down his hair.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Minnesota Education Reform News has its own running notes (sort of a blog, but without permalinks) which includes his own observations at the Senate hearings. These are notes on things you didn't get in the news articles. For instance:
The Minneapolis Public Schools were represented by its interim superintendent and former Speaker of the Minnesota House, Dave Jennings; and Dana Carmichael-Tanaka. The latter has been a vocal critic of the standards, saying on WCCO-TV that "Too many benchmarks in the proposed [first draft] standards tell us the Declaration of Independence trumps the Constitution...I see it [the Declaration of Independence] more as a divorce document. But it's not where we should take all of our guiding principles from?the Constitution is." Sen. Olson challenged Carmichael-Tanaka's strong assertion during testimony that civic participation was missing from the final draft standards, even citing the page number where it is in fact covered. Carmichael-Tanaka was momentarily speechless, then made a vague statement about objecting to the tone of the standard.
Once again, what is this antipathy towards the Declaration? A "divorce document"? That's a very shallow understanding.

Fussy birds 

A note on our university announce list this AM:
If you eat oatmeal from a 42-ounce Quaker Oatmeal box, please donate your box and its lid to the art department when you've polished off the last of it. Other brands and sizes don't work. Photography students make pinhole cameras out of them. Some complain that they don't want to buy it and throw the contents to the birds because they hate oatmeal.
I can't figure out if the students have decided that because students hate oatmeal the birds must too, or if they have received some notes from the crows: "Jeepers! Oatmeal again! When do we get the Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs?"

I'll see your screwball and raise you a slider 

Well that didn't take long. Sunday's letters at the StarTribune included as its second item our first dive into ad hominem:
I am a college history professor with 37 years' experience. Were I asked to lend support to a screwball set of standards in chemistry, biblical studies, Spanish, law or English, I would defer my judgment. This deference to intellectual respect apparently does not obtain to the majority of those Minnesota professors who have lent their names to the transparently ideological "standards" for social studies.
I hope he teaches his kids at NDSU better than this. First, there are two separate letters, and those who were not social scientists signed a separate letter. Unfortunately news coverage and the careful readership of a history professor of 37 years couldn't pick that up.

Second, I assume Prof. Anderson has his students write. Would he be barred from decrying how writing is taught? My students use math -- if students were to come to my classes unable to plot points on a graph (and sadly, more and more are), do I not have a stake and something to say about the state of math education? Of course not. If he as a history professor of 37 years experience cannot say anything about how much anybody knows in any area other than history -- particularly someone who teaches Western Civilization! -- then I would say he has learned little from his experience.

Lastly, the scare quotes around the word standards is almost as bad as the use of the word screwball, and is a question-begging premise. Weak stuff. If you want to throw screwballs, get 'em up and in.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Worthy new read 

I was going to write a review and link to several education stories filling up the blogs this weekend, but you can catch 'em all in one link. ReformK12 deserves a spot on your blogtour, and thanks to them for saving me some work.

Friday, January 23, 2004

My color is a little off 

Sorry not to post much today, but the flu running around MN got to me yesterday and laid me flat today. Just up now (after 9pm) to check mail and I get this note:
[Hugh Hewitt] opened the show by saying, "I'm temporarily blind. I was just looking at Infinite Monkeys' new design..."

"Arguably the worst color scheme in the history of the Internet"

You will note that they've also changed to MT and have a new address. Update your links.

Worst color scheme? I guess we have competition. Back Monday. I'm feeling better but not going to push my luck.

Abusing legacy arguments 

Michael at Highered Intelligence administers a mighty fisking of an op-ed on legacy admissions, particularly at Texas A&M. Money quote:
College admissions have become a nervous breakdown because (a) kids who shouldn't be going to college have been told it is their only measure of self-worth, and (b) because students apply to dozens and dozens of colleges. Applying to college is actually a VERY different creature than the SAT. The SAT is far easier than applying to college: a single afternoon. Fraught with anxiety for some, yes. But it's nothing compared to whoring yourself out for recommendations and community service medals. It's a minor inconvenience when measured against the way students drive themselves to exhaustion in extracurricular activity upon extracurricular activity.

Getting rid of the SAT and making the process more "subjective" won't make applying to college easier. It will make it a zoo.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Letters of support for social sciene standards available 

The letters of support from the social scientists and other interested academics are available, courtesy of Minnesota Education Reform News.

Also available at EdWatch.

Quid pro quo censorship? 

The Mobile Register opines on the dispute between the University of Alabama and the Alabama Scholars Association over distribution of ASA's newsletter the Alabama Observer.
"But why does the university fear unrestricted dialogue? Are administrators scared of the power of ideas? It appears so. The UA administrators banned the Observer after it published data that shows what appears to be gross grade inflation in some academic departments. According to the Scholars Association analysis, the women's studies department gave A's to nearly 80 percent of the freshmen and sophomores who took its courses last year. That's an amazing achievement considering that only 11 percent of the freshmen and sophomores who took biology classes made A's. This year, the administrators refused to give the organization access to the data, lamely claiming they don't have the funding to push a button on a computer to compile it. That's ridiculous. "
See ASA's website fmi.

You should try teaching there 

Kimberly Swygert exposes some foolish thinking about the SAT by the current president of Pitzer College. As a former visiting professor there, I'm fairly certain that this movement to eliminate the SAT was not President Trombley's initiative. And one has to understand Pitzer's heritage and mission. It has always been the "alt school" in the Claremont constellation, and I think the elimination of the SAT fits that self-image. There are students I think would be great for Pitzer, and others who would not be, and frankly I doubt that the decision of "who fits" would correlate well with SAT scores. And Trombley's op-ed -- which is really an advertisement for Pitzer, which is her job after all -- is an attempt to place her institution with schools like "Bates, Bowdoin, Hamilton, Franklin and Marshall, Mt. Holyoke and ... Sarah Lawrence."

Moreover, if "we want students who are diverse and talented, with interests and achievements in and out of the classroom," they've already said they aren't going to emphasize academic achievement. At least she saved students some money.

That said, this paragraph just annoyed me.

We Americans desperately want to be reassured that we are the best when it comes to equalizing opportunity and rewarding merit, and the SAT affords us the chance to indulge our appetite for seemingly objective measurement. But at the underside of our meritocracy is a car-crash culture, filled with such wrecks along the self-esteem highway as television programs like "Survivor," "The Bachelor," "American Idol" and "Extreme Makeover."

And that's where you'll find the real message of the SAT: If you are the last one standing, having beaten your competitors by any means necessary, you are the winner. Everyone else is a loser.
Swygert calls this for what it is:
First she natters on about how the SAT was developed in the 1920's - I suppose we're supposed to assume that it's still a product of those old, bad, racist days, despite the fact that eugenic science has been discredited for fifty years - then she claims that the SAT is the same thing as reality TV, which is an ugly by-product of the 2000's. What's more, if I read this right, she's against all competition whatsover, because competition produces winners and losers.
And, Swygert continues, using a GPA or class standing instead doesn't change the competitive nature of admissions at Pitzer, just the arena of competition.

UPDATE: Read Kimberly first, then read Cathy Seipp's send-up of President Trombley. I'll simply say, don't wait for the trustees to do anything.

That's a trick question 

How many times does a professor hear that? With me, all the time -- when you emphasize economics as a way of thinking, you have to test on their understanding of the way in many situations. Craig Newmark discusses a situation where a student is exasperated with not knowing what's on the test. In summary,
a large number of undergraduates, as well as even some graduate students, believe that the instructor's main function is to tell the students what to memorize. And if the students duly so memorize, they believe they deserve A's.
Prof. Newmark eventually asks his student whether "a college course should teach you to do more than memorize?" I'd have them look at Arnold Kling's discussion questions -- how would you study to answer three of those on an exam? Do I have to give you the questions in advance? Who gave them to Kling?

Nevertheless, the most common complaint on student evaluations are that my exams are hard and filled with trick questions. I may have told this story here before, but I was telling this to my wife one night, and the next morning I did my usual take-the-WSJ-to-the-bathroom routine. I found a story there that made me think of an exam question. I came upstairs -- the men's bathroom or men's crisis center is consigned to the basement -- and started writing the question down. She asks what I'm doing and I tell her. "See, you're students are right. You do pull your questions out of your ass." I tell this to students and inform them I'm irredeemable.

Update on Nona Gerard 

Critical Mass has a letter from a tenured professor in a termination hearing at Penn State-Altoona, refuting many of the charges made against her. She faces charges of failure to perform assigned duties and grave misconduct. The misconduct seems to center on email she sent criticizing a program. If the professor sent critical private emails on a public listserv (that is, paid for by tax dollars), does she still have rights to keep the email private or can a supervisor publicize the criticism? And if that is done, and as a result a hostile environment arises, does the responsibility for that fall on the author of the email or the publisher? Erin notes:
In fact, it was an administrator who publicly aired Gerard's private email correspondence--and who is thus arguably the one responsible for creating the so-called hostile environment at PSA.
Emphasis mine.

UPDATE: John wonders if it's wise for Gerard to speak out when in the middle of hearings, and where her lawyers are. My experience here agrees with that: Parties tend to keep very quiet and wait for rulings before clearing the public record. For an $80,000 lawyer bill, I assume she is getting wise counsel.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Naysaying markets 

Daniel thinks this picture tells a story that markets don't work. But as Brian points out in a comment at the end, the chart -- which is for the Democratic nomination, not the Iowa primary -- is probably pretty accurate. Nevertheless, I prefer markets where the traders have more exposure to trading mechanisms than the IEM.

Current prices on NH from Tradesports: Kerry below 1-2, Dean 4-1, Edwards 20-1, Field (including Clark) 19-1. Never trade against the tape.

UPDATE (1/22, 10am): Mark Kleiman is providing daily postings to compare Tradesports, IEM and the pools. Daniel still wants to support his argument (see his update), seemingly because the IEM is in Iowa like the caucus. That won't fly: IEM is an international market; I had an account which I have traded from as far away as Indonesia. They don't call it the World Wide Web for nothing, y'know. As well, the stall on the Dean contract in that market comes long before the caucus; on an all-or-nothing option, the price should asymptotically approach $1 on the contract as you approach the date of the event (this explains the wild movements on the NH Primary contracts on Tradesports.) Oh, and as of this morning and that Herald poll, the current Tradesports odds, the Dean contract is trading at $.18 to win $1 (about 9-2), Kerry up to 1-3 ($.72).

Some people are never satisfied 

Check out the lede for this Minnesota Public Radio piece on the new social science standards.
In the new proposed history and social studies standards for Minnesota students, Martin Luther King Jr.'s name is mentioned more times than most historical figures. Children will be required to become familiar with King and with his contribution to the country as early as kindergarten. Throughout high school students are supposed to have several more exposures to King's life and work. Still, critics of the new standards say there are too few required lessons on the social injustices King fought. (My emphasis)
The article goes on at length about where the life of Martin Luther King is taught. But some people are not satisfied.
"In over 22,000 words, in this 59-page standard document 'racism' only appears once. That's alarming," says Paul Spies, co-founder of Minnesotans Against Proposed Social Studies Standards.

Spies says the new standards ask teachers to include so much in their lesson plans, that he fears they may leave out or downplay the impact of white supremacy on the struggle for civil rights. He also says the standards threaten to paint a narrow portrait of King.

"Students are supposed to know about Dr. King in high school. But only within the context of the Civil Rights Movement," says Spies. "Many people know that Dr. King turned not to just the cause of civil rights but human rights and was very much an anti-war activist an advocate for world peace. But there is no mention in that standard of his opposition to Vietnam."
This type of vituperation is apparent on the site of Spies' group (though he says it isn't his alone, we seldom see any other spokespersons in the news.) While calling the group non-partisan, there are plenty of references to the ideology behind the standards. When I decide to post on this next, I will recall for you my own experience with Dr. Spies, a warrior of multiculti education.

BTW, right below the lede is this quote of a high school senior in a social studies class decides to illustrate the Bill of Rights.

"And the second one is the right to bear arms. That's a little NRA guy with his little gun," she says.
Can somebody, anybody, tell me why that's in the story?

NAS supports Academic Bill of Rights 

The president of the National Association of Scholars has come out in favor of the Academic Bill of Rights. I've expressed reservations about this, but Steven Balch says I'm wrong:
Few scholars I've talked to disagree with this assessment, but several have expressed apprehensions about the propriety of the ABR as a statement of legislative policy. Their doubts revolve around fears of politicizing academic policy, encouraging legislative micromanagement, and provoking a "backlash". Although each qualm stands on reasonable ground, and serves as a caution against avoidable danger, none, I believe, comprises an objection to action. Quite the contrary, legislative support of the ABR offers a chance to effect overdue reforms in the best way possible -- by concentrating the academic mind on its need to retain public trust.
Again, if it's simply a warning shot to trustees, I suppose this isn't a problem, but Steve seems to be saying something more. And I think Eugene Volokh's warning bears close scrutiny:
I suspect that any attempt to implement this sort of "pluralism"-based preference system, especially under legislative pressure, would be corrosive and corrupting. Hiring debates focus more and more on candidates' political preferences. More accomplished candidates will find themselves set aside in favor of less accomplished ones that can be spun to higher-ups and legislators as providing more "pluralism." Candidates will have to spin themselves as filling some "pluralism"-based niche, and will have to rebut charges that they aren't "authentic conservatives" or "genuine Southern Baptists" (remember that religious belief cannot be the sole basis for a decision, which seems to call for allowing it as a partial basis for a decision).
I simply prefer the approach of Ward Connerly on race quotas -- don't ask about anyone's political preferences, nor their race, nor their religion. Just ask them who they are as individuals.

47 professors endorse Minnesota social science standards 

I attended this press conference in which the social science standards were supported by 24 social science professors and 27 other faculty in Minnesota. Coverage is in the Pioneer Press as well (though the signed reporter was not at the conference and they kicked it to the back of the metro section) and the AP. I have more to report, but have meetings until 1pm. Back this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Belichick was an economics major 

Karen DeCoster at the Mises blog says that this is why the Patriots head coach does so well.
his mathematical and economics background have fed his penchant for strategy, deep analysis, and cost-benefit decisions. Where other coaches only see an individual's outward performance, Belichick lays out his plans based on deeper analysis. He measures the player's direct cost to the team and the various opportunity costs of keeping the player. The benefits of that player's performance are weighed against the assorted costs to determine whether ot not that player will advance the performance of the team, as a whole, while at his position. Apparently, he finds that using simple, incremental analysis adds to his problem-solving ability, which he relies on for both personnel and gameplan decisions. Belichick, in my opinion, though not necessarily the finest coach in the NFL, is the game's greatest master in terms of the particulars of planning and gameday management, and he accomplishes this as an economist and field academic.
Belichick went to Phillips Andover and Wesleyan. In a blog of a thesis done at Virginia, Jason Detwiler mentions Belichick's understanding of David Romer's paper on going for it on fourth down.
Steelers head coach, Bill Cowher, commented on Romer�s application of the Bellman equation: �Basically, you have to recognize that you're not doing everything by a sense of what the odds are,� Cowher said. �When you drive the length of the field, you want to come away with points because, if you don't make it, there's a tremendous momentum you have to take into account.� 8

Bill Belichick, head coach of the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots commented: "I think, basically, he was saying that if you get down there and don't score, you're putting the other team 80, 90 yards away from the goal line anyway, and the chances of them scoring aren't very good," Belichick said. "You'll probably get the ball back in good field position. And the percentages added up to his conclusion, which was to go for it."

Cowher coaches on the basis of emotion, Belichick does math (maybe even Bellman equations.) You can argue who is the better coach.

Penn State indoctrination 

Perusing the NoIndoctrination site, I found this post from a frustrated student at Penn State.
Earlier in the semester I had written a column on Homophobia and how it was intolerant for someone to call a person a homophobe if they simply disagree with homosexuality. The following day a student was published in the newspaper not only calling me a homophobe but a heterosexist (apparently they are making up more words to name call people . . .one is not enough). Even though the column never touched on my personal beliefs about homosexuality I felt as if the words �homophobe� and �heterosexist� were words of bigotry against Christian beliefs and Conservative ideology - bigotry that should not be tolerated. I further claimed that these names could lead to the suspension or expulsion of students from school or the dismissal of employees if they became stigmatized by these often abused names. ... After submitting my complaint to REPORT THE HATE, they responded some time later explaining that the words were not used in a context of historical discrimination. The Diversity Advocate also excused her words because she was reacting to �systematic oppression of a people� and saw me as the oppressor. Interesting how simply saying �Tolerate others' beliefs� makes you an oppressor.
Now the guy that gave our diversity seminar at SCSU this year is the Vice Provost for Educational Equity at PSU, whose office runs Report the Hate. The letter the student wrote which provoked the angry response isn't eloquent, but neither does it deserve the rudeness of the response. It is inconceivable that he would have escaped punishment if he had been the responding letter. But according to that vice provost, listening to conservative talk radio is punishable if others might hear it.

Very keen 

Cold Spring Shops reports that his school is reviewing Principles of Microeconomics for their general education program and find it missing just one thing.
The committee thought that, givent he nature of the subject matter, much more could be done with multiculturalism. If this is being done, could you document that, and if not, could you explain why?

Multiculturalism is one of the things the committee has been looking at most closely. It is my understanding that the various curriculum committees on campus have been very keen to incorporate multiculturalism as broadly as feasible across the university curriculum, and especially in the general education program.
Stephen suggests looking at their general education guidelines. Our general education courses must meet five criteria:
  1. The course must provide an opportunity for the student to develop competence in basic academic skills. Little doubt that principles of economics does this, incorporating everything from math to history to psychology.
  2. The course must provide the student with a background in severeal disciplines while demonstrating the inherent interrelatedness of traditional disciplines.Check.
  3. The course must develop and extend the student's capacity for inquiry and critical judgment.Check 2.
  4. The course must promote the student's involvement in the examination of human values.It's harder to convince people of this, particularly when your course focuses on markets and exchange. But it's really human values that are being exchanged, and property rights are human rights. Those prone to describe market transactions in terms of alienation are hard to convince.
  5. The course must afford the student a realistic appreciation of the lives of people from cultures and situations other than those of the student.Now luckily we don't have to meet five of five here at SCSU, because this one would give us real trouble, and this seems to be what poor Stephen has to deal with. But I again come back to the fact so wonderfully expressed by Walter Williams several years ago that in a market society love of your neighbor isn't important. You only need to serve them, and have institutions that give you the sovereignty to expect compensation that you value in return.

Rules and spookiness 

A small but rather telling thing happened on our campus: We have two email lists for faculty, an "announce" list for all of the normal campus announcements, and a "discuss" list for our discussions, opinions, and so on. Most of the faculty are on this first list, and fewer than half on the other -- most folks here don't want to be bothered with the kind of discussion our faculty carries on.
The people who run the lists have been persistently clear about the different proper
uses of the two lists, and most of the time faculty writers play by the rules.
But a woman from the Women's Center found a Bush-bashing article she was so excited about that she decided we all needed to read it and so she sent it, which is proper material for the discussion list, to the other larger list.
It's a small act, but symptomatic. She had to presume that her article contained such important opinion on what a scoundrel Bush is that the rules didn't really apply in this case. And modern liberals do that a lot. They simply have to believe that the things they believe in are significant enough to override other, larger principles. The rules simply aren't the same when one has to alert a whole faculty to Bush's scoundrelness, for instance.
And I think people who find themselves above others' rules are spooky.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Delay for travel Tuesday morning 

I am away Tuesday morning for a press conference on the social science standards. It may be late in the day before I post. Thanks for your patience.

Producers have sovereignty too 

Roderick Long notes on Liberty and Power about our discussion of students and consumer sovereignty.
Suppose you want to hire me to teach a philosophy course with only multiple-choice tests, but I refuse to offer the course unless I can give essay tests. Does this conflict with consumer sovereignty? Not at all. Teaching the course my way is a consumption good for me; it's part of the price I demand for my services. And of course each of us is free to take or leave the other's offer.

UPDATE: Stephen lays a second section:

It's also worth recalling that there's a derived demand component in education. Doesn't matter how student-friendly you make the courses if upon graduation said graduates can't find their way to the bathroom, let alone understand the lending policy or reboot the server.

Kerry pressing 

After a 50/50 weekend with football -- I think the late hit on McNabb prevented my vindication, but that's why it's called gambling -- I thought I'd go back and look at Tradesport prices on the Iowa caucus again. Kerry is stabilizing around a 40% probability and Dean is dropping to around 35-40%. (You're looking at roughly 3-2 odds on either one.) Gephardt has fallen to 10% probability. He is toast in less than 24 hours.

Early NH lines via Tradesports: Dean 2-3, Kerry 4-1, Clark 5-1.


I saw three cool things on Shot in the Dark this weekend.

Get your red hots! 

Public education is getting harder to come by, despite the increasing tuition:
Demand to get into public universities in Minnesota appears to be up again this year, with officials at several schools reporting near-record numbers of applications to enter school this fall.

"We are up again, significantly," said Gina Monson, director of admissions at Minnesota State University Moorhead. "Applicants are up 18 to 20 percent."

At St. Cloud State University, applications are up almost 9 percent. At the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, freshman applications are up about 5 percent. More than 17,150 had been received by last week.
Reasons cited are increasing HS class sizes and a slow economy at least for unskilled workers. Multiple applications are up -- the ratio of admissions to enrollments is rising, indicating students are getting more acceptances and shopping more. But,
Crowded freshman classes have created problems for late-applying students at some state universities. Some schools have established priority deadlines for applications for the first time in the past couple of years.

At Minnesota State University Mankato, which has a spring deadline for applications for the coming fall, some students who applied after the deadline last year were not admitted for space reasons, said admission director Walt Wolff.

Those students typically had applied to other colleges, then received their financial aid packages in the spring and realized that they couldn't afford the cost. But by the time they applied to Mankato, the deadline was past and the class was full.
Same is true at Moorhead and St. Cloud.

Are students customers? 

No, says Joe Nathan:
The best relationship between educators and families is via partnership.

And this is not at all the same kind of thing that's involved when a family goes to a restaurant or a grocery store to buy food, or a department store to buy clothing. Although I may return to the business if I'm pleased with the food or clothing, there is no need for ongoing conversation between the businessperson and me.
That's simply wrong. Prices are communication of relative scarcity; excess or unplanned inventory accumulation is a communication of mistaken conceptions about demand. Mass customization, increasing in the world today, requires more ways to cheaply transmit information about what is possible and what is desirable. What ways are there for professors and students, teachers and parents, to communicate these?
The phrase, "the customer is always right" is another problem when applied to education. Some businesses say that when the customer is dissatisfied with a purchase, the item can be returned for cash or credit.

But with all due respect, families, parents, grandparents or whoever is caring for the youngster are not always right. None of us � educators, family members, whoever � is always right.
No, but that's true in any business. Should the customer who buys "the wrong computer" or the "wrong shoes" be prevented from it? To some extent, yes. Software firms bundle their products with features and not allow complete picking-and-choosing between them. Why? Because they may have better information about the functionality of the programs. They may not want to sell you the product the way you want. That's fine -- and if you don't want the product the way they make it, you shop somewhere else. But why should consumer sovereignty not be the basis of the contract between parent and teacher?
Overall, the situation is more complex than simply proclaiming, "The customer is always right."
Consumer sovereignty doesn't mean that. It means "the customer has the right to be wrong, and accept the consequences thereby." When someone with governmental power (read: coercion) says "I know better; trust me," the first reaction is skepticism. And rightly so.

(Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.)

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Gen Ed in real time 

Courtesy Pharyngula, a suggestion for courses to offer for general education. Suggested: How to Lie with Statistics, and A Brief History of Timekeeping. For the latter I suggest Revolutions in Time, still my favorite David Landes history. That and Faster would make a great course.

Saturday, January 17, 2004


The St. Cloud Times reran the op-ed piece by Abbas Mehdi that Mitch discussed last week. I wrote a little about this before. It's worth noting that the comments of our local paper readers. Since that link will go bad fast, let me copy a few over, to preserve them.
floradora from franklin: Am I the only one in the world who wonders if Saddam Hussein is really as bad as his enemies,(read; Bush Oil Cartel) and the CIA (read; friends and willing accomplices of Daddy Bush who once was their leader along with any other faction that has the power to let them continue their dirty tricks) paint him? He may very well be, but it appears that he wasn't that big a monster until he got too big for his britches, so to speak, and perhaps did not toady up to the good old USA dirty tricks and oil power people. And, not to mention the Brits, who had scores of their own to settle. One must remember or even learn that our own government is a wizard at propaganda and shaping public opinion. It has more control of the media than we seem to want to know. For example, last night, a local newscaster reported that there would be an investigation of reports of mis-treatment of Iraqi prisoners by the military after three of them had been dismissed for kicking a prisoner. He didn't mention that they took turns, two holding the prisoners legs apart while the other one kicked the prisoner in the "groin area", (read; scrotum, to put it delicately). So unless someone had seen the story reported by some obscure source, weeks before the local report, one would think, my, my, a little kick isn't so bad. Could it be that we are being led to think that? Is the government influencing that news cast? Who knows? What does seem obvious, is that we didn't hear much of anything about Saddam until the government needed to inflame the U.S. citizenry into attack mode. I am sure the media can get any number of Iraqis to stand in front of a camera and tell us all about the atrocities they have suffered but, funny thing, any more, old cynical me, I just wonder how many candy bars or packs of cigarettes that interview cost.

ollie from lake wobegon: This war was started by a group of Chickenhawks...that is, by people who refused to serve, did not serve in the military when it was their time, and therefore have no clue or concern about what it is like to do the fighting. Thousands died because of the enthusiasm of these draft dodgers who inhabit our administration, including the AWOL/Deserter President. Perhaps if they had seen young people, with their futures ahead of them, die...they might not have been so gung-ho to start a war on such weak justifications. Moral pygmies.

You can react to that in the comment box. You wonder what these people read. You also wonder if they've managed to even understand Mehdi, who was driven out of his homeland by Saddam and marked for death. I don't want to engage in psychology-from-afar, but I found this from last month quite telling.
Mehdi, an Iraqi-born professor at St. Cloud State University, hates Saddam and has devoted years of effort to overthrowing him.

His own mixed feelings [over Saddam's capture], which surprised Mehdi himself, made him want to caution U.S. officials to take care that the treatment of their high-profile captive not aggravate the sense of humiliation that many Iraqis feel about the situation in their country. ...

And, finally, he felt a sense of failure, as a member of the anti-Saddam resistance, that the final overthrow of Saddam was accomplished by outsiders.
I get that. I understand that. But I wonder whether the sympathies in Mehdi's oped come more from a political understanding of the Iraqi street or from an expression of personal frustration?

Monkeys take Manhattan 

Ben gives instructions.
A Manhattan, in other words, is not a glass of cold bourbon with a spritz of sweet vermouth and a cherry in it. A Manhattan, properly understood, is two parts bourbon (although rye is preferred) to one part sweet vermouth.
I prefer, actually, a split between sweet and dry vermouth. And bitters are vital -- for a change, try orange bitters if you have them. Rye, yes. Cherry, nothankee.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Confidently employed 

PowerLine has asked the following question on the latest consumer confidence report:
I've always wondered about the accuracy of these job-creation claims. Doesn't it seem odd that people who write about immigration round off the number of illegal aliens currently in the country, many of them holding jobs, to the nearest million, while economic reports that purport to count jobs claim to have accuracy several orders of magnitude greater? And might there be some connection between the enormous number of uncounted illegal immigrants and the mystifyingly small number of jobs officially being created?
The job creation number that Hindrocket is quoting is the payroll report, which uses data from payroll tax filings, and it differs sharply from the household employment data. Brad Delong has written about this already. But the point is, this divergence has been going on for a long time but in the opposite direction. Look at Charts 1 and 2 in that last link. If that trend is now reversing, it could explain a good bit of the mixed signals we're getting now: it might just be bad data.

See also the Bureau of Labor Statistics if you want the nitty-gritty.

Betting on Iowa 

If I want to know about who's going to win a game, I watch bettors who are paying much more attention than I am. Likewise, if I'm watching the Iowa primaries on Monday, as Hewitt suggests we in the NA do, I'm going to watch the bettors. Tradesports shows the Dean-Wins-Iowa contract trading down to a little under even money from being a 2-1 favorite as late Tuesday morning. Kerry, the current flavor-of-the-week is still trading around 3-1 against. If I was a betting man -- and I am -- I'd think hard about taking Gephardt, where a you can pay $2.20 for a contract to win $10 if he wins the caucus. At this site it's Dean -120, Gephardt +110, a much worse price than at Tradesports. Poliblogger thinks it's between Gephardt and Dean because of organization, Zogby is pushing Kerry (though see Mickey Kaus on Zogby) but the bettors are all still on Dean. Punters will perhaps look at Edwards, running around 15-1 right now.

My bet: Ride with the sharps. Take Dean over Gephardt and lay the 2%. Edwards' surprise third place will be all the talk on Tuesday.

While I'm busy being wrong, take the Patriots and the Eagles this weekend. Just like this talk of Kerry's surge, everyone is jumping on the underdog bandwagon (all four underdogs last weekend covered against the spread.) Dogs 6-2 ATS on championship weekend is helping drive this. Both the Patriots and Eagles were favored by more on Monday than they are today, though if anything the news over the week has made them look better (weather in NE, Stephen Davis unlikely for Carolina.) We'll go contrarian and grab the favorites.

Selective job fairs 

John Rosenberg reports that minority-only job fairs at Seton Hall University are being investigted by the Department of Education. Given the department's other rulings on speech codes, for example, this should not be surprising. The Center for Equal Opportunity has protested these programs at other schools.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

A little updating 

I tried sprucing up links and adding a few things to the "greatest hits". I could have added more, but I didn't want to become one of those bands that puts out a greatest hits album after two releases. I'm experimenting with Pete Holiday's Trackback for non-MT blogs. Hopefully we'll find more readers.

Please note there was no change in the color.

Unpapering over a problem 

Because a leaflet advertising a soccer program that included a religious message caused a parent to complain, Minneapolis schools are considering banning all such leaflets from their schools.
The district's leaflet distribution procedures have barred business ads, inflammatory material and some fundraising events for almost 20 years. They also barred political or religious leaflets.

The current discussion was triggered when an organization offering inner-city sports added a dose of spiritual content.

Urban Ventures, a south Minneapolis nonprofit group, runs a summer soccer program. Practices include a 10-minute "chalk talk" by coaches. It's aimed at building character but might include a Bible verse, said Mark-Peter Lundquist, Urban Venture's program director. There's no doctrinal content; it's merely an effort to provide a moral compass to at-risk kids, he said.

But a complaint from the parent of a soccer player led the district to bar Urban Ventures from distributing leaflets through schools last fall for its traveling basketball team tryouts -- cutting in half the number of kids turning out, Lundquist said.

That turned into a temporary prohibition against all outside leaflets while the policy was being revised. Cheri Reese, the district's communication director, said it was growing uncomfortable with its lack of knowledge about some of the groups for which leaflets were going out.

Giles said he has grown increasingly uncomfortable with the current selective approval policy. Legally, he said, the district was creating a limited public forum by distributing leaflets, and courts have held that excluding some groups for religious content is discriminatory and violates First Amendment free speech.
The Girl Scouts would also be banned, and they are not happy even though they offer after-school programs for students. Groups with partnerships to the government would be allowed to continue.

City Pages earn a PhD in snark 

Fisking of Comrade Perrin occurs at Fraters and Shot in the Dark. I needn't shoot a corpse. And if Captain's Quarters is the Navy, then Mitch and Saint Paul can argue over which gets to be the Marines or the Air Force. We're just teachers here.

But I would like to note one thing. Comrade le P is upset because of bloggers' habit of painting many opponents with the same brush. Well. If one is a communist, one stands outside the pale regardless of his or her love of good wine and poetry, or that that particular communist is kind to dogs, or what have you. The flavors of communism or socialism don't really matter much. And if you don't think tovarisch is that flavor, then why the venom towards Christopher Hitchens, if not that which comes from confronting an apostate of your own faith?

But fear not, lovers of Lileks. Our man is going to go oompa loompa on Perrin's posterior!

UPDATE: Hugh, that's just funny.

Mr. Perrin is so small a force as to not warrant a frisking. But let's be fair: Let Mr. Perrin start a blog and see if anyone notices. Anyone at all.
We still have to teach the Commissioner some of the lingo.

Remembering Claremont 

Joanne Jacobs discusses Collegiate Way, which is trying to create faculty-led colleges within larger universities. Can a large university that is centralized and bureaucratic ever be "student-centered"? And can faculty leadership be assured when the student's residential life is continuously changed in order to meet the demands of the university's business model?

I did my graduate work at Claremont, whose origins were built exactly on that model. The goal was to form a new school approximately every ten years. The schools still keep dorm rooms for faculty to live in residence with students. Some of the campuses are more faculty-led than others; in terms of viewpoint diversity, you find a full range of opinions across the campuses (I've taught at both Pitzer and Claremont McKenna, and they are NOTHING alike) as well as different specializations (Harvey Mudd for engineering, for example.) They share business and building-and-grounds functions, but otherwise work quite autonomously. I think that model has worked well for Claremont, and I've always been surprised it hasn't been used more.

A bayou panic 

Of all the Pictures from an Institution, this one had me shaking with laughter.
William P. Wetmore has the number of the suite written down on a piece of paper. He knows he is looking for suite 1848. The problem is that he has not written down the hotel where the suite is located. There are over fifteen hotels in the immediate area.

William P. Wetmore's wakeup call did not come that morning. He woke with a start twenty minutes before he was supposed to arrive at Chairman Stan's suite. He has not showered, or shaved, or successfully tamed his bedhair. He has not had any coffee, nor has he looked at the dossiers of the candidates to be interviewed. He had been planning to do that over coffee.

It does not occur to William P. Wetmore to use the phone to find out which hotel Chairman Stan is staying in, nor does it occur to him simply to skip the interviews. The problem of finding the suite is not, for William P. Wetmore, a practical problem to be solved by practical means. The problem of finding the suite is, rather, one of substantial spiritual significance. William P. Wetmore's fragile pride is at stake. He does not want anyone to know that he cannot find Chairman Stan's suite. He especially does not want Chairman Stan to know that he cannot find his suite. And so he races on flat feet from one hotel to the next, sweating in the humid bayou air. Change jingles in his pockets, yesterday's tie flaps over his shoulder, and catcalls follow him the length of Canal Street.

Stepping into a dim Fairmount elevator and pressing a button, William P. Wetmore closes his eyes and gulps air, hoping against hope that the third hotel will be the charm. It is some time before he realizes that the elevator has stopped moving. Sweat runs down William P. Wetmore's temples. Steam fogs his glasses. Standing in a bayou of his own making, the Starbucks Professor of Romantic Literature reflects that this is quite possibly going to be the longest morning of his life.
"Standing in a bayou of his own making..." is priceless. I love going to conferences in New Orleans, but not because of the close and easy walk between hotels.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Didn't do a good job with this one 

Ed at The Captain's Quarters has a story today of a student who doesn't quite understand TANSTAAFL.
By far the funniest of these was a young lady from our state, who described herself as a college student and a Republican who wants socialism and doesn't think Bush can deliver it. Medved, obviously amused, asked her what she meant by socialism, and she replied that she wants to go to college for free and thinks everyone else should be able to go without paying tuition, too. Now, obviously this young woman has not yet been schooled in the art of demanding socialism by proclaiming it as a selfless and noble system under which every person is given equal distribution of resources, and so on; she took the breathtaking and refreshingly honest course of telling us it would benefit her directly.

Medved then asked if she thought a janitor working two jobs to put his own kids through a technical school should be forced to pay for her college education. She said, "Oh, I'm not asking him to pay for it, the government should pay for it." When asked where she thought the government got the money, if not from taxpayers, she said, "Well, it just should be free."
Walloworld thinks this is endemic in our culture.
I think this young lady's comments reflect a worldview that eschews personal responsibility, seeks to avoid discomfort, and essentially wants the proverbial "free lunch." It is reflected in the current debate over digital piracy of music and movies: I routinely hear file swappers suggest that what they're doing isn't a problem because it's just a few songs, or the music industry charges to much for CDs, or the like. Basically, that it should just be free.
It's not quite that bad. Most students think, when their classes are closed because they are full, that it's because the faculty member doesn't want to teach more students, so they come and whine. We don't have that problem, because we schedule our classes to be the size of our rooms. Rather than say we don't want to grade more exams, we say the room has no more chairs. (We didn't plan it that way, but years of budget cuts have led us to have classes that fill our rooms to capacity.) You often get in reply a blinking stare. "Can I sit on the floor?" No, miss, the fire marshall has unkind things to say when we do this. Eventually they understand and leave. But it takes a cluebat that large to get the concept of scarcity through.

If we do not educate our kids enough in economics to at least know the omnipresence of reality, this student will become more and more common.

MLA in one package 

Readers here who don't read lots of edu-blogs will probably have missed the tour of the MLA conference. You can pretty well cover the best by following the links provided by Tightly Wound. For more background, see Invisible Adjunct.

My victimhood trumps your power 

Prof. Dick Andzenge again writes on the fallout from the Dean Lewis affair. In today's article, he reports on the sad decision of one faculty member to visit him and complain about his December article.
First, my colleague claimed the article was supportive of the former dean. According to my colleague, the former dean had harassed that colleague, was fired for that purpose, and deserved to have been fired.

I responded that my article was not supportive of anyone and that my colleague was giving me privileged information. I told my colleague I considered this information as gossip because the university had not explained the reassignment as a firing for wrongdoing.

This did not impress my colleague.

I argued further that my colleague needed to be careful in making such declarations and claiming credit for the reassignment decision, especially because the former dean was not present to refute the claims. At that point, my colleague accused me of being threatening.

During the same conversation, my colleague reminded me of how much that colleague has suffered. When I expressed my sympathy, my colleague responded that I was being patronizing.

My colleague reminded me that I was tenured and hence do not experience the insecurity and powerlessness suffered by those of who are not tenured.

I reiterated my colleague's claim to credit for firing a dean and for forcing the hands of the university's administration into making administrative changes. At that point, my colleague turned to the Bible on the shelf and accused me of betraying the teachings of the Bible.

There was nothing else that I could say.
I suspect the aggrieved colleague had simply missed the point that his or her powerlessness had been refuted by his or her claim that he or she had a hand in the dean's reassignment/firing/star chamber conviction. Part of the victim-claim is that the exercise of power through claims of discrimination do not diminish their claim of victimization.
People who claim to have no power use that powerlessness to hold entire institutions hostage. Civil, two-way discourse cannot be achieved within such an environment.

When a person or group voices opposition to their arguments they are declared threatening, and while attempting to understand their point of view they are branded as patronizing. Giving up and just sitting quietly is the end result.

I'll settle this for you 

Does Howard Dean look like a thumb? Or Safety Sam?

I took a date to that movie my freshman year in college. Very bad idea.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Would that we had students like this 

From Cold Spring Shops:
Now that NIU is the place to be for high school graduates, it�s time to improve academic admissions requirements � instead of packing as many students as possible into classes that already are overcrowded and underfunded.
Hello, University Chronicle? Quit the navel-gazing and try writing stuff like that.

I'm not surprised 

Winston's Diary tells the story of more propaganda in the classroom.
A friend of mine from my M.A. days, who is working on her Ph.D. at an institution that will remain nameless, forwarded me an email from her composition teachers' listserv in which one of the MFA candidates tells her fellow instructors that she has placed the film "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War," produced by, on reserve so that teachers in the program can show it in class. She also directs her fellow instructors to the website
Been there, done that.

A Shot at one of our own 

I only read the Strib via other blog links or clippings my breakfast crew sends me, so I missed this opinion piece by a colleague here at SCSU. Shot In The Dark didn't, and Mitch takes a dim view of it. I'll only elaborate a couple of things for Mitch; I have known Abbas for awhile and probably can't detach well enough to be objective on this one. First, probably my continuing opinion on sociologists and most liberals -- they believe that the only thing that prevents to socialist state is not enough planning. We didn't plan enough before going into Iraq, there was chaos, and a relative of my colleague died. I don't know that I want to be the one that asks him how much planning would it have taken to prevent that death; I doubt he would recognize my question of how many others would have died under Saddam while we did more planning as being anything except insensitive.

Second, we always knew sanctions wouldn't work. There was nothing wrong with Mehdi asking for them to be ended; sanctions drive up prices, allow for rent-seeking by the Ba'athists, and enrich those we most wish to harm. After the abandonment of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs in 1991, that and a pusillanimous no-fly zone was all that was left (remember, the quotations are about US policy during the Clinton administration.) That's a wholly different criticism than what he's offering now. There is a high cost to liberating Iraq, and we're foolish to ignore it. But we're also foolish to ignore the high benefits. Which is greater, is the question.

Taking care 

The discussion of the last few days has been whether untenured faculty should take care in their utterances against their employers. Critical Mass sees "a big red DOUBLE STANDARD sign blinking inside my head." Regarding Cumberland College:
{The fired professor} didn't libel anyone, or make any false accusations, or behave in a criminal or indecent manner. He spoke his mind, and he said things that clearly needed to be said. He spoke because no one else was willing to--not even his colleagues with tenure.
We don't know that. We know he spoke his mind, and if what he said is true these things did need saying. But we haven't enough facts here to be certain that the accusations are not false. Just because the accused hasn't denied a false allegation doesn't make an allegation true -- there are any number of harrassment cases where the accused is found guilty because she or he chooses not to respond.
Critics of academe comment endlessly on the institutionalized spinelessness of the tenure system. They point out that what the tenure system does is select out anyone who can think for himself and has the courage of his convictions, and that it selects for those without convictions, those who conform for a living, who readily bend, in unctuous, Uriah Heep-like manner, in whatever direction the fashionable wind is blowing.
Agreed, but that doesn't in and of itself justify that professor's behavior. Later, Erin writes,
The fact of the matter is that academic culture is, even on its good days, little better than a sandbox when it comes to interpersonal civility. If every academic who ever made an out-of-order comment about another academic were to be fired for creating a hostile environment, there would be no academe (this in itself might be a good thing--but that's another blog).
And you wouldn't want it that way. Critical inquiry means, in part, a hostility towards that which is false, a rejection of it. The reason Brandeis said "Sunlight is the best disinfectant", that motto which graces the top of this blog, is that when a bright light is shone on the false, reasonable people of integrity will recognize it as such and will remove it with prejudice. That some people find such behavior obstreperous when the light is shone on their own falsity is not an indictment of the light: It is a testament to its great power.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Hate over the email transom 

came a call to the entire campus for participants in Peace In The Precincts, which promises to use "the Wellstone model for grassroots organizing" to take resolutions to the caucuses. I'll bet they don't come to the Republican caucus. It looks innocent enough until you get to the inside. First there's this:
But the truth is: we're all in this together! No one - except the really rich or really powerful - is exempt from the impacts of war, terrorism and the economic, political and social damage they cause. No one - except the sociopathic - wants war, terrorism, nuclear catastrophe, or injustice. We disagree only on how to accomplish our goals.
But you have to go even further to find that the hatred is deeper than this. (italics by me -- bold in original)
.Why do we want to focus on foreign policy? Because it�s through foreign policy that America:
  • Spends the most money (yours) -- as a libertarian, you have my interest now. Of course, spending money has never been a problem for you, Miss Peace in the Precincts. You'd just rather spend it elsewhere.
  • Kills the most people -- Really? Bush/Clinton/Bush vs. Saddam, whaddya say? We got more? Really?
  • Displaces the most communities -- the Kurds, the Cossacks and the Cambodians say hi.
  • Arms and sponsors some of the world's most violent and oppressive regimes -- Right. We should leave the arming to the French.
  • Funds the development and mass production of the world�s most lethal weapons -- tell you what, Miss Peace, would you like us to have less lethal weapons than Castro? Than the Jong-Ilminator? If I'm going to war, this sociopath would like to have a big fargin' gun, thanks.
  • Antagonizes and creates more enemies -- how do you propose we stop this? By lowering our weapons? By lowering our standard of living? If a group is going to be envious of my success, am I to choose to be less successful?
  • Tests our real democratic ideals and national character to the maximum degree.You know what is a test, Miss Peace? Look at Kabul today. Did we turn it to glass? Hmm? Would the French have been any more critical of us today if we had? The Russians? Hmm?
I'm sorry but when I read this I only conclude one thing: It's someone who is worried that others hate us because of our success, and that it's our fault for being too successful. Note the beginning of the list: It's America that is doing this. It's us. Not Bush, not Republicans, but America.

Should states build engineering universities? 

In its business forum today, the StarTribune calls for building a new engineering school in Minnesota.
The University of Minnesota is the state's only world-class research university. Its de-facto monopoly status is a weakness, not a strength, as it is forced to be all things to everybody. Asking a monopoly to become more market-driven contradicts everything we have learned about the power of competition.
Why must government build this, though? Engineering is a lucrative field; while it certainly has spillover benefits to society, the gains that can be captured by the inventor are large enough to provide plenty of engineers in the world. Perhaps what businesses want instead is a source of cheap researchers to help them individually become more profitable?

Rally and pray for credit 

Power Line adds some substance and quotes on this story from last week about a lawyer in Minneapolis who objects to a continuing legal education requirement for practicing lawyers to receive diversity training. The lawyer who has refused the training and faces suspension of his law license says the classes have become "a device of ideology". No other state has mandatory requirements like Minnesota's.

Rallies for credit, like those described in PowerLine's link, are not altogether uncommon in higher education. A strike by a campus union here two years ago brought out numerous students of the Department of the 3.7 GPA to show support. And Friday in the email came an announcement for a class built around a set of ecumenical dialogues, which strikes me as coming dangerously close to the line of teaching religion in a government school. (That is not to quibble in the slightest over the dialogues -- I might attend some -- but only over this below.)

REL 400 - Dialoguing with Jews in St. Cloud - 1 credit course (Spring 2004)

This is a community-experience based introduction to Judaism and to Jewish-Christian dialogue.
Tuesdays 6-8 pm (2/3, 2/10, 2/17, 2/24, 3/2, 3/9) at six different churches in and near St. Cloud, MN.
Speakers, panelists, participation of diverse area religions, kosher-style meal, videos on Jewish-Christian dialogue, personal contact with local Jews, child-care facilities, and much, much more.

Requirements: attendance and participation during a series of six 90-min. dialogues between Jews and other religionists in the community, especially Christians.

First and only meeting as a class:
After mutual introductions, I will introduce the course requirements and process.

Students will commit to a 500 word report with critical reflection on each dialogue.
Again, I'm not a lawyer and I'm inclined to think the dialogues are useful. My reason for bringing this up is only over the use of a government institution to give university credit for a religious discussion. Given the pains I observed instructors here go through in discussing, for instance, the New Testament, or the fact that some even objected to the title of a course on the Old Testament, I assumed the university had decided to build a high wall between state education and religious beliefs. There is, for example, a recently-established Orthodox church in St. Cloud. Would personal contact with local Orthodox Christians -- just as rare in St. Cloud as Jews -- qualify for this credit?

UPDATE: Eloise at Spitbull posts this as well, but tells me that we're not unique on making this course mandatory. I relied only on the National Law Journal article; we'll let the lawyers settle this one.

Watch your mouth 

In response to my post on the situation of Prof. Day at Cumberland College, John Bruce says untenured professors should know better than to criticize their administrations.
...I think we can interpret this under the available facts, not necessarily as an academic freedom issue, but an issue in which some professors apparently feel that even probationary members of their guild are entitled to a level of protection from their own actions that ordinary citizens don't receive. I can't endorse this attitude.
I have some sympathy for John's viewpoint here; the institutions of academic freedom and tenure did not arise so that faculty could publicly complain about the lack of pay raises or how much sherry the president has at the Friday afternoon mixer. But this case has more to it than that:
  1. Day was let go in the middle of the term. This is highly disruptive for the courses he teaches, causing the students distress. It also leads future employers to believe Day had done something far worse than whistle-blow on administrative malfeasance. It would have been far preferable for Cumberland to have simply told Day he would not be retained.
  2. What does a mid-term firing do for a culture of free inquiry at Cumberland? As Richard Edwards has put it,
    we need academic freedom because it creates an environment in which faculty can be out-spoken, courageous, truculent, obstreperous, unafraid of controversy, and provocative (notice that I stayed away from �inflammatory� and �irksome,� but you can add those if you think appropriate). The glory of a great university is precisely in having a high-achieving faculty with these attributes of fearlessness and commitment to truth.
I believe the phrase attorneys use here is "prosecutorial discretion": Perhaps John is right that it's not likely that Day will win his case, but pursuing it may come at a great cost to Cumberland if it stultifies the inquiry of the rest of its faculty.

UPDATE: John has responded in his post, as well as added a new post on what he sees as a similar case. Belief Seeking Understanding takes a dimmer view of Cumberland as a Christian school.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

It doesn't fly 

R.B. at Infinite Monkeys has an interesting analysis of Howard Dean that others in the NA are linking. Here's the money quote for me:
Nominating the volatile Dean as the "lift gas" for the Democratic Party seems to be about as risky as pumping Hydrogen into an airship covered with a cellulose skin varnished with its own flammable mixture of chemicals and aluminum flecks while there's a storm a brewin'.
In his link, Ed at the Captain's Quarters says that he has added the Infinite Monkeys to the Northern Alliance. We note that it is Commissioner Hewitt himself who designates membership to the NA; it is also a rather great stretch of the definition of "northern" to allow cross-alliance with a member of the Bear Flag League.

UPDATE: The Monkeys are now a battleship. Good choice!

Friday, January 09, 2004

Nice website: You're fired 

Erin O'Connor describes how a website calling for reform of Cumberland College got the faculty member who created it fired.
The issue is the site's content: when Cumberland College administrators learned about the site on October 13, 2003, the president called Day in and gave him the choice of resigning or being fired. Day chose resignation and reports that the entire discussion took less than two minutes. Immediately thereafter, Day's computer was confiscated and all the files on it were copied--the college claims they are its property. The locks on Day's office were changed, and the college sent the city police to his house to serve him with a private memo from the president warning him that he would be arrested if he came back to campus.
Thank God nobody reads this site! I've taken some time to read the CARE site; it suggests that some financial mismanagement has occured as well as a drift in the school's Christian mission. It's critical and public. Should that be sufficient to warrant dismissal of the employee? The fired professor reports that the AAUP has asked for his reinstatement.

Free free, set me free 

Another state where public universities are asking for more freedom over their finances in return for less money from the public budget is Virginia, according to Ben Domenech. At William and Mary (where some fool is president), only 19% of the budget comes from state support, but the state still controls what tuition can be charged. There are other stories in this article Ben links to, such as needing state permission to erect the tent for graduation, which sound vaguely familiar to those of us in MnSCU.

The worst meetings are strategic 

What's the worst meeting you have to go to? We're currently engaged in another round of strategic planning, and had to sit through another episode of PowerPoint stupidity. The phrase "qualitative key performance indicators" drove one person to despair. Another one complained that he heard in a college meeting that "students are customers and you faculty need to adjust." I've heard similar things though not in the same meeting I went to as that person. It turns out Stanley Fish and I have the same notion of meetings. I have scheduled most of my classes for the same time as dean's council meetings. Most of them do nothing.
Someone from a corner of the university you scarcely knew existed arrives armed with overheads, transparencies, and (now) PowerPoints, and proceeds for 30 or more agonizing, slow-motion minutes to explain how the telephone system works (or is supposed to work), or how purchases are to be transacted and reported (this is largely a recitation of innumerable budget codes), or how nonperforming employees can be disciplined (a process so full of obstacles that an Olympic athlete couldn't jump its hurdles or even remember what they are), or how venture-tech partnerships will finance the college, bring glory to the university, and save the world.

...With that over there's some time left for fake planning. By "fake planning" I mean planning that refers to outcomes that have already been determined in precincts no department head (or dean) ever enters, or to outcomes projected so far into the future that no one in the room will be alive when they are either realized or derailed by contingencies no one foresaw.

Fish hits the nail on the head: A real meeting is really hard work, requiring the president, dean or department chair to actually know what outcome is desired and manage discussion (akin to herding cats in my neck of the woods, your mileage may vary). As a result, our department has one per month except for searches, and they seldom last more than 50 minutes. But strategic planning goes on forever.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Follow the professors' money 

Also via Pharyngula -- did anyone else notice this?
The education industry�professors, lecturers and other university employees�gave more than $2.4 million to all presidential candidates in the first three quarters of the year, with professors making up the largest group, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The nonpartisan group, which tracks money in politics, found that nearly $719,000 went to Dean, making educators the third top-donating group among his contributors. Sen. John Kerry (news - web sites) of Massachusetts was the second-most favored Democrat by professors, with more than $325,000 in donations in the same period. President Bush (news - web sites) raised more than $680,000.

As a group, educators rank 15th among all industries with employees donating to federal candidates and party committees. That ranking is up from 33 in the 2002 elections and 26 in 2000.
Top contributors to Dean come from the Univ. of California system and Harvard. For Bush, the University of Texas and U. Cincinnati. 65% of contributions went to Democrats. Typical:
Harvard University professor Patrice Higonnet talks about Dean with his students, but only in private, he said. The 65-year-old French history professor donated $1,000 to Dean at the end of September and said none of his colleagues support Bush.
The original data is from OpenSecrets. Just context for articles like this, claiming liberal bias on campus.

Textbook griping 

Pharyngula complains that textbooks are too expensive. He thinks publishers should stop coming out with so many new editions. I doubt this helps. As students know more about new editions, they are willing to pay less for existing books. "But they have to buy! It's a monopoly!" you say. Well, there's little evidence that adding bookstores to an area reduces the price of books.* You might consider instead online bookstores, which typically sell books at a 5% discount to the on-campus store. According to this article by two economists at Delaware, however, the websites with the cheapest prices have the least availability.

I don't think, either, that the marketing design of graphics in texts is driving price. That's a fixed cost, not variable. Moreover, the decision of which book to buy isn't the students' but the professors'. If professors are choosing books because the illustrations are sexy, why blame the publishers??

*See John Siegfried and Christopher Latta, "Competition in the Retail College Textbook Market,: 17 Econ Ed. Rev. 105 (1998). Available from ScienceDirect with subscription.

What I look at in interviews 

Frequent reader and contributor Paul Nelson sends on a new blog, LitSkunk, which has picked up blogchild John Bruce's Stanley Fish experience. I decided to read it over lunch (sorry, John, I had put it aside up to now) and it begins with a description of the labor market for English professors.
A required course for those of us in the Ph.D. program was something called English 562: The Profession. The course was intended to cover subjects like the academic hiring process, the status of the job market, career paths, promotion and tenure, publication, peer review, and so forth. In short, this should have been everything a graduate student needed to know, told as the straight dope by an experienced professor. As a practical matter, the standing of the course in the minds of the faculty was shown by who they assigned to teach it: in my case, it was a dreamy-eyed lame-duck assistant professor who'd been turned down for tenure himself--not the best role model on one hand, but on the other, he believed everything his more senior colleagues told him, so he was a good source on the conventional wisdom of the time.

We listened to polite fictions about how new assistant professors were hired at the annual MLA convention and how the tenure system assures academic freedom. The twelve or twenty or so of us in the class knew perfectly well we'd be lucky to find part-time jobs teaching bonehead English at local junior colleges, our chances of even landing a tenure-track job were like winning the lottery, and it likely wouldn't happen at the MLA. Some Ph.D. candidatess from prior years were driving cabs or pushing carts full of bedpans down hospital corridors. It wasn't good form to mention this.

In fact, the job search method prescribed to us, not just in English 562, but by the department chair and our graduate advisors, was to get a list of all English departments everywhere (whether they'd posted an open job or not), and send each of them a copy of our curriculum vitae and a cover letter, advising them of our availability to interview at the MLA. This of course is the job-hunting equivalent of human wave attacks, a futile and expensive proposition. While hiring practices differ among academic disciplines, it appears (see, for example, Paul Fussell's account of how he got his first job in Doing Battle) that in English, well-positioned professors are aware of openings in their fields and refer likely candidates via back channels, and interviews at the MLA are a formality at best.
The best piece of advice I got in graduate school was from a retiring professor who taught my micro theory courses: If you place at a school the equivalent of your undergraduate school, you've done well. I didn't shotgun vitae to every school, but I sent out over 100 and interviewed 23 schools in under three days. I'm still at the school that hired me that year. Nobody from my graduate school called these people to encourage my interview with them.

I'm now the guy on the other side, the department chair that sits in a hotel room (in San Diego, with a beach beckoning that I never sat on!) and talks to new doctorates who want to follow that path. While I realize many have already taken their interviews, let me write down what I now realize is my subjective screening method.

  1. The first thing I look for when I see a candidate is whether the person can teach principles of economics. It's not as easy as it looks, and at a school like mine you don't have the ability to cram 500 students in a room and fob off a grad student most days. If you do a bad job teaching them principles, I'm going to have a miserable class in monetary theory with them later. Most of them don't want to be there, either, so I need to know if you can hold someone's attention ... beginning with mine. How you talk about your profession is vital; students pick up on jadedness, and it doesn't sell.
  2. The next thing I look for is whether this person will be interesting to talk economics with over a beer. If you are interviewing a school in a smaller city or town, you are talking to people who will be more than just your colleagues. They'll likely compose your first ring of friends. Choose wisely.
  3. I want to know what you'll write next, not what you wrote last. New PhDs want to tell you about their dissertations, and that's fine but it's not the object of my interest. I'm more interested how they talk about their research than what they actually found. And I want to know if it fits into a broader agenda of what they plan to do outside of the classroom for the next few years. Those who know how it fits are likely to be successful professors.

What's cooking at William and Mary? 

According to Discriminations , another cookie sale is planned at William and Mary, after the first one ended up causing a furor with its president's snide reply which turns out to be unoriginal. Perhaps I should join in the unoriginality!
President Sullivan: Right. Cookies. How to defend yourself against a College Republican armed with a cookie. Now you, come at me with this cookie. Catch! Now, it's quite simple to defend yourself against a man armed with a cookie. First of all you force him to drop the cookie; then, second, you eat the cookie, thus disarming him. You have now rendered him 'elpless.

Palin: Suppose he's got a plateful?

President: Shut up.

Idle: Suppose he's got a pointed stick?

President: Shut up. Right now you, Mr Apricot.

Chapman: 'Arrison.

President: Sorry, Mr. 'Arrison. Come at me with that cookie. Hold it like that, that's it. Now attack me with it. Come on! Come on! Come at me! Come at me then! (Shoots him.)

Chapman: Aaagh! (dies.)

President: Now, I eat the cookie. (Does so.)

Palin: You shot him!

Jones: He's dead!

Idle: He's completely dead!

President: I have now eaten the cookie. The deceased, Mr Apricot, is now 'elpless.

Palin: You shot him. You shot him dead.

President: Well, he was attacking me with a cookie.

Jones: But you told him to.

Choice when choosers get to be choosy 

The StarTribune carries a story on the voluntary school choice plan that is going to be continued.
Among the report's findings: that parents liked the expanded choice and that students choosing suburban schools generally did better on tests than those who stayed in Minneapolis. But it's unclear to what extent participation in the program affected the test-score gap, the report's authors wrote.

Known as The Choice is Yours, the voluntary desegregation program is the offspring of a lawsuit settlement reached in 2000 between the Minneapolis NAACP and the state of Minnesota.
The project's website is here. In a Pioneer Press article on the same subject, one mother of four says her kids are happy and safe:
It's really helping them. I wanted to send them to an environment where they could learn and not have to worry. That's something they found in that school and it helps them so much.
Both articles question whether or not the children who move to the suburban schools have done better academically -- third grade tests are better, but the eighth grade tests aren't, a fact the Minneapolis public school system is emphasizing -- but wouldn't the simple fact that parents choose themselves are happier be enough? Or that participation in the program is increasing?

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Then watch baseball 

I say, to those who complain about the length of football games. "A good, 90-minutes-of-action soccer game" is an oxymoron.

But if you missed the last quarter and OT of the Packer-Seahawk game, you actually missed some action.

Warming to your students 

Remember when we had this discussion about how faculty and students should be wary of out-of-classroom relationships? I know John does. Cold Spring Shops has a quick roundup.

Imagine there're no bake sales 

John Rosenberg says it's easy if you try.
Jessie has been so caught up in her work that, in addition to not having enough time to blog, she hasn�t closely followed the sorts of things that the blogs she used to read cover. As a result I had to explain to her exactly what an �affirmative action bake sale� is.

She commented immediately that Bryn Mawr could never have one.

�Why not?� I asked.

�Because,� she said, �no one would understand the parody. Everyone would think that it�s perfectly normal to charge different prices based on race, ethnicity, and sex.�
None dare call it "advancement".

I'm soooo 80s 

I've been participating in the margins on this debate between the Infinite Monkeys and Mitch on best 80s British guitarists, but I need to get my $.02 in this. RobbL is absolutely correct about Johnny Marr and Robert Fripp -- indeed, Fripp's latest stuff is just as good as the Discipline-era stuff. (Confession: I've been a prog-rock addict since first I heard "Roundabout".)

My favorite of the 80s (and to today) has been absolutely left out of this, though: The The's Mark Johnson. This site has a clip of him and Johnny Marr together, which simply cannot be missed.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Let me add two words to the Fraters' discussion of cuss words:

Johnny Dangerously

And with that, 'nuff said.

Another suggestion for civility 

Dear friend and reader Dick Winzer sends along this Mike Adams discussion of another place where civility is lacking on college campuses:
At the end of last semester, I decided that something had to be done about this diminishing level of respect shown by students towards their professors and their fellow classmates. This decision came shortly after I sat in on another professor�s class. While I was listening to a 75-minute lecture, the students interrupted the professor at least 58 times before I lost count.

First, a student came in class three minutes late. Then another student came in 15 minutes late. Then another student came in 25 minutes late. Then the first cell phone went off. Then the second cell phone went off. The other 53 interruptions were variations of �what was that again?� and �could you repeat that?� A raised hand accompanied none of these 53 interruptions from daydreaming students. They just shouted at the professor to get his attention. And they didn�t seem to care whether he was in the middle of a sentence. Interestingly, most of these students were in their third year of college.

His syllabus suggestions for handling this lack of civility are not to be missed.

Centuries of additional U.S. history 

According to an article Sunday in the Duluth News Tribune, the new social studies standards would greatly increase the scope of what Duluth high school students would study. Says one teacher,
"Today, we do from about Reconstruction to as close as we can get to present day. I'm going to tell you that's a hustle."
That's 130 years. And why start at Reconstruction? Well, it's because it's not important to know Appomattox, Grant and Lee.
"If all kids are asked to do is to memorize facts, not many of us are good at that. They say, 'I don't memorize well,' and I say, 'You shouldn't have to. You should understand it.'

"If you don't know the names and the dates, well that's OK if you can understand the significance of, say, the Civil War, and how the ramifications are affecting current history."

Her department head concurs:
"What's the point in memorizing it if you don't understand it? Yes, the facts are important, but you have to be able to apply those facts with meaning, knowledge and understanding."
What is their of understanding, though, when they know no facts? Is it fear of a standardized exam that troubles these teachers? Critical thinking is not a substitute for core knowledge -- it needs knowledge as a building block.

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Wireless economist 

I'm sitting in the lobby bar at the Westin Horton Plaza in San Diego enjoying a wireless connection, a cup of coffee, and the AEA meetings. Interviewing economists for a position with our school -- the market seems to be very poor, so we're interviewing really outstanding people. A colleague and his teenage son and I sat in a sidewalk restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter last night and played "Find the Economist". It's amazingly easy -- and frightening -- that we look so much alike. A group of non-economists were surrounded by economists walking by, and I decided they were economists too. But the teen bet me $1 that I was wrong, ran up to them and said, "Are you economists?" "Huh?" Not a bad dollar to lose. (The colleague and son also had a Greenspan sighting.)

I wanted also to express gratitude to the many commenters who appreciated the color of this page after all. Quite the folderol over a choice I orginally thought was, well, phlegmatic.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

L-o-n-g weekend 

We had a quiet New Year's eve and day here at the faculty lounge, with a snifter of Armenian brandy bringing in the New Year. I'll have the laptop with me at the American Economics Association meetings tomorrow through Monday, but not sure on connectivity. Expect light posting until Tuesday.