Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Step aside, sonny, let a pro handle this 

Ah, Saint. You think you can make an economics movie? So did the people trying to film Atlas Shrugged, and look what that got them.
For the cast, I envision Heather Graham in the lead role. She'll play the intrepid, brilliant classical economics professor (Dr. Erika Love) who finally connects the dots and begs the authorities to limit the rate of growth in government spending to that of inflation. Before it's too late! The thrilling climax of the movie occurs during her riveting testimony about the Quantity Theory in front the Senate Budget Committee.
I would prefer a hail of bullets. Too bad Equilibrium is already taken (and not a great movie.) I thought that was where Saint Paul was going until he went all Friedman on me.

I'm actually fond of good movies depicting capitalism in its appropriate light, sort of the anti-Wall Street. A few unusual suggestions that come to mind:

Well, not me 

I have yet to ask anyone in the administration what they think of my cohosting of the NARN. I figure if I don't ask, they won't come up with a policy against it. Besides, it's not like they put it on a survey or something. The local paper has a file photo of me to use when they need "a quote from an economist" or when I have to discuss the Quarterly Business Report. But I wouldn't say they actually push me into the spotlight.
As schools vie to attract top students, top faculty, and top-dollar gifts, they count on their bookish professors to leave the library and enter the studio, where their insights on the day's news might help put their institutions on the map.


For schools aspiring to enhance their reputations, the task of positioning faculty for a "media hit" has become big business. To get their professors into reporters' Palm Pilots, 624 colleges and universities pay between $500 and $900 each per year to be listed with ProfNet, a private database. Some go further by paying thousands to private firms whose sole mission is to get professors quoted in the press.

Spokespeople in higher education tend to agree that the time, effort, and money they invest to get professors quoted in news stories are priceless.
But it appears they want to be sure you say the right thing.
What's more, professors who comment on controversial local issues involving their universities can find themselves at odds with the very administrations that encouraged them to do interviews. To mitigate this problem, some institutions have instructed scholars to limit their comments to their areas of expertise, but those policies are producing protest.

"As a faculty member, you're an officer of the institution. You're not just an assembly-line worker," says Jonathan Knight, director of the American Association of University Professors' program in academic freedom and tenure. "An effort to stop faculty members from commenting on issues of concern to their communities would be a direct assault on academic freedom."
Not that our gang would ever think of censoring, would they?

Fisking the NAACP 

Reform K12 drops a dime on some NAACP recommendations and thrashes them well. Here's what is described as the "jaw-dropping one":
In the interest of public service we reprint all of the NAACP's recommendations, beginning with the most jaw-dropping one (emphasis ours):

To the parents of students who received letters informing you that you may transfer your child from one of the failing schools, do not transfer them. Leave them there and monitor your child, the teachers and the administration.

See, if parents transferred their children, the NAACP would run the risk that:
a) The children would attend better schools.
b) The chronically failing schools would close or be reconstituted.
c) The borderline schools would wake up and begin teaching again.

All of these things would reduce the supply of future victims, and they can't abide that.
RTWT. The problem is generally that nobody wants to hold the school accountable that kids can't read or write. When students fail standardized test, the focus is on adding resources to the students who've already fallen behind rather than addressing why they fell behind so that it doesn't happen again.

Bully for you, President Carothers 

Someone correctly understands academic freedom, reports Erin O'Connor.
The University of Rhode Island has reached a decision regarding women's studies professor Donna Hughes' controversial web site. Readers will recall that URI administrators asked Hughes to remove two articles from her university web page after they drew threats of a libel suit from England. Readers will also recall that when, after more than six months, URI still had not decided what to do, the ACLU came to Hughes' defense. Yesterday, URI president Robert Carothers formally gave Hughes permission to re-post the articles on URI's web site.
Carothers' letter follows on Critical Mass. While it took six months and a letter from the ACLU to get Carothers to grant permission to re-post, at least he's seen the light. (See also Fenster Moop, suggests Erin.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I'm not feeling warm and fuzzy either, pal 

Several bloggers, including Precinct 333, John Ray, Peggy Kaplan and David Huber, have linked to this article by August Nimtz in the RedStarTribune, who clearly has better whiskey than me.
In 1959 the Cuban masses did something that working people have yet to do in this country: They took power out of the hands of a tiny privileged minority and began to exercise it for themselves. They became the makers of their own history. Unlike in the United States, where politics is reduced to a boring spectator sport and working people are treated as mere consumers -- thus, the high abstention rate -- Cubans vote with their feet every day in defense of their revolutionary conquests. More than 1 million took to the streets in Havana May 14 to protest the Bush administration's latest moves. The social gains that the Cuban people enjoy, as in education and health care, are possible because they possess political power -- in other words, real democracy. Precisely because U.S. workers lack such power, their social wages continue to erode.
So I thought it would be good to Google Prof. Nimtz. It turns out he's a tired old leftist who's been honking Castro's horn for years. Here's one other example of his views:
For August Nimtz, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota and political activist who grew up under Jim Crow segregation in the south, the flag represents something entirely different than it does for Orr.

�Many people see the flag as representing imperial conquest, exploitation and oppression,� said Nimtz. �Because of our history of lynching, dispossession and repression at the hands of people waving the flag, many Black people have a healthy suspicion about flag-waving.�

�The flag doesn�t give me a warm fuzzy feeling � rather, it reminds me of Billie Holiday and the images of brutal lynching she conjures up in the song Strange Fruit,� Nimtz explained.

He is also the author of a book titled "Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough." So yeah, I'd guess he likes Castro more than he likes the U.S. And if you follow his vita around the University of Minnesota, you find the usual suspects.

Almost twenty years to the day 

�Mr. Reagan will raise taxes. And so will I,� Mondale said. �He won't tell you. I just did.� (Michael Putzel, The Associated Press, 7/19/84)

"Many of you are well enough off that ... the tax cuts may have helped you," Sen. [Hillary Rodham] Clinton said. "We're saying that for America to get back on track, we're probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good." (Hat tip: Instapundit.)

Some people learn, some people don't.

Student service evaluations 

One of the things you get bombarded with as a department chair are requests for assessment of teaching. Like Eric Rasmusen, I've wondered why we spend so much time on this. The title of this post is my answer: student evaluations do not evaluate teaching; they evaluate the service professors have provided to students. Those are not the same thing.

Look at it this way: What would be the meaning of having a patient fill out an evaluation of her heart surgeon? She could comment on bedside manner or quality of the surgeon's explanations of the procedure and post-surgery recovery process. That is, she can effectively evaluate the service she received from the surgeon as counselor. But what weight would you give to her evaluation of the doctor as a surgeon? OK, so she was under anesthesia, so maybe that's a bad analogy. So try a dentist. The dentist who keeps my kid from screaming as she's brought in for a teeth cleaning isn't necessarily the best dentist, even though my son may love him for the candy he gets as he leaves the office. And you wouldn't know that until years later when the child becomes a man and needs to have dentures before age 30 because the pediatric dentist botched things.

There are some professors who make an impression on you while you're in school who you remember fondly for the rest of your life; there are others who were complete SOBs from whom you later realized you learned a great deal. There is one retired prof from my department, a harsh fellow who required a great deal of his students and was brutal on the ones who didn't read before class. Complaints galore for the old chair of the deparment. But as I talk to alumni in their 50s and 60s, I am amazed how many tell me "boy he was tough, but did I ever learn a lot from him!" I hope someone says that about me some day. (Hat tip: Stephen Karlsson, who has more humorous thoughts on his evaluations.)

Smells like price controls 

When a government official keeps saying something isn't price controls, you can pretty well guess that it is. Reporting inThe Chronicle of Higher Education today (subscribers only), Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry announced that he is proposing to spend $10 billion in "fiscal relief" to states who kept public university tuition rate hikes "no greater" than the rate of inflation. Kerry has a smattering of college proposals all of which cost some money. He proposes $25 billion overall in his "State Tax Relief and Education Fund" (of which the $10 billion tie-in to controlling tuition hikes may be a part -- I cannot tell from his website -- and has already proposed a refundable College Opportunity Tax Credit of $4000 per year for tuition for four years. He says this is all fully funded, but I cannot see where the money comes from.

Since the last time someone proposed price controls for higher ed didn't go so well, the Kerry camp is being careful how this new proposal is portrayed. From the Chronicle article:

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, campaign officials said the idea behind the tuition plan was not to put price controls on colleges. Rather, the goal was to give institutions the money they needed since many states have been forced to cut spending on higher education because President Bush's tax cuts have reduced revenues for state governments.

"States were making up for the gap by raising tuition," said Gene B. Sperling, an adviser to Mr. Kerry and a former economic aide to President Bill Clinton. "Senator Kerry does not support price controls."
It doesn't matter what you call it, though. The economics are quite clear: Raise tuition above the rate of inflation, and you lose millions of dollars. Only if there were a very high number of students with highly inelastic demand could one go beyond the tuition rate listed. Just because you use a positive rather than negative incentive scheme doesn't make one price controls and the other not. Unfortunately, the Republicans Hopefully this idea dies the same death that haven't doen much better on this idea.

UPDATE: He better work harder if he wants the Hispanic vote.

Cheer up, it could be worse 

I've complained about Minnesota schools, but at least they're not this bad.
In terms of numbers, charter schools are barely a blip on the Massachusetts radar screen. Of the nearly 1,900 public schools in the state, only 50 are charters. Of the 980,000 children enrolled in public education, only 19,000 - fewer than 2 percent - attend charter schools. The tiny shadow cast by these schools is actually mandated by state law: They are barred from enrolling more than 4 percent of Massachusetts students or from spending more than 9 percent of the education budget in any given school district. And just to make sure they never grow fruitful and multiply, there is a firm ceiling on the number of charter schools permitted statewide - 72 and no more.

But if Massachusetts charter schools are few and small, they are also in great demand. Each one has a waiting list. Some 14,700 students in regular public schools are hoping a spot opens up at a local charter school. Unless Beacon Hill eliminates the caps that keep the number of charter schools so low, the majority of those kids will never see the inside of a charter-school classroom.
Meanwhile, Minnesota continues to lead the nation in charter schools, sometimes with silly ideas and others that work well even when they seem leftish while educating an immigrant population.

Upgrading the publication process 

Following up on my post about research publications, last night a colleague and I finished a paper for submission to a journal. (One of the reasons my posts have been lamer than usual.) We were told we could upload the file to The Berkeley Electronic Press. My colleague did, and within a few hours we get back a link to our paper converted to .pdf (which I can then download in that form), and a link to follow the paper's status.

Web submission seems to be the way to go. In contrast, I sent a paper to the Journal of Monetary Economics by snail mail a year ago last January, paying $150 for the privilege of having them look at it, and can't get anyone there to reply to my requests to learn its status.

(UPDATED to fix name of journal -- it's JME, not JPE.)

Adding Precinct 333 to the blogroll 

Another religion/education/political blog has come to my attention. Say hello to Precinct 333, whose owner already shows a keen understanding of the difference between public and private universities. As a writing sample, I like this metaphor in describing Vin Suprynowicz:
As a result you get things that are the written equivalent your best-friend's mom's meatloaf and mashed potato dinner -- stick-to your brain cells columns that are intellectually nutritious but have a little unusual flavor that your mom's cooking lacks.
Who told him about Mom?

Monday, June 28, 2004

Righteous indignation 

I'm sorry I missed Wendy McElroy's editorial on the anniversary of the University of Michigan affirmative action cases.
It is time to question whether AA is a noble goal. Advocates of U-M's policies speak in collective terms about race disadvantage and gender inequities. What they don't deal with is individuals. AA admission (and other) policies do not look at the individual merits of your son or daughter at the grade average they've struggled to maintain, the volunteer organizations they've joined, the dreaming human beings they are.

Instead, AA advocates see skin color and genitalia. There is nothing noble about that vision.
As Scholar Jack often writes me, whoof.

Advice for today's high school graduates 

"Instead of getting your name tattooed on your arm, write your name in history."

From the graduation of a charter school in Philadelphia. See Reform K12 for the rest of the story, as well as this one about a student's take on Pythogoras as a "dude with issues".

Information wants to be free 

(Courtesy Lew Rockwell.) The New York Times reports that more research is being published via the web.
The high subscription cost of prestigious peer-reviewed journals has been a running sore point with scholars, whose tenure and prominence depend on publishing in them. But since the Public Library of Science, which was started by a group of prominent scientists, began publishing last year, this new model has been gaining attention and currency within academia.

More than money and success is at stake. Free and widespread distribution of new research has the potential to redefine the way scientific and intellectual developments are recorded, circulated and preserved for years to come.

"Society pays for science," said Dr. Nicolelis, whose article in the October issue of PLoS got worldwide attention. "We have the technology, we have the expertise. Why is it that the only thing that has remained the same for 50 years is the way we publish our results? The whole system needs overhaul."

At the big-sticker end are publications like The Journal of Comparative Neurology, for which a one-year institutional subscription has a list price of $17,995. Access to Brain Research goes for $21,269, around the price of a Toyota Camry XLE.

According to the Association of Research Libraries, journal prices went up 215 percent from 1986 to 2003, while the consumer price index rose 63 percent.
In my field of economics, there have always been options, formalized by the Social Science Research Network which makes many working paper and published paper available to researchers. This builds on the tradition in economics of getting working papers out quickly to possible reviewers and collaborators (and to stake out a claim to an idea before you have to go through the peer review process.) Open source publishing in the field is being researched by David D. Friedman at Santa Clara. Question to the readers: What benefit is gained from not letting information be free? What is the value added by having and Elsevier or Kluwer produce journals and sell them at very high prices? And why, do you suppose, do libraries continue to pay those prices?

Raise price, give more scholarships, whistle to the bank 

David Wall comments in my post last week on the costs of education at SCSU that higher tuition might be driving down enrollment, if the number of eligible high schoolers are rising faster than our own enrollment. He also wonders if students are switching to public from private schools. A couple of points:
  1. The rate of increase in MnSCU of about 15% exceeds the rate in private schools, at about 6%. So the relative price of private school to public has diminished, which should encourage shifting AWAY from private public schools, all other things equal. But...
  2. All other things aren't equal, because as today's USA Today notes, the real price of tuition -- that which is actually paid by the student or parents -- has fallen by a third.
    What made the difference: a $22 billion annual increase in grants and tax breaks since 1998.

    That 80% jump in financial aid � targeting middle-class families earning $40,000 to $100,000 a year � has more than offset dramatic increases in tuition prices.

    "College still takes a big chunk out of most families' income. But the average student is much better off today than headlines would have you believe," says Sandy Baum, an economist who co-authors an annual report on college costs for the College Board, which oversees college entrance exams.
    Interestingly, a good bit of this money is coming from merit awards modeled on Georgia's HOPE program. As I suggested months ago, schools are getting better at the price discrimination game.
    Alexander estimates that 28% of the 10,000 students at his public university in Murray, Ky., would get more aid if it raised its official tuition price and then gave scholarships as discounts.
    And I'll bet his tuition revenue goes up, too.
UPDATE (1:30pm): Phil's right; I typed that the substitution should be to public schools when it should be to private schools. I shouldn't blog so close to class time.

Formative years 

A story from Wisconsin (Stephen, how did you miss this one?) discusses a high school newspaper that declined an ad (and $3000 revenue) from a military recruiter.
Bix Firer, 17, editor of the newspaper, rejected the offer, saying the U.S. military's actions run contrary to the advertising policy he drafted.

The policy rebuffs businesses and organizations "deemed destructive to the social, economic and environmental health of the earth and all of its inhabitants."

He also says he didn't want the student publication being used to advance the cause of "warmongers."
Why is it you never hear them referred to as "defensemongers" or "protectionmongers"? Just wondering.
He also says the military is "both classist and racist in its approach."

"I realize this is sort of absurd coming from a privileged, white male, but the recruitment sort of targets those with fewer opportunities," Firer says.
As Joanne Jacobs notes (from whom I found this article), the recruiter was trying to target this rich, more liberal neighborhood but was hampered by the self-imposed policies of Mr. Firer. David Foster, meanwhile, notes in a comment on Joanne's post an article by Karl Zinmeister (excerpts here), interviewed last Saturday by the Northern Alliance Radio Network. David asked a couple of months ago:
There's always been a lot to be said for hiring people with a military background, because the military often gives very young people the opportunity to exercise heavy levels of responsibility. But the nature of the current conflict is giving many people experience that will be of especially high value in business. ...

They're making tough decisions involving the balancing of multiple conflicting objectives. For example, the article tells of a lieutenant who is asked to take his platoon to a Baghdad sewer plant, where a suspected terrorist is believed to be employed. Does he charge in, seize the employment rosters, grab all the employees, and interrogate them? But the plant is--which was in a state of "advanced decay" when the Coalition arrived--is now being rebuilt, a project that is employing hundreds of workers and serving as a centerpiece of the reconstruction effort. Not a good place for a firefight, or even an angry scene. In the end, the lieutenant decides to take a more diplomatic approach, working quietly through the plant management. The right decision?'s hard to know. But a person who makes decisions like this on a day-in/day-out basis is surely growing in executive capacity.

Read all of David's post, and then wonder whether it is better to hire one of those veterans rather than kids like Mr. Firer who might go to a liberal arts institution like his parents teach at, and maybe, just maybe, get a single course in management?

Your economics lesson of the day 

Compare The Broken Window and Today's Bleat (scroll to last story). And of course the glaziers and the stairs demolishers and landscapers all vote Democrat.

UPDATE: Another Democrat doorknocker visits the Random Penseur, who has a daughter perhaps as precocious as Gnat?

The doorbell rang and it was the local Democratic Party chief looking for the previous owners of our house. My daughter and I answered the door. I explained that the previous owners had moved and he looked at us and said to my daughter, "so, are you a democrat?" And my little 3 1/2 year old looked back at him and just said, "no". He was nonplussed and that ended the conversation.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Send textbooks to Iraq 

Poliblogger is helping to round up textbooks for Iraqi schools. Please consider donating. I'm going to the office tomorrow and digging up a few myself.

Friday, June 25, 2004

More bread makes incumbents winners 

You can depend on the StarTribune for a misleading headline. Here's the one used in this morning's paper:
Economy slows, thanks to ballooning trade deficit
So did the economy contract? No. The first quarter GDP figure revised by the Commerce Department came in at a growth rate of 3.9%. Mostly the change was due to more consumers buying imports than domestic goods. The P in GDP is product, and when we are buying less product from domestic producers GDP falls, even if we are buying the same amount of stuff and feeling just as good as we did otherwise. And real gross domestic purchases, which measures what people bought regardless of where it was made, accelerated slightly. (And it's not a mirage, since savings as a share of GDP also went up in the quarter.)

The numbers behind the GDP revision are still strong. Corporate profits up 32% year over year. Disposable personal income -- what people actually have to spend after the government takes its tribute -- grew strongly last quarter. Many models of economic effects on presidential elections use disposable personal income rather than GDP. Douglas Hibbs' Bread and Peace model is one poignant example. Using his model and the pre-2000 parameters, the healthy growth rate of real disposable income at 3.2% per year so far should lead to Bush receiving 56-57% of the two-party vote share, even including the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq to date.

So if the papers start discussing how the "slowing economy" is going to lead to a Kerry victory, don't bet the farm. Indeed, if you go to the Iowa Electronic Market, Bush's vote share contract is trading at around 53-54%. 'bout right.

Back later 

I usually don't post on Friday nights, but I want to put up something for the NARN show tomorrow. (I won't be there, and I won't be at Paintapalooza, either. I hate parades, but I'm in one.) I want to write about the last revision to the first quarter GDP figures, which are interesting but getting largely ignored so far. But I have to decorate a float right now.
So follow the last link, you think about them and I'll tell you what you should have thought later, 'k?

The increases in tuition will continue until elasticity improves 

The student newspaper has some interesting quotes from our enrollment management officer:
"There is no doubt tuition increases will have an impact on enrollment," Saffari said.

Although there is a correlation between enrollment and tuition, Saffari said it is hard to say just how strong it is. He said high school graduates are applying at many more colleges than they have in the past with the help of the Internet. He said many colleges are experiencing higher numbers of applications that never translate into higher enrollments. He also said applicants take a longer time to decide which college they would like to attend.

"(Tuition) has become more of a contributing and influential factor in that decision," Saffari said.
The accompanying editorial -- you had to know there'd be one -- does a little math for us.
Since 2001, tuition at SCSU has increased by a total of more than $1,000 for a full-time student. That means that a student who began their studies in 2001 would have payed a total of $9,495 in tuition through the 2004-05 academic year if there were no tuition increases.

In reality, however, the same student has payed $11,722 in tuition since 2001.
So Dr. Saffari is saying that there will be an impact, and that because students can shop more easily they are more responsive to tuition changes than before. In economics, we would say demand became more elastic. But the calculation made here is as if nobody ever changes their demand. Now it is certainly true that students already here for a couple of years have more inelastic demand, which would argue for charging them a higher price, but that's like any other subscription service ("Hey freshman! Enroll now and get this special introductory rate!")

It's just that before, it was done more via financial aid.

There's no sign that enrollments are actually falling -- enrollment projections are for an increase of 3% -- so the increases in tuition are quite rational.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

But still maroon and gold 

Steve Gigl has moved Helloooo Chapter Two! to a new site. Change your blogrolls and see how he works Leni Riefenstahl and Lewis Black into a post on Michael Moore.

"We need to learn what the immigrants' kids have" 

John Rosenberg and Joanne Jacobs link to a report on Lani Guinier and Herny Louis Gates saying that says affirmative action is not helping low-income American blacks.
According to Lani Guinier, a Harvard law professor, and Henry Louis Gates Jr., the chairman of Harvard's African and African-American studies department, "the majority of them � perhaps as many as two-thirds � were West Indian and African immigrants or their children, or to a lesser extent, children of biracial couples," reports the New York Times. Guinier herself is the daughter of a Jamaican father and a white mother.

If their figures are correct, affirmative action is helping students whose families didn't suffer from American slavery or segregation.
So which is it? Diversity improving the education of the majority, or quotas to undo past injustices? Gates and Guinier can't even agree:
This is about the kids of recent arrivals beating out the black indigenous middle-class kids," said Professor Gates, who plans to assemble a study group on the subject. "We need to learn what the immigrants' kids have so we can bottle it and sell it, because many members of the African-American community, particularly among the chronically poor, have lost that sense of purpose and values which produced our generation.

In Professor Guinier's view, there are plenty of other blacks who could also succeed at elite colleges, but the institutions are not doing enough to find them. She said they were overly reliant on measures like SAT scores, which correlate strongly with family wealth and parental education.

"Colleges and universities are defaulting on their obligation to train and educate a representative group of future leaders," said Professor Guinier, a Harvard graduate herself who has been studying college admissions practices for more than a decade. "And they are excluding poor and working-class whites, not just descendants of slaves."

It's worth also seeing what Rosenberg has to say on this article.

When all you've got is a hammer... 

The Elder reports on a letter from the MoveOn PAC he received (see, I've always wondered about that guy!) regarding support for Patty Wetterling, the DFL candidate for the House up here (as noted here.)
Warren, a MoveOn member from St. Cloud, MN, writes: 'Patty Wetterling is a person of great integrity and compassion. Because of her work with missing and exploited children, she has already been instrumental in passing significant national legislation. She is liberal on all the issues that truly matter: ending the war and supporting those who have had to fight it, opposition to the marriage amendment, advocate for public education, strong support for progressive environmental and wilderness legislation, and advocate for working people and a living wage. Patty is smart, tough, but human.'
Emphasis mine, because I'm not sure how Warren knows this. The only piece of news I can find on her since she won the DFL endorsement was this on missing children, which is of course the cause she's best known for, from a paper in southern California. Her own website has no direct link for a statement of her views. It does contain a link to a Mesabi Daily News article which counsels her to "be who she is" and ignore other issues. A second article from Minnesota Women's Press says,
Wetterling has also been criticized as a one-issue candidate. The criticism doesn�t bother her. For her, Wetterling said, the thread that links all issues is how they affect children. �Every time a decision is made, I think, �how will this affect kids?��

Play to your strengths or the other guy's weaknesses? 

Since I said I would venture into more economics here, let me put out one to see who salutes...

The Commissioner Hugh Hewitt has called attention to a USAToday editorial that tells Kerry what I said months ago: his middle class misery index is a crock of la merde:
Kerry's downbeat economic talk may be inevitable for a candidate challenging an incumbent's record in the wake of a recession. But as the economy blooms, his index's credibility is wilting

...By talking down the economy, Kerry may hope to pick up votes in economically struggling states where the November election may be decided. But in doing so, he risks sounding out of touch with millions of Americans who see signs of an improving economy -- and want a president with a sunnier outlook. The recent death of former president Ronald Reagan recalls just how powerful an optimistic message can be.

That was yesterday. Today in a frontpage article, McPaper says that the economic indicators are only one of six indicators out there, and that the six are split 3-to-3. The biggest Bush positive right now is the economy, as Ray Fair notes. But look at the three they cite as favoring Kerry:
  1. Bush's favorable/unfavorable rating. But that really depends on who's doing the asking. Look at Real Clear Politics' survey and tell me whether it's clear Bush is under 50%. Even USAToday has to say it's not the same as Carter or Bush 41.
  2. Ohio. That's stronger; Kerry has made a number of appearances in the state and has two polls giving him leads. But the unemployment rate in Ohio is dropping, to 5.6% in May. When I did my dissertation twenty years ago on political business cycles, one of the things I showed was that it wasn't the level of inflation or unemployment that mattered as much as the rate of change. I doubt that relationship has changed. With continued growth expected, look for Ohio's job numbers to continue to improve. I think I gave Ohio to Bush in our private pick-the-states contest with Hugh last January, and I still think that will be right.
  3. Kerry's taller than Bush. Seriously. In order to gin up the story to make it a 3-3 tie, they had to rely on an indicator sillier than Kerry's miserable Misery Index. Note to USA Today: If you really believe that, will you bet your rent payment on the stock market if the NFC wins the Super Bowl next year? Fuhgeddaboudit.
But to the question in the title, and to Hugh's post. A few months ago I said that for Kerry to win the election he would have to run on the economy and hope the recession continued to linger, or at least have the media trumpet bad times. That has clearly not played, despite the campaign's attempt to spin the data to its suiting. Even the USAToday has punted that one. So they are left looking for some signs. As David Wyss notes at the end of the AP article discussing the role of the economy in the campaign, challengers do not make much headway in reminding people of economic troubles two years ago:
Most of our historical work suggests that voters have very short memories and it is really the last year that dominates their thinking with employment tending to be the best variable to predict the outcome.
And when the graph looks like this... aren't going to do too well. So they have to keep looking for space within which Kerry can campaign.

He isn't going to win on the economy, and he can't veer far left on the war. And height won't do. So my other prediction from this is that either Kerry has to play to his own strengths, which he tried earlier in the year and didn't gain much traction, or he has to go more negative on Bush. I'm saying he does the latter.

Relative prices of lobbying and fundraising 

(Crossposted at Liberty and Power.) According to Michael Tinkler, the British marquee universities have caught on to teaching-for-profit very late in the game.
They are all busy recruiting American students for one year degrees - a Masters of Studies, at Oxford. Oxford, you see, has decided to move from its current position of approximately 75% undergraduates to parity between undergrads and grads by 2007 (no one thought they'd make it that soon, but think that by 2010 it's pretty likely). You see, graduate students pay higher fees, and if they're non-citizens they pay full tuition -- which my informants pointed out is STILL less than the Ivy League, even if you add in a single round-trip airfare.

All this is leading up to the factoid that surprised me the most. University College, Oxford, set up the first regular alumni fund-raising scheme at Oxford or Cambridge in the late 1980s.

It struck me that Oxbridge colleges are something like American state universities in this way -- very late comers to the money game. The retired Whatchamacallit Professor of Modern History told me that, indeed, they had been embarassed to ask until it was almost too late. Now they're shifting the entire balance of who and what they teach to try to regain some fiscal independence from their government funders. (Emphasis mine.)
That's probably right, but I think Tinkler has missed an additional point here. There are two money sources for a state universities aside its operating revenue from tuition and fees. It can get state subsidies or it can raise funds from alumni. Targeted marketing has become far more productive lately -- I think my colleagues here at SCSU who work on nonprofits will attest to the declining cost of fundraising. Simultaneously, the decline of liberalism in America has made political officeholders less willing to throw dollars at every school willy-nilly. If you think about the effort needed to raise another dollar through fundraising and another dollar through lobbying, the Age of Reagan and Thatcher has probably made the former less costly relative to the latter. That would induce the type of behavior Tinkler now sees.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Survivorship bias 

The NARN will like this quote:
"I am convinced I never would have received my doctorate if I had taken the results of standardized tests too seriously," the late Minnesota Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D) had written in an article published in 2000. His SAT score reportedly was below 900.
From Jay Matthews, reporting on success stories of people who scored poorly on the SAT or ACT. Apparently to Mr. Matthews, like most sociologists, the plural of anecdote is data.

No word on how Wellstone did in music-writing.

Econ for poets 

That's the title I give to a course we teach in introductory economics that is designed for non-majors (and non-business students.) I love teaching it because you get students who are creative and simply have never thought about the world the way economists do. A perfect place for The Armchair Economist, The Economic Way of Thinking or Basic Economics. If nothing else, injecting a consideration of the mundane into the lives of students thinking mostly about arts and humanities strikes me as a useful exercise.

Schools nowadays are now finding that their liberal arts students need help finding their way into the job market, so they are now offering "Job Markets for Poets". The article clearly indicates that there is an increased demand for students to get vocational training, but they are struggling with the idea of how to fit it into the curriculum.

Low-stakes testing 

Faculty at SCSU continue to work without a contract as we approach one year past the last contract's expiration. Some have started wearing buttons saying "MnSCU -- we just don't fit in" or �Support Higher Education: Outsource MnSCU�. I wonder what they're wearing on the SUNY campuses after they've been told to start testing their students for writing, critical-thinking, and quantitative skills? (Subscribers only.) Well, probably not much.
Officials on each campus will be allowed to select the tests they use, although their choices will be reviewed by a systemwide group of faculty members to make sure that the tests meet certain standards. SUNY administrators and other advocates of the plan said the flexibility would allow campuses to tailor the assessments they use to their curricula. The plan also would allow the campuses that already use tests to keep some of them.
These in other words are non-standardized tests, given every three years, to only 20% of the students.
The tests would not be used to establish requirements for students to graduate or to enter specific university programs, officials added. Nor, they said, are the tests being created for use in any kind of performance-based budgeting process.
No, I don't think we'll see any buttons on the SUNY faculty. At least one trustee has sniffed through the smoke and found that there's no fire in SUNY's belly.
Candace de Russy, a SUNY trustee, cast the sole vote against the testing program. She favors requiring all campuses to administer the same test, arguing that such an approach is the only way to ensure proper measurement of educational quality across the system. By allowing each campus to choose its own test, she said, the plan creates "illusions of assured quality verified and verifiable by no one."

"Instead of ensuring SUNY hallmarks of quality," Ms. de Russy said at Tuesday's board meeting, "the assessment plan before us will guarantee that the state university remains just a loose federation of independent campuses, ultimately responsible to no one but themselves."

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Speaking principles to the principal 

What happens when the Right decides to fight Lefty signage (or t-shirts) with some of their own in a high school? Bryan Henderson at Princeton High in West Virginia does so and teaches a number of people a lesson in free speech rights.
At the end of the day, my fellow PW chapter members and I felt it was time to fight back and strike at the public education indoctrination machine that seemed to be running out of control. Our school desperately needed some ideological balance, so we decided that the next day we would up the ante and place 500 signs in the halls of the school.

I got to a quick start the next morning ...and just when we posted about 200 of our 500 signs, we heard a rustling around the corner. Upon investigating the noise, we found a fellow student tearing the signs from the wall and ripping them into shreds. We made no attempt to stop her, but she quickly abandoned her pursuit when I removed my camera from my backpack. Apparently, her being conscious of her own hypocrisy was not enough to prevent her from forcibly suppressing our dissenting point-of-view. But facing the prospect that others might be made aware of her hypocrisy, and it's cut-and-run.
That's just a teaser; the remainder is a sad commentary on how many administrators who knew what the right thing was, didn't do it out of fear of safety (or job security), of teachers who abused their power and the students they had indoctrinated, and one very troubling parent. His description of his conversation with his principal is a model of decorum and intelletual debate.
The next day I sat across the table from the principal. Our scheduled meeting had begun. He had reviewed the documentation I had provided to him from the ACLU website, but he still wasn't sure if my rights extended to posters. We talked about it for about half an hour and he really seemed to be coming around.

He stated that signs unaffiliated with the school would not be allowed to be posted. Anticipating this line of reasoning, I produced for him pictures I had taken the day before of many signs not affiliated with the school posted all over the walls. Included among them a picture of a movie poster for "Alamo", with which I asked him if the school was affiliated with Touchstone Pictures?

We talked it over for a little while longer until he agreed with my interpretation of Tinker vs. Des Moines. He said that if he decided not to let me tack posters to the wall I would definitely be allowed to hand them out as leaflets.
I think we should have a new motto for kids speaking out like this: Give a Tinker's dam to liberals!

I think Mr. Henderson will be a good local leader for Students for Academic Freedom when he arrives at college next year. At minimum, he should receive some of their "red books" along with a couple hundred of Cato's pocket Constitutions. (Mine is on my Palm.)

(Hat tip: Captain Ed.)

Commence liberalism 

Our articles on commencement speaker bias (like here and here) are just the tip of the iceberg, says the Young America's Foundation.
Commenting on the annual study, Young America�s Foundation President Ron Robinson explained, �For eleven years, we�ve shown that college administrators are using commencement ceremonies to send their students off with one more predictable leftist lecture. This year, the most prestigious schools exclude scholars like Milton Friedman, Thomas Sowell, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas for the likes of Kofi Annan, Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem, and Ralph Nader.�
Their page contains a list of the 100 top universities and 100 top colleges in U.S. News and World Report, with the name of their commencement speaker.

The one exception was, as it was last year, Hillsdale College.(Hat tip: Art Carden.)

School choice provides parent sovereignty 

As the first state to have charter schools, many other education writers look at Minnesota for the latest on the charter school movement. The Christian Science Monitor does so today, telling the story of how the movement is forcing the big-city schools to improve.
While many urban districts struggle to retain white, middle-class families, Minneapolis is also losing low-income, minority ones, primarily to charter schools. It's led to an enrollment crisis for the district, which loses state money with each departing student, and now has 800 surplus classrooms. But many observers point out that this is exactly how choice is supposed to work: better options for individual students, and a competitive educational landscape that may, in the end, force all the schools to improve.
This paragraph will not make Nick Coleman happy.

But the Monitor misunderstands the school district's response to this competitive landscape.

The district has delayed the school closings and mergers its interim superintendent proposed this year, and is instead planning a series of community conversations to engage parents in the restructuring decisions. In an effort to get a jump-start on the tough achievement-gap issue - as well as bring families into the public schools early on - the district hopes to expand its pre-K and all-day kindergarten options. It's also exploring specialized programs: gender- and culture-specific schools, performing arts specialities, and dual-immersion language programs.
As Mitch pointed out in February (my link here) the reason for these closing was a funding deficit combined with a desire to embarrass Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature for budget cuts. See this MPR report on how well it worked. I don't think they were ever really serious about closing these schools -- there was no additional money sent to stop the closings -- and so the liberals have resorted to the Washington Monument strategy. (For those not familiar with the strategy.) Nor has it stopped the carping against the Republicans.

All this should be a challenge for the new superintendent, who seems willing to continue the confrontations with the state.

So what's the standard deviation? 

More hilarity from our local newspaper, today's edition, page 6A, top left corner.
Weekly Gas Price Watch

Prices as of Monday

National Average Price: $1.937

Local Average Price: $1.77*

Local High: $1.86 on June 15


*Based on price observed at one Division Street station.

Compiled by Times staff

Wow, that's some serious statistics there. Perhaps Rand Simburg had it right, that we need a No Reporters Left Behind Act. "Compiled by Times staff"??? This is our new joke: "How many reporters does it take to observe a price?"

And it turns out this isn't a one-time phenomenon. Notice how the local high is different? Did they change gas stations?

No word yet on what the median was.

Subsidizing the gifted? 

I'm old enough to have learned my public finance from Musgrave and Musgrave's classic textbook, when there were few good alternatives (Buchanan and Flowers was the other one I read for my qualifying exams.) One of the things you learned from the text was tax equity principles; one of the principles, called the "benefits-received" principle, says that taxes should be paid according to the benefits received. I haven't taught public finance since the 1980s, so I don't know how much people lecture that any more.

I was reminded of this by a story Stephen links to about gifted students losing their special programs in Wisconsin. It's a trend (which of course is blamed on No Child Left Behind, which is also the leading cause of cancer), as 17 states do not provide money for gifted programs and 8 do not even have a state coordinator for gifted programming. And advocates are worried:
These programs provide the motivation and challenges that bright students need to do well in school, Robinson says.

Without them, gifted students will simply turn off from school, underperform and may even drop out. Research shows that up to one-quarter of the country's high school dropouts are gifted students, Robinson adds.

"Part of the problem is that people are going back to the comfortable myth that gifted kids are OK on their own," said Robin Schlei, the gifted and talented coordinator for the Mequon-Thiensville School District. "These kids are different from the norm, and they need help and support."

Pamela Clinkenbeard, a University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor and expert in gifted education, says gifted students are among the most at-risk for failing.

As a graduate student at Purdue University, she said, she worked with a seventh-grader who was years ahead of her classmates in math. School officials did not want to accelerate the girl, and she started skipping school and becoming depressed. At the urging of Purdue professors, she enrolled in a college calculus class and earned an A.


According to Clinkenbeard, Wisconsin was recognized as a national leader in gifted education in the 1970s. Its reputation started to decline as teachers retired and weren't replaced, she said.

"It's hard to measure what you lose by not challenging them," said Clinkenbeard, who calls investing in gifted education good for the economy, because it can slow down Wisconsin's much-publicized brain drain.

To an economist, two questions arise. First, is there a greater return on putting educational resources into gifted students? We have some evidence that it helps to track students (and doesn't harm disadvantaged learners), but that's not the real question. We want to know if "preventing brain drain" is helped by giving gifted students better education. After all, they can move.

Second, if not, would it make sense to start charging parents of gifted students more for the specialized education? If they are to receive greater benefit, the Musgrave tax equity story says make them pay more. But then you could argue the same for special ed students, too, right? And nobody wants to go down that road, methinks.

Do I get workman's comp for carpal tunnel? 

I was at a Public Choice meeting a few years ago when a young economist gave a paper on the virtual economy created in an online role-playing game (RPG, for those of you unfamiliar with the language of video games.) Edward Castronova has gone on to make a nice name for himself as an expert on virtual economies. And this research has blossomed dramatically among other economists as well, and has developed even a blog that delves in these issues (Castronova is a moderator of that blog).

So I suppose it had to spread to other disciplines, even English, and lead to its own conference.
Editors Sidney I. Dobrin, Cathlena Martin, and Laurie Taylor seek proposals for a new collection of original articles that address the use and place of space and ecology in video games. This collection will examine video games in terms of the spaces they create and use, the metaphors of space on which they rely, and the ecologies that they create within those spaces. This collection will address the significant intersections in terms of how and why video games construct space and ecology as they do, and in terms of how those constructions shape conceptions of both space and ecology.

The editors seek proposals for innovative papers that explore the intersections between ecocriticism, theories of spatiality, and video games. Ecocriticism of video games straddles studying ecology as the Earth (or alternate world setting), nature, and land, while adding physical representation and experimentation through video game spaces and other technological spaces. These video games spaces create their own spatial practice through their representation and through the players' lived interaction with the gaming environments as constructed worlds. Video game spatial analysis comprises the created representation of space in the games, the players' experiences with those spaces, and the nuances by which those spaces are constructed and conveyed, including their portrayal of cultural norms for space and spatiality. In addition, the editors are looking for several papers that specifically address children's culture and education in terms of video games, space, and ecology.
As someone who hung around the computer center at St. Anselm and Claremont looking for spare 110 baud modems to play D&D, this simply doesn't strike me as weird as it does Erin.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Maybe it's the Hummels? 

Look, if you want "quirky", try listening to the new Sonic Youth CD, which I'm doing right now.

James is NOT quirky.

Eloise, you're right. Gotta go see this picture.

UPDATE: Elder has the pic. Oh, and Elder? If you lived as close to Chino as I did, you'd give a crap, too. (I linked all three of his posts in one day. What a suck-up!)

Hope she doesn't end up on our Administration's Rolodex 

Another story about racemonger Jane Elliott of Blue Eyed fame. She tends to show up when stories of freshman orientations are run. According to this article by Wendy McElroy, Elliott gets $6000 a day to perform trainings like this one that Linda Seebach describes.
Why am I telling you about this now? Because an extremely and righteously angry woman wrote me recently that her son, a ninth-grader at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, Colo., had been subjected to this abusive treatment in his English literature class, which was studying "Othello."

"The teacher made my son wear a blue card on a string around his neck. He was required to smile ingratiatingly, bow his head, and beg people to tie his shoes for him," she wrote. "The teacher wore a yellow card, that of the superior race, and she petted and made much of the other yellow card students."

In a particularly nasty wrinkle, the teacher told the students chosen for the subordinate group that they would all receive Fs for their work that day and that the failing grades would be on their final transcript. And she sent them home still believing that lie.

If that had been done to me in ninth grade, little Miss Perfectionist that I was, I'd have gone home and killed myself.

"Teaching children about abuse should never include abusing them," the mother wrote. "Committing a hate crime should not be the way we teach our youngsters about hate crimes."
Teaching discrimination by humiliation, at many places paid for by tax dollars. I wonder if Don Rickles is available. (Hat tip: David Beito.)

UPDATE: Joanne Jacobs picks up the same story. The comments there are worth your time.

Testing your way out of graduation 

There's a story in the Washington Post on a student who passed all his classes but didn't graduate because he didn't pass the Standards of Learning test in Virginia. (These are regrettably abbreviated as SOL.) The test doesn't appear to be unfair, since he had a 490 SAT to boot. This doesn't preclude him simply doing poorly at standardized tests, though the article shows he has a history of educational difficulties that have been diagnosed and treated. He has a 2.23 GPA in school. And despite repeated tests and remedials, the desire to pass them to play collegiate football, and seeming like a good kid, he can't pass the reading and writing test.

Did this school let him slide for too long? You decide:
Joyce O. Jones, director of guidance at Gar-Field [high school --kb], said Copeland is "one of many" students who get passing grades by working hard in class but whose academic weaknesses are pinpointed by the SOLs. She said the tests, which are given beginning in elementary school, increasingly are uncovering problems early, before they become a barrier to graduation.

Supon, the guidance counselor, said he believes that Copeland deserved to receive a diploma with his classmates but that he will need more than just reading remediation before he can tackle college level work. "He's got a good brain, but he's going to need some help with [college]. Junior college might be good, where he could get remediation courses," he said.

As long as they spell my name right 

Eloise says I should read the StarTribune more. The Elder objects. Funny enough, today I had a case where three faculty members who received a grant were cited for their work in the local paper, but the wrong person was listed as the lead investigator and the rank of another was incorrect. And then, to make matters worse, when I send a correction to the paper, I "over-promoted" the person whose rank was slighted.

I should note the local paper usually treats me pretty well. They have a file photo, which leads to me getting calls on things I know next to nothing about, like health insurance last week. The reporter is very nice so I start chatting with her, but get all shy when I hear the keys clacking on the other end. I never get calls about central banking, which I actually know something about.

Faculty bias: What does the research show? 

Courtesy John Ray: There are not many good studies of faculty attitudes, but this one by M. Reza Nakhaie and Robert J. Brym in 1999 does a fair job of researching the question through survey research.
American research suggests that class origin and current class position have no effect on liberalism and civil-libertarianism, but they do have an effect on attitude towards faculty unionism. Discipline and ethno-religious effects are observed in the American surveys, and ethno-religious effects are also evident in Canadian research on the relationship between higher education and political attitudes.
Trying to straighten up the findings on the American and Canadian academics, they run their own tests. They find that, unlike results from the 1970s, younger faculty now tend to be more leftist. Female faculty are more liberal than male. Like almost all the studies, they find that business and engineering faculties are more conservative than those in the humanities, arts, social sciences or education. Comments Ray,
the only subgroups that averaged below 3.5 (i.e. were slightly Rightist) were professors of accounting, finance and mechanical engineeering. Professors in all other disciplines tended Left. The most far-Left group was, of course, the sociologists -- the most meaningless of all the disciplines. I taught in a university school of sociology for 12 years so I have some cause to know the emptiness of most sociology. Leftism sure is pervasive in academe.
His essay on leftist elites merits reading.

One interesting note: This research showed that while none of the other attitudes derived from family background, there was a tendency for faculty whose fathers were from working class backgrounds to support faculty unions. Now I wonder: If family background is a predictor of success in academia, wouldn't those working-class faculty tend to be at less selective institutions like SCSU, where faculty union activism is pervasive and pernicious?

Leper at Harvard 

How many times do you wish you had spoken out as a public speaker, and particularly a well-known one, said something extraordinarily foolish, but passed because you were afraid to embarass your family and friends? My family knows better than to go to such events with me. Thankfully, his daughter let Alan Bromley attend her graduation from Harvard's Graduate School of Education. He should have known:
The dean of the School of Education talked about our country's isolation and "our need to learn more about" Islam and Muslims--not their need to learn about multicultural capitalism that embraces and allows so many avenues of expression and growth.
And when the rain stopped, Kofi Annan started. Distinguished and eloquent as ever, he first disparaged President Bush (to cheers), then asked: "What kind of world would it be, and who would want to live in it, if every country was allowed to use force, without collective agreement, simply because it thought there might be a threat?"

I raised my hand, and above a whisper and below a shout (so my daughter wouldn't be embarrassed), I said, "Me!"

A few people looked at me, disdainfully, and one apparent father asked me, "How could you not agree with that?"

"Simple," I replied, "the United States, while not perfect, has perhaps the world's best checks and balances of liberties and legalities in the world. And when we've gone wrong, we try to address the wrongs."

I continued: "Would you rather we hand over our autonomy to the French, Germans and Russians, all of whom promised to protect Saddam Hussein for illegal business transactions and payoffs? Or to the nations that comprise the U.N.'s Human Rights Committee--the Libyans, the Sudanese? To whom would you entrust our fate other than to your neighbors? To the Arab nations, for who Judenfrei--and Christian-frei--amounts to a national anthem?"

Without reply, they walked away from me, a leper in the colony of the pure, as I glanced towards my family, hoping they hadn't witnessed my latest provocation.
This the day after Ronald Reagan's death, which warranted no mention from the assembled.

UPDATE: Big Trunk notes that the title of the article, Silence of the Lemmings, was misleading -- there was much applause for Annanhole. Hindrocket's rejoinder:

One thing about lemmings--when they jump over the cliff, they don't try to take anyone else with them. A key distinction, I think.

Friday, June 18, 2004

And don't let the door hit you where the Sons of Liberty split you 

Some fool resigned as president of William and Mary. Another re-education camp closes, and nobody notes the crime that went on there. Sic semper nine of clubs.

I always hated "Friends" 

And now I've got a real reason, rather than just seeing six spoiled brats needing a smack upside the head. Several groups, including Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: Issues and the National Association of Scholars, have filed an amicus brief in the California Supreme Court in the case of Lyle v. Warner Brothers Television Productions et al.
The accuser in Lyle alleged that she was subjected to harassment by virtue of the frequent sexual banter of the writers�both male and female�of Friends while they discussed ideas and developed storylines and scripts for the show. Although she admits she was not the target of any of the comments, she claimed that some of the comments were derogatory towards women in general and therefore created a "hostile environment" for her work. ...

The letter argues that writers� offices, like universities, are "communicative workplaces" that encourage and depend on free-wheeling and uninhibited dialogue and discussion. Rules that give individuals the power to punish anyone who offended them could spell the end of the open exchange of ideas. The letter lists several examples of activities that could be suppressed through restrictions, such as "a feminist studies course criticizing pornography, a medical school class on human sexuality�or a public health series on means of combating the spread of AIDS." All of these classes feature sexual themes and would be at risk if the current decision in the Lyle case goes unchallenged. Discussions involving speech that anyone might find religiously or racially offensive would also be at risk. The letter points out that Lyle, when added to other California court decisions, would create "a de facto mandatory speech code for all universities."

The Smoking Gun produces the original complaint against the writers, which suggests some rather crude behavior if true -- the language described is quite foul. But the amicus brief wonders how one could work, for example, on the Vagina Monologues if the appelate court decision in Lyle is allowed to stand?
At the university, frank sexual discussion and sexual images can serve important pedagogic purposes. Consider, for example, university courses such as a feminist studies course criticizing pornography, a medical school class on human sexuality, a seminar on the art of Michelangelo, or a public health series on means of combating the spread of AIDS. In each of these classes, sexual content is academically appropriate, and academic freedom requires that debate on these topics be robust and uninhibited. Yet under the Court of Appeal�s ruling, discussion of a sexual nature in these classes � and in the halls and on the quads of universities � can be ended simply by the objection of a university employee to the speech.
It's certainly an odd case for FIRE and NAS to take up, but it's also consistent with what they've argued elsewhere.

Resist the force 

Oscar Chamberlain is wondering if he should watch what he says about "modern history" (and isn't that an oxymoron, anyway?)
My general approach is to let them know that when we get to my life time that I am a participant as well as a historian. I discuss some things that I did and believed, but I make that in the form of a warning, that no matter how hard I try to be objective I may slip from time to time.

Then, in practice, I make sure that I express the best arguments against those positions as well as the arguments supporting them. I think this works fairly well, as in most classes I have some students expressing contrary views.

However, I am really wondering how I'm going to deal with the attempts of this administration to legitimize torture as a proper tool for some interrogations. When it came up this Spring--mostly though not always in a course online discussion area--I attempted to be objective.

However, I was appalled at the students who do not simply support torture in a sort of "ticking bomb" hypothetical way but consider it as a logical part of the current war. One in particular expressed this with considerable eloquence and with reasons that, apart from morality, had a considered logic to them.


So, as it becomes more and more obvious that the Administration's views are quite similar to that student's, do I have a moral obligation to make clear how horrid that is? Or should I hold to my established way of doing things?
First things first: The fact that students are "expressing contrary views" in most of his classes suggests that Mr. Chamberlain is doing a great job teaching. The fact that he wonders about this in a blog is further evidence that Chamberlain is only interested in doing the right thing as I think we both understand it.

Second, since he's asking for opinions: Chamberlain teaches in a public university. As such, I do not think it is within his purview to make moral judgments about his students. His is a history class, not an ethics course. His school takes as its mission to prepare students for life-long learning through a two-year program. If Mr. Chamberlain would like to teach at a school where he can express moral outrage, those schools exist in the private sector and he is free to find one. But he doesn't have an obligation now because the student and the university (via the professor) did not enter into a contract for moral tutoring.

While I'm out this morning... 

I'll blog this PM after a well-earned golf date with my father-in-law. Meanwhile, NARNer Captain Ed has a very intriguing post about a news report that Vladimir Putin told the press Russia repeatedly offered intelligence to the US post-9/11 that Saddam had plans to attack within the United States and at US interests elsewhere, including US citizens. Ed wonders it this constituted the imminent danger the Bush administration felt justified the war. The 9/11 Commission is silent on this question. Mitch says so too will be the media.

Wanna bet which story leads the NARN broadcast tomorrow?

Thursday, June 17, 2004

And we're still cheaper 

MnSCU has approved tuition increases for state universities and technical colleges in Minnesota. Average full year tuition and fees at the four-year institutions will be $4,921, with SCSU charging $4,981. The technical and community colleges are $3,824. Systemwide, the state provides now about one-half of the system budget; at SCSU it's down to about 46%. Complaints on the news at the local newspaper suggest it's all a Republican plot, but the decline in state funding as a share of MnSCU expenditures is a long-run phenomenon.

Don't forget to vote! 

Remember: We're running a contest at the Northern Alliance site to pick our new logo. Go here to vote. At last report, Amy Lopez' rendering was closing fast on Derek Bringham's design. Winner will get first dibs on redesigning SCSU Scholars for cash money. I'm glad others are choosing, because they're all very, very good. Voting ends Saturday morning.

We call them "Klingons" 

For some reason, the New York Times has room to fit this news: Graduating students are bummed out they have to give up their email accounts. With so many free services out there, how hard is this?

He said it 

If anybody has a mortarboard, you can move your tassels from right to left, right to left, which is what I hope happened to your politics in the last four years.
George Washington University president Stephen Trachtenberg, at a graduation ceremony. (ViaMSNBC.

A wall? 

Former education commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke has written an interesting article about the recent Supreme Court decision about the Pledge.She recounts the history of the separation clause and argues that the phrase "Congress shall make no law" is simply a bar against establishment of a religion, not a wall between church and state. The latter is a misreading of the intentions of the First Amendment from Everson v. Board of Education onward. Of course the ever-divisive M thinks Yecke misreads Jefferson. I suspect M needs instead to read about the Establishment Clause and the tests used to decide them. Eugene Volokh thinks the case law is very muddled, which I believe agrees with Yecke.

UPDATE: Critical Mass reports another school religious liberty case (a school suspends a student wearing a shirt with a reference to Romans 1:27 during a schoolwide day in support of GLBT/LSMFT issues. A student is told by a vice principal, �When I come to school, I leave my faith in the car, and you should leave your faith in the car when it might offend others.� In the Newdow case, the faith wasn't only in the car, it wasn't even on school grounds! But in the case of the shirt, the school looks like it will defended as a case of hate speech, according to Erin O'Connor.

UPDATE 2: Stephen makes some connections.

"Of course we're conservative" 

The new issue of the American Experiment Quarterly is out, and it focuses on school reform this time. Abigail Thernstrom's speech from Januaryleads the issue. Thernstrom and her husband have written the excellent No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, which they call a national crisis. Inner city schools with students of color are succeeding, she says, through old-fashioned formulae.
The process of connecting the typical black child to the world of academic achievement isn�t easy in the best of educational settings. But good schools show that it can be done. Terrific schools�the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academies in D.C.and elsewhere, among others�provide a road map to academic success.

The best inner-city schools have greatly extended instructional time with more hours in the day, longer weeks, and longer years. They have terrific principals who have the authority and autonomy to manage their budgets, set salaries, staff the school with fabulous teachers and get rid of those
who don�t work out. These principals are constantly in classrooms, giving feedback to teachers�the best sort of professional development. The schools we describe focus relentlessly on the core academic subjects, insisting that their students learn the multiplication tables, basic historical facts, spelling, punctuation, the rules of grammar, and the meaning of often-unfamiliar words. They provide safe, orderly environments in which to teach and learn. But they also aim to transform the culture of their students, as that culture affects academic achievement.

�Are we conservative here?� Gregory Hodge, the head of the Frederick Douglass Academy in New York�s Harlem, once asked me rhetorically. �Of course we are,� he answered. �We teach middle-class values like responsibility.� The KIPP Academy�s David Levin has echoed Hodge. �We are
fighting a battle involving skills and values. We are not afraid to set social norms,� he has said. The best schools work hard to instill the �desire, discipline, and dedication� (KIPP watchwords) that will enable disadvantaged youth to climb the American ladder of opportunity.

Figuring out what great schools look like is not difficult. But how to get there on a massive scale? That is the question to which no one has a good answer�given the structure of public education, with its built-in obstacles to the sort of fundamental reform that will be needed.

In companion pieces, Jon Bacal discusses the racial gap in Minnesota and suggests an open sector of charter schools to compete. Curtis Johnson and Neal Peirce agree.

UPDATE: Oops, I failed to remember Dave Huber's discussion a few days ago on the same point. Go there.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

What does a community college education buy? 

We're going through the issue of technical college versus comprehensive university with #1 son right now. He likes Shakespeare and journals more and better than I do, but simply finds nothing in college to like. He'd rather cook for a living. So today I have also been two pieces. First, via Joanne Jacobs comes an article comparing a woman's experience teaching in a community college with her daughter's experience at Reed. Amardeep Singh comments on the difference between the graduates of the two places.
Graduation from a posh college is a routine affair. Most students expect it, and are scarcely attentive during the ceremony. Graduation from community college, in contrast, reflects profound personal struggle against their environment and sometimes their own limitations (i.e., struggles with language, learning disabilities). The students aren't dry-eyed, so perhaps the professors who helped them through don't need to be either.
If I thought #1 would view graduation with some kind of emotion and sense of accomplishment, that would be worth the price of admission, which admittedly is small.

Second, a new report suggests that there is a crisis in funding community colleges in California, according to a group of business and labor leaders. But this is a good deal overstated. Only half of the over 700,000 additional seats in community colleges are for new graduates; the remainder are "a hidden tidal wave" of older workers who would increase their skills. But isn't that just a subsidy to businesses who don't want to pay for training themselves? And labor leaders are more likely to find membership in skilled labor areas as free trade moves more unskilled jobs offshore, decreasing the potential for unions to force up wages. Why would taxpayers wish to subsidize that?

If the experience is as Sharp's article suggests, subsidies should be unnecessary.

Student paper helps faculty newsletter 

David Beito notes that the Alabama Scholars Association has received some support for its troubles in getting its newsletter circulated at the University of Alabama -- the student newspaper has come to their aid.
We are free to opine and criticize to our heart's content, and we want to preserve the right for as many people that want to speak out. Beito is an important check on the power of the University because we, as students, have a hard time finding out what goes on behind the white curtain of the President's Mansion.
The battle continues there with FIRE's support.

More later 

I'll be back in a few hours, but I have much work to do. If I've been slow this week it's because I'm grinding out research, putting out a new Quarterly Business Report, and teaching still.

More bolshevism on campus 

On one of the departmental bulletin boards today I found someone had taken down an advertisement for more students to join our major and replaced it with this poster. The organization posting this flyer appears to be anarchist, but their opening page looks unmistakably Soviet. (They link their poster to places like InfoShop, which is avowedly anarchist, and Perhaps anarchism is a new code word for being so stupid as to write a sentence like this: "Some of us believe it is people who deserve freedom, not commerce." without recognizing that to have commerce requires people. (Unless someone has a special report from a bear cave somewhere.) A correspondent in the business college reports the same flyer appeared in his office area.

It's summer and there are not many students about. It could be one of them. But this strikes me as an extension of the office door phenomenon we discussed last week. Speaking of which, a junior faculty member from another department has decided to move near our departmental office suite, and has the usual crapola of Bush-is-stupid cartoons, the required Free Mumia bumpersticker, and other effluvia of ineffable idiocy.

If you believe in fighting in kind, see Bureaucrash for your free-market-propagating needs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Truck and Barter says that an economic impact report on the University of California at Berkeley concludes the campus is a net drag on the Berkeley city budget. Bob points out that much of the benefit spills over to the rest of the Bay Area, and suggests that it negotiate with other cities for compensation. But how could it exclude, say, Oakland from receiving the benefits of UC Berkeley?

These reports are always suspect. It's apparent all the Berkeley study did was measure direct impacts on the city budget, so the school's right to say the measure has understated the full impact. But if most of the impact spills over into Oakland, then the impact isn't that large. And that problem pervades most of these types of reports. Here's an example I googled from SUNY Albany saying that $1.005 billion of the total economic impact of $1.119 billion stays in the Albany region. That's probably poppycock, as most certainly is a multiplier analysis that says $1 put into SUNY Albany generates $8.85 in benefits to the Albany region. Were that true, they should quadruple the budget.

UPDATE: Stephen comments on the Berkeley study and also links to this suggestion that the University of Michigan privatize.
A privatized University of Michigan would almost certainly raise its tuition rates to help compensate for the loss of state revenue, as well it should. It is not unfair to ask those who benefit directly from earning the highly valued U of M degree to bear a greater burden to pay for it, especially considering the financial background of most of the school�s students.

A 2003 Detroit Free Press story reported that over 51 percent of the University of Michigan�s freshman class comes from households with incomes above $100,000 per year. Yet, only 12.7 percent of Michigan households earn such incomes, according to calculations using 2000 Census figures.

Tuition hikes could actually help those students who truly need help � by enabling the school to offer greater outright gift aid and tuition reductions to students from low-income families, as is often the practice at private universities. Needy students at public institutions currently rely more on loans and work study programs.
We had the same thought about SCSU a few months ago.

Trackback moved 

Apparently Pete Holliday's has been moved into Haloscan. I've changed the template to take the new tracks, but it looks like I lost the old ones.

Yo! Holla at your boy! 

Mitch talks about his daily visits on the web. Like Captain Ed, I use a news aggregator to follow the ones I like best, along with education news and the Red Sox. (Indeed, Captain Ed has turned me onto SharpReader, which I've now adopted as my aggregator.) Mitch's list are all on my aggregator, as are the NA brethren (and sistren -- hello Eloise!), Liberty & Power and the other big HNN blog Cliopatria and the obvious ones like Instapundit. Here are five others that we could add.
  1. Critical Mass -- The site I initially wanted to emulate. An English professor leaving the professoriate to teach younger students, writes a blog narrowly focused on higher education.
  2. Joanne Jacobs -- if you want to know what's the score in the education establishment today, Joanne has to be a daily stop.
  3. Dissecting Leftism -- an Australian, John Ray has made it his mission to sniff out political correctness and greenieism. And he does a great job.
  4. Cold Spring Shops -- Stephen Karlson shares my taste for stories about academic stupidity, and has cred as an economist of the Landesburg mold. If we could just get him over this train fetish ...
  5. Random Pensees -- probably the newest entry on the list, but provides a potpurri of intriguing posts. RP sounds like someone you'd love a cup of coffee with.
Obviously there's a bias towards educational blogs, since that's my territory. Which leads me to ask readers: Would you like to see more economics on this site? I've done it some here. I originally thought I would run a second site to do economics, but I've not enough time to post a second daily blog (plus the few I need to do for L&P.) I probably have no more than one thought for the blog on economics in a day. So what do you think? Drop a comment, please.

Alumni involvement 

Critical Mass highlights the continuing efforts of students to call attention to the disturbing speech code at Bucknell. Alumni have now joined in the effort to illustrate the chilling effect this code has had. I agree with Erin that Bucknell's students have gone about this well in providing an evenhanded treatment of the issues.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Communicating with the 200 Club 

As we mentioned a couple of months ago, the university is using web-based surveys to help it figure out what is going on around campus. President Saigo reported results last week, and tried to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
73% of respondents said the quality of communication on campus is excellent or above average (25%) and average (48%).
One intrepid reader sent me a note about this sentence from Saigo's report:
Except that more accurately, 25% rated above average or excellent (actually only 1% rated excellent which translates into 2 respondents), while 27% rated communication as belove average or poor, with almost a majority only giving an average. Now rather than using these percentages if we use a Likert scaling with 5= excellent and 1=poor, the quality of communication would get an average score of 2.91. Ever so slightly below average. And yet the poorly worded sentance would have us intially think that 73% of respondents feel very positive about communcation. In a land were all the children are above average, to have 48% of respondents only rate your communication as average, isn't much of a ringing endorsement.
He's right, as you can easily see from the pie chart. And notably only 200 out of the 1200 or so faculty and staff at SCSU bothered to fill out this very short survey. Saigo has responded that he will be holding "open office hours" for the first time this fall. Somehow methinks that will be a short-lived experiment: 5/6 of the campus has already voted with their mouses that they don't bloody care. The ones that will show up, he won't want to see for very long.

Ward Connerly wins in Michigan 

According to this morning's New York Times, the initiative to end affirmative action in public university admissions there can be placed on the ballot. This comes after a lower court ruling that threw the initiative off the ballot due to language "improperly worded and likely to confuse voters." Proponents however think the initiative might be too late to be placed on the 2004 ballot and may instead wait for 2006, since they had to suspend collecting the 317,000 signatures needed until now. Opponents say they will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Academic darkness 

This morning's copy of the Chronicle of Higher Education's daily report (for subscribers only, as will be the links herein) contains two stories concerning academic freedom. Edward Waters College, a small historically black school in Florida, has fired five administrators in what is the latest in a long line of problems at the school. (Here's an AP summary of the case, which omits several details that appear in the CHE article.) One of the administrators, Communications Department chairwoman Jayme Bradford, claims it's a case of the administration favoring a popular student.
In the case of her firing, Ms. Bradford said she thinks the college may have been trying to protect a student who was accused of academic dishonesty, because of her popularity as a campus leader.

"They're paranoid about any information getting out to the public," said the former dean of students, Juan P. Gray, who was also recently fired. "It's not an environment of academic freedom. It's academic darkness."

Calls last week to the college's president, Jimmy R. Jenkins, and to its department of institutional advancement were not returned.

The student, a senior, was caught and admitted to deleting failing grades from her transcripts last fall in a document related to her planned graduation. The college's judiciary committee recommended her suspension, but the president vetoed it, and she was cleared for graduation, said Ms. Bradford, who was the student's academic adviser and who brought the case to the committee.

President Jenkins "said that I could have handled it differently," she said.

Four of the fired administrators were involved in some way with that incident, said Mr. Gray. "It's strange to me that everybody [fired] had an intimate connection to this student," he said.

Ms. Bradford compared the student's academic dishonesty, which included altering the transcript, plagiarism, and cheating, to the acts of the disgraced journalist Jayson Blair. She said that, in person, the young woman seemed "like the perfect student," and that her graduation could help the college's image. "They wanted her to do well," she said. "I think it's favoritism."
Interesting. But a local TV station report suggests that the reason for the termination instead is the release of a student's paper about the laxity of campus security just hours before the student was killed. Bradford released some of the student's schoolwork.

The administration claims Bradford's account is "inaccurate" but in a written press release refuses to elaborate.

In a second article, the Chronicle reports on the activities of the AAUP in censuring schools for violations of academic freedom. Top of the list is Philander Smith College, another historically black institution that has a problem with faculty talking to the media.
Philander Smith, the oldest historically black college in Arkansas, was censured because it violated a professor's academic freedom when it dismissed her on grounds of insubordination, according to the AAUP. Janice S. Chaparro, an assistant professor of social work, was terminated after speaking to a local newspaper about conditions at the college without first alerting the president's office.

The college, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, also terminated the appointments of four other full-time faculty members, stating that financial conditions had required it to reduce the size of the faculty and staff (The Chronicle, November 12, 2002).

But a 2002 report by the AAUP asserted that the college did not first demonstrate a bona fide condition of financial exigency. The report maintained that the professors had been released neither because of a lack of seniority nor a negative evaluation of their professional performance, but because of disloyalty to the administration.

Philander Smith's departing president, Trudie Kibbe Reed, did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment. But Stephen Schafer, the college's dean of institutional advancement, called the AAUP document a "nicely padded, erroneous report."

He said that Ms. Chaparro had violated "a simple policy" that appeared in a directive on public statements sent out by the college's president. The directive, quoted in the AAUP report, said that "all communications with accrediting bodies and agencies, state agencies, newspapers, and other media discussing the professional and internal business of the college shall be coordinated though the president's office."

"It will be considered an act of insubordination," the directive continued, "for any faculty or staff person to contact any such entity without the prior approval of the president of the college and will be grounds for immediate termination."

After receiving the directive, the AAUP report said, Ms. Chaparro read and faxed it to a local newspaper, but declined to comment on it, whereupon she was fired without due process.
The school claims the information Prof. Chaparro gave to the press and to an accrediting body was "incorrect".

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Northern Alliance logo contest (with special incentives) 

We rolled out the five six finalists for the Northern Alliance Radio Alliance logo. They are, as we say in New England, wicked good. We are collecting votes from listeners and readers this week, which will be factored into the votes of the group to pick the new logo for the site. The winner will be announced on our show next week on AM 1280 the Patriot.

I am offering the winner of this contest a special incentive. Many have commented that, compared to the graphics on the other NA sites, Scholars is pretty low-rent. The Fraters have spoken definitively about this:
Sunlight may be the best disinfectant, but that yellow background color looks like the phlegm a malaria victim might cough up.
Some friends in information media at SCSU have begged me to change the color, but I figured there's no such thing as bad advertising, and being voted worst color scheme beat being ignored.

But 'tis time to finally make the move. We intend to leave our gracious hosts at Blogger within a month and move to new digs and a new design. So one "prize" for winning the logo contest -- and the only one with financial implications -- will be an offer to redesign Scholars in return for a consulting fee. Dave, Jack and I have saved a few dollars from our measly contracts for the purpose, and we'd love to have so spanking new digs like those contemplated by those six logos.

For the rest of you, your vote really will matter, because the opinions of the group are, well, diverse. Three of the six finalists are logos I nominated to be finalists, including my two favorites. If you have one you like, voting for it will mean not only seeing it on the show site, but here as well. So, as they say in Chicago, vote early and often.

Friday, June 11, 2004

What they neglect to tell you 

The libel case against SCSU and MnSCU by former dean Richard Lewis Judge dismissed by the judge. According to the original story in the St. Cloud Times (which won't be available by the time you read this), Lewis' lawyer showed many connections between the paper and the university, but the judge found that the university did not exert editorial control.

The most disturbing part of the article is that it fails to tell that the article itself regarding Lewis was retracted.

As I had speculated earlier, it seemed to me that the university had a defense of respondeat superior, though Marie disagreed with me on this. The plaintiffs may appeal. Regardless, the fact that the newspapers are now reporting this case without any concern for the fact that the initial story was fallacious and irresponsible is to me further proof that the libel claim has merit. It's simply a question of who will pay.

The canary's gasping 

The Random Penseur links to this article by Michael Totten at TCS, who tells us that "Palestinian nationalism is the hot new cause for the cool kids." RP reminds us:
You may ask yourself, why should I care about this? You may think, I'm neither Jewish nor Israeli and it's a world away. Someone much more clever than I once said that the Jews are like the canary in the coal mine for the world. When the atmosphere turns poisonous for the Jews, it's only a matter of time for everyone else.
John Ray has similar thoughts.

Betcha Saddam didn't like talk radio 

But they have it now in Iraq.
From a modest family house somewhere in a western Baghdad suburb, Radio Dijla is fighting crime, saving lives, and treating the emotional traumas of lovesick teenagers.

Unthinkable during the Saddam era, this is Iraq's first talk radio station. It is only a small commercial channel that has sprung up in the maelstrom of the capital, but has already struck a chord with residents.

Up to 18,000 callers a day try to contact the station - it only answers a fraction of that number - and it has become Baghdad's favourite.

Topics include "the price of vegetables, Baghdad's traffic police and the fickleness of boys." The authorities listen, including electricity officials monitoring whether service is reaching all the suburbs.

Saddam probably also wouldn't like the Northern Alliance Radio Network, where tomorrow we'll have Steven Hayward back to talk about his Age of Reagan. We enjoyed him last time discussing his work on Carter, and I'm looking forward to finding out what Reagan's economics education at Eureka College was like, and whether or not boys were fickled there, too.

Absolute and comparative faculty unions 

A colleague and I have wanted to do a paper here at SCSU on the correlation between faculty union activism and scholarship. Since faculty always complain about lack of time -- and it's certainly true that the binding constraint for faculty is time -- those who spend more time in union committees probably do less research. If people work towards their comparative advantage, it also follows that union activists probably have comparative disadvantages in scholarship. (For union officials who just got pissed at me, let me remind you that comparative and absolute advantage are two different things.)

KC Johnson at CUNY has similar thoughts.
Events of the last few days offered a couple of different approaches for professors eager to maximize their political influence. At CUNY, our faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, has attempted to transform itself into what one PSC leader, 2002 Green Party gubernatorial nominee Stanley Aronowitz, terms �the first academic union to be led by activist intellectuals,� through initiatives such as donating to the defense fund of Lori Berenson, imprisoned in Peru for aiding the Shining Path.

Led by President Barbara Bowen and Vice President Steve London, two longtime associate professors short on scholarship but long on activism (Bowen, whose first job after graduate school was as a union organizer at western Massachusetts orchards, used to be fond of urging CUNY professors to think of themselves as apple pickers so as to increase their solidarity with adjuncts), the PSC has aggressively spoken out on a variety of political issues. Its May Delegate Assembly meeting passed a resolution of support for Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president best known for his authoritarian tendencies and anti-American diatribes. This month, the union expressed concern about the American Federation of Teachers� unconditional endorsement of John Kerry, noting that Kerry has refused to �reject educational policies that involve �merit pay.�� (It�s not for nothing that the 1999 Schmidt Report worried about a �culture of mediocrity� at CUNY.)
And amazingly they can do all this using only 12% of union dues, so they can continue to charge the other 88% to faculty who do not wish to be part of the union.

Positive statements positively unconstitutional 

While we seem to be having a lull in the speech code debate at SCSU -- and trust me, 'tis only a respite -- the rubes running SUNY Brockport have cooked up a jim dandy. FIRE is suing on behalf of two College Republicans, Newsday reports:
The suit was filed June 3 in U.S. District Court in Buffalo on behalf of students Patricia Simpson and Robert Wojick, members of the Brockport College Republicans.

The suit claims that faculty members twice deemed materials distributed by the student group as offensive. A pamphlet showing photographs of outspoken liberal celebrities saying, "Bring Back the Blacklist," drew an angry response from a faculty member who demanded it be removed from the group's informational table, the lawsuit said.

Another faculty member ordered that the group be denied funding or shut down after reading a flier encouraging the college community to help "End Liberal Indoctrination on Campus," the lawsuit said.
As if that was not bad enough, Brockport, a public institution, is trying to tell students what to say to promote "a better community". Amazingly, this policy appears to have been in place for years.

Eugene Volokh calls it "patently unconstitutional". Commenters at Critical Mass are trying to figure out why this is a pervasive pattern on American university campuses.

UPDATE: Will Baude asks "Can a joke have the purpose or effect of stereotyping?"?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

"I'd like them to think [like me]." 

High school teachers probably don't get to put stuff on their office doors, since they are in a classroom and not an office. So, they get instead to put it on their t-shirts.
At Hollywood High School - perhaps the most celebrity-packed campus in the country - it takes a lot for an educator to attract attention. But literature teacher Hildreth Simmons still manages to raise eyebrows, not so much with words as with her wardrobe.

Just about every day, Ms. Simmons shows up in her southern California classroom wearing a T-shirt with a provocative message like "War Without End? Not in Our Name" or "A Woman's Place Is in Her Union."

Her goal, she says, is to get students to ponder issues like labor rights, world affairs or, nowadays, the war in Iraq. "I am trying to provoke thought, and discussion," says Simmons. "I'd like them to think."

At some schools teachers have been told these political messages are unwelcome, but not Ms. Simmons. Interestingly, even the National Education Association seems to side with curbing this behavior.
The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, says the classroom shouldn't be a "pulpit," according to assistant general counsel Michael Simpson. New York social science teacher Gloria Sesso agrees and goes even further, saying educators should keep their personal perspectives private.

"You're helping kids to think for themselves," says Ms. Sesso, who teaches at Patchogue-Medford High School in Medford, N.Y. "You provide them with various perspectives, and you look at things you want them to analyze."

World history classes at the school have used the Iraq prison-abuse scandal to examine the role of torture in wartime, she says. In her advanced history class, students looked at the Iraq war through the prism of previous wars and military concepts like preemptive strikes. "The kids are very interested. They like to look at American foreign policy with a perspective," Sesso says. "They get excited about that."

Bird's words 

You don't have to be an addict of sports talk radio (as I am) to have heard about Larry Bird's comments on the lack of white basketball superstars.
You know, when I played, you had me and Kevin [McHale] and some others throughout the league. I think it's good for a fan base because, as we all know, the majority of the fans are white America. And if you just had a couple of white guys in there, you might get them a little excited. But it is a black man's game, and it will be forever. I mean, the greatest athletes in the world are African-American.
I can't wait to hear Stephen A Smith hyperventilate, because I'm sure what he won't realize is the amount of research that's already out there on this. (He's still mad about Bird firing Isiah Thomas.)

What Bird is suggesting (or insinuating, if you want to take that tack) is that white fans discriminate. Not owners, not fellow players. Fans. Customer discrimination has long been a research area for labor economists, and the application to fan appreciation of minority and white athletes has been around for some time. There has been research on whether prices for collectible cards for athletes are systematically higher for white players than non-white, whether the benches for teams that play in markets with smaller minority populations have more white guys, or voting for players to play in the All-Star games. And we keep coming back to the same answer: Probably so. Some of the research is described in this press release from several years ago, a recent paper by my good friend Richard Burdekin at Claremont McKenna and two others, and this paper by Kanazawa and Funk. Though my colleague Orn Bodvarsson suggests pay discrimination has disappeared, he was really testing employer discrimination, and diminution of that form of discrimination is pretty consistent across all sports.

How liberal is Fox News? 

(How's that for intentional irony?)

I had just read Mitch's post on some of the biased reporting surrounding the Reagan funeral when I took the latest Business Week to the "think tank" (note: has running water). Robert Barro's column is always something I want to read, and his latest (subscribers only) describes some research by Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo. The research has already been summarized by Alex Tabarrok last year. Tabarrok has posted the paper as well, which does a great service to those of us wanting to understand what the authors have done. Using a linkage from politicians' ADA ratings (which are commonly used for assessing the ideology of a congressperson through their voting records) to their citation of 200 prominent think tanks, and from there to the use of these think tanks in news (not editorial) reporting, Groseclose and Milyo conclude that Fox News is about as conservative as Charlie Stenholm. Rep. Stenholm is a Texas Democrat. The median member of the House is only 12 points to the left of Rep. Stenholm (on a 0-100 scale, wherein Ted Kennedy is 100 and Phil Gramm is 0.) On the other end, Newsweek comes out 33 points more liberal than the median of the House of Representatives, more liberal than Joe Lieberman. Ditto the New York Times, Time magazine, USA Today and the CBS and NBC nightly news broadcasts. Jim Lehrer's NewsHour on PBS and Good Morning America rank pretty much down the middle.

What has been missed in the reporting on this is that, to an economist, this is puzzling. Groseclose and Milyo explain:
The idea is that if there were a systematic bias, then an entrepreneur could form a new media outlet that does not have a bias. This outlet would drive the others out of business. This is a compelling argument, and even the libertarian Cato Journal has published an article agreeing with the view: In this article, the author, Daniel Sutter (2001), concludes that, although it might be possible for a systematic bias to exist in the network news (since, before cable television, there were strong barriers to entry in this industry), such a bias is impossible, or at least very unlikely, for the newspaper, radio, or magazine industry.
(Link added.) And yet they do. As Barro notes, this study's methodology has yet to be applied to talk radio, where I think it will find more conservative think tanks cited (and guests booked) than liberal. So perhaps that's the margin on which the competition has occured. Nevertheless, it's curious.

What we've known all along 

When you let the assessed right the assessments, you can pretty well bet that they'll be dumbed down.
A study of high school graduation exams, rites of passage for more than half the nation's secondary school students, shows that they largely test material taught in the 9th and 10th grades. Such material, the study said, is often taught at the middle school level in other industrialized countries.

The study found that the tests measured very basic material and skills, insufficient for success in university courses or in jobs paying salaries higher than the poverty level, currently about $18,000 for a family of four.
Even at these lower levels, teachers and school administrators are fighting to keep sanctions from following poor results. Says one opponent of these exams,
It sounds like the latest installment from the 'Chicken Little, the Sky is Falling' crowd. All judgments about where to set the bar, where the cutoffs should be, and how much students should learn at any grade level are inherently subjective and political.
Ergo, no test will ever satisfy him.

Hummel alert 

While I love the big strong cigars, they make me look like a Munchkin trying to choke down a baseball bat.
Mr Hewitt, call your office!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Should school teachers get peer reviews? 

In an otherwise uninteresting column invited by education writer Jay Matthews at the Washington Post, Richard Chapleau has one suggestion worth thinking about.
My last act as emperor is the only one I know could really be achieved in the "real world" I hear so much about. I would take teacher evaluation away from administrators. Who is in charge of the American Bar Association? Attorneys. Who runs the AMA? Physicians. Who watches the teachers? People who haven't been in a classroom in many years. Administrators, criminally overworked administrators. They must watch hundreds of students, tens of secretaries and custodians, and also a few dozen teachers. Guess who takes up most of their time? The children who spent four years watching videos. Yet, these same harried administrators are also asked to give clinical input into the skills of classroom teachers.

Every teacher in the country could give you a list of who's pulling their weight and who should go to the emperor for a final paycheck. Teacher evaluations should be done by working teachers, in a manner similar to professors at most American universities. Professors take turns on some sort of "faculty review committee," where they check each other for professionalism, for commitment to learning new ideas, and for doing their jobs well. I hear many people complain about our public schools, but I still notice that people flock from all over the world to attend our universities. Perhaps it's at least partly because no university dean or provost sits in a professor's classroom for one hour every two years and calls that evaluation.
Now just about every academic that reads this blog will want to smack Chapleau upside the head and say "silly, that's not how tenure decisions work." And they're right. Still, when we let administrators evaluate teachers, evaluations are likely to be skewed towards teachers who create few problems, who get along. That's not necessarily (or even usually?) your best teachers.

The burden, though, is the union. The difference between the bar or the AMA and the teachers' union is that the former is run like a guild. It has self-policing qualities which are in the interests of the members to maintain. It's not perfect, of course, but there are at least some incentives to not let a few bad lawyers or physicians create bad publicity or lowered reputations for the rest, because the rest will suffer lower incomes if they do not self-police. But the teacher's union, having captured local school boards and at least one political party, can assure itself continued payments regardless of whether some of its members are doing their jobs well. So I doubt Chapleau's idea, if implemented, would result in an increase in educational quality.

UPDATE (6/11): Michael Lopez has his own list of ideas for how to run the schools.

Do journalists even get NCLB? 

Probably not, and asking teachers to explain it to them isn't going to get them a straight answer. Joanne Jacobs suggests that the tradeoffs are quite simple:
Parents want the failures of special ed highlighted; schools don't want to be blamed for failing to educate students with disabilities that make it hard for them to learn. States are playing with the rules to get more schools off the hook for special ed results.
UPDATE: And in another post she offers an example: How many times have you heard NCLB called "an unfunded mandate"? Well, it's not. Of course, failing to fund increases at the same rate as you did before has always been called a cut by the tax-taking class...

Sampling bias 

John J. Ray has a couple of cogent remarks on another blog's remark that "when you raise the intellectual bar high, as serious universities do, you get fewer right-wing kooks". Apparently when you riase the bar, you also get insightful analysis of "kookism". Ray also points out that the Left has odd logic:
He is probably in fact arguing that because Americans have moved to the Right in recent years (itself a proposition in need of proof) THEREFORE the universities cannot have been preaching Leftism. The unstated but highly amusing premise in that being that all preaching must be influential! That other influences (9/11 anyone?) might more than cancel out any influence from Leftist preaching is just not allowed for in that particular parody of logic!

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Is a good colonial history scholar hard to find? 

Michael Barone asks this question, noting that many are retiring, and being replaced by scholars in other fields. He quotes Lance Banning from Kentucky thus:
I don't know if I'd say that universities are deliberately discouraging the history of the Founding, but some individual historians certainly would; and there is certainly a sort of systemic problem. Academics, of course, are hired, for practical purposes, by majority vote of existing departments. Academics in general are as captivated by fads and fashions as any group I can think of, and the political, intellectual, diplomatic and miltary history of the Revolution and the Founding are decidedly out of fashion at the moment. Many history departments have little interest in hiring anyone who specializes in these sorts of interests, and a good many teachers of graduate students may well discourage such interests because they do not seem as attractive to hiring departments as studies in race, gender, identity and the like.
Here at SCSU? Decide for yourself, our own Scholar Marie notwithstanding. (Hat tip: David Beito.)

Fill up the summer book bag 

Random Penseur has a great list of history books for summer reading. I have been binging on books on Central Asia lately, and I second his recommendation of The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk. If you like both history and chess (the Littlest Scholar was dropped at chess camp today, where it appears she's already a star), I recommend The Chess Artist, which is as much about Kalmykia as about chess.

And like RP, I eagerly await the new Alan Furst. Not till August, darnit.

I'd love a letter like that 

The Christian Science Monitor publishes this collection of commencement address clips. Compare and contrast clip one:
College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So don't worry about your grade or the results or success. Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite strong. Although I'm sure downloading illegal files ... but, nah, that's a different story. Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.
...with clip two:
It wasn't such a good idea to have the four 4.0 people up here and then announce all of the other things they are doing besides studying, because when you are a 2.2, you don't have an excuse anymore. When you hear that a 4.0 was doing about nine other things with the community and flying over on weekends to work for Mother Teresa and you are trying to explain to these people, "Well, I want to have a full campus life. I don't want to be a person in the books all day studying." Well those 4.0s don't appear to have done that. As a matter of fact, they had more fun than you had.

All you 2.2s that applauded when you heard 2.2, first thing you need to do is get a paper and pencil and apologize to every professor you ever turned in a paper late to or you tried to argue for a C for the D you got.
Remarkably, late yesterday afternoon I got a note, typed on a very old typewriter, from someone who apologized for his poor performance in class and said he enjoyed it anyway. I wish he had done better.

So who were the quotes from? One of them is Jon Stewart, the other is our old friend Bill Cosby.

Meanwhile, the New York Times titles its collection of commencement quotes "Threats to Rights and Financial Barriers to Poor Are Cited at Graduations". I wonder who will be hardest hit?

UPDATE: Saint Paul notes that Jon Stewart isn't your usual liberal comic. I agree. I found it fascinating to watch him interview Thomas Friedman the other night on his show: it seemed Friedman was playing up his liberal roots, and Stewart was not egging him on, almost discouraging him. Think that would happen with Franken? Then again, would Friedman even DO Frankenet? Also worth noting: Tonight Stewart has David Brooks, and I've watched him interview Jonah Goldberg without a touch of meanness.

Happy blogday! 

One of my daily stops is Common Sense and Wonder, a group blog that turns two years old today. Stop by and wish them the best.

What's in a name? 

My colleagues know I prefer the old-fashioned chairman, an idea I got after reading this column by Walter Williams. The university poobahs insist my title to be chairperson or just chair. Regardless, my title sure beats some of these ideas from Robert Kahn. On the list is "Director of Social Equity", which unsurprisingly will be a title here at SCSU. Still time for YOU to apply! (Hat tip: Stephen at Cold Spring Shops, glad to get his old template back. Blogspot, thy days are numbered!)

More on the office door 

David Beito says he's thrown off the restraints on what goes on his office door after his colleagues showed "anti-free market urban legends."
Currently, on my door and in the surrounding area, I have the articles on the racist roots of gun control, showing the growth of the federal government, quotes from Albert Jay Nock and, my favorite, a cartoon from an old issue of Liberty showing a frustrated pharaoh looking at a bearded prophet holding a staff. The caption reads "How come you never talk about what's right with Egypt?"
Douglas Bass, commenting on my post yesterday on this subject, also has a list.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Diversity and University - synonyms or antonyms? 

Earlier today an SCSU administrator sent out an e-mail to 20 university staff and faculty members who were unable and/or unwilling to attend last month�s rapidly organized campus-wide �mandatory diversity-training sessions.� Mandatory make-up sessions are now being offered in an effort to comply fully with a court-ordered settlement brought by various plaintiffs. As one of the twenty who has yet to attend, here�s part of what I wrote back:

My priority this summer is to be with my wife as much as possible. With luck, her chemotherapy and radiation treatments could be completed by Thanksgiving, but we�ve already had one significant setback. It�s possible that I might be free to volunteer 75 minutes to attend a workshop either August 30th or 31st, when I hope to be on campus.

Before I consider trying to commit to a workshop date, please allow me to ask a number of questions which I believe all SCSU staff and faculty members (as well as Minnesota taxpayers) have a right to have answered.

1) Who, specifically, requested that mandatory diversity training be part of the court-ordered settlement?

2) Which party (or parties) does that person (or persons) represent: Minnesota�s Attorney General, MnSCU, SCSU, IFO, FA of SCSU, the plaintiffs, or others?

3) Why has it been so difficult to get an answer to these first two questions?

4) Do not the administrators of SCSU understand that failing to answer the first two questions above serves only to deepen campus-wide beliefs that our leaders eschew individual accountability, while they embrace the insidiously divisive concept of collective guilt?

5) Would not the diversity training session that I attended following Convocation last fall suffice?

6) How much did Minnesota taxpayers contribute toward the cost of diversity training at SCSU last fall and this May?

7) In his e-mail of April 22, President Saigo wrote: �I also must re-emphasize, very strongly, that this is not an optional matter and that disciplinary action, as outlined in each bargaining unit�s contract, will be enforced should you not complete the training.� To what disciplinary action, specifically, does President Saigo refer?

Perhaps university authorities will be able to answer these questions after July's court hearing to monitor compliance with the court�s order - that was apparently agreed to by all parties. But don't hold your breath. It seems that embracing collective responsibility means never having to say you're sorry. Expect the current climate of collective finger-pointing and ass-covering by all parties to continue. But stay tuned in any case.

Achieving balance at the St. Cloud Times - Part Two 

In other news, Susan Ihne, the paper's editor-in-chief, yesterday blasted KMSP's coverage of drinking at the state capitol. Not that it is OK to legislate while intoxicated, but that KMSP's reporters were too sneaky.
Obviously, state employees who violated state policy by drinking on the job should be disciplined. And I'm not saying it's OK for legislators to drink alcohol in the Capitol.
Well unfortunately it's not illegal. We can't vote while intoxicated, but legislators can -- they've exempted themselves from rules concerning alcohol on public property.
My concern is the deceptive way in which KMSP obtained footage to make their story more sensational. Why not walk in with a camera and record everyone drinking and lobbyists sitting behind the desk of a legislator?

Sure, those being recorded would have screamed and ushered them out. But KMSP would have had its footage -- without being devious or tricking anyone.
You mean, you want them to impersonate Geraldo? The building is public property, the legislators doing the people's business, and it's open to the public. (Just ask the lobbyists who were also tippling.) The legislators have no right to complain, and very few in fact have. Does the public frown on the use of secret cameras generally? Ihne thinks so and points to the Food Lion case. But that was willful misrepresentation of ABC News personnel as workers for Food Lion, much different than citizens walking around the Legislature.

Achieving balance at the St. Cloud Times - Part One 

This morning's local paper carries its editorial obit on President Reagan. They somehow could not resist a swipe.
Of course, Reagan's presidency wasn't without controversy. His "trickle down" economics policy didn't thrill many on the domestic front. And the Iran-Contra scandal undoubtedly left the biggest mark on his record. While he never admitted he lied about the arms-for-hostages deal, congressional hearings made it clear even the Great Communicator was far from perfect.
Huh? His economic policy led to the Seven Fat Years. And Iran-Contra was the biggest mark on his record, more than the economic expansion? The fall of the Soviet Union?

This was included in yesterday's treatment, where in posting websites to read more about Reagan they included a moonbat Geocities' hosted site on Reagan's as "the most corrupt administration ever". (I'm not linking to that crap -- google it yourself.)

Publishing student papers at religious institutions 

While we continue the debate here on whether the student newspaper was used to smear a dean, there's another situation at Baylor University.Tim Cavanaugh at Hit & Run considers these disturbing, while David Wallis wonders,
If colleges discourage young reporters from investigating powerful interests while in school, how can society expect them to probe political corruption once they graduate? When students cower rather than proclaim their opinions on campus, how can we expect them to stand up for what they believe off campus?
The issue is whether it's good to train future journalists in kowtowing to the publisher's self-interest. Certainly it is not a free speech issue, and whether it is academic freedom is one open to debate (just see the comments to Cavanaugh's post). But it is an honesty issue -- are we honest with students who work in student newspapers that they will receive the full training they need to prepare for work in the media?

What's on your door? 

Loyal reader Pat M. pointed me this morning to an article on the habits of academics who put things on their office doors. Written in an anthropological tone, James Lang notices that while many would think the door reflects the occupant's discipline, in many cases it's just a reflection of their personalities or their politics. Looking at my office door I see five things posted:Others may post their door hangings in the comments, and I will offer them as evidence to Prof. Lang.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

"There's no substitute for victory, Mr. President" 

The blogosphere is redolent in tributes to Reagan tonight, and it seems presumptuous to put anything about this here. But as I was flipping through the web looking at Reagan's speeches (I was looking for some of the radio messages that were written up in this fabulous collection -- Captain Ed, read them now!) I remembered the 1976 Republican Convention. In case anyone has forgotten, the speech Reagan gave in support of President Ford that night was extemporaneous, and was under 800 words. Yet within those words he laid a vision of America that resonates with a call to us to this day.
Someone asked me to write a letter for a time capsule that is going to be opened in Los Angeles a hundred years from now, on our Tricentennial.

It sounded like an easy assignment. They suggested I write something about the problems and the issues today. I set out to do so

...Then as I tried to write--let your own minds turn to that task. You are going to write for people a hundred years from now, who know all about us. We know nothing about them. We don't know what kind of a world they will be living in.

And suddenly I thought to myself if I write of the problems, they will be the domestic problems the President spoke of here tonight; the challenges confronting us, the erosion of freedom that has taken place ...

And then again there is that challenge of which he spoke that we live in a world in which the great powers have poised and aimed at each other horrible missiles of destruction, nuclear weapons that can in a matter of minutes arrive at each other's country and destroy, virtually, the civilized world we live in.

And suddenly it dawned on me, those who would read this letter a hundred years from now will know whether those missiles were fired. They will know whether we met our challenge. Whether they have the freedoms that we have known up until now will depend on what we do here.

Will they look back with appreciation and say, "Thank God for those people in 1976 who headed off that loss of freedom, who kept us now 100 years later free, who kept our world from nuclear destruction"?

And if we failed, they probably won't get to read the letter at all because it spoke of individual freedom, and they won't be allowed to talk of that or read of it.

This is our challenge; and this is why here in this hall tonight, better than we have ever done before, we have got to quit talking to each other and about each other and go out and communicate to the world that we may be fewer in numbers than we have ever been, but we carry the message they are waiting for.

We must go forth from here united, determined that what a great general said a few years ago is true: There is no substitute for victory, Mr. President.

Thanks to you, Mr. President, we're twenty-eight years closer to your letter read in a still-free world. In his memory, let's see to the other seventy-two.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Unions raise wages and lower equilibrium employment 

The subject line is what we teach our students in principles of economics. Apparently it's news to teachers.
Thousands of younger, less experienced teachers in Minnesota are finding it nearly impossible to find and retain jobs. Declining enrollments and stagnant state funding play a role.

But a Star Tribune analysis of teachers' contracts and school finances has found that teachers' contracts themselves -- with automatic raises based on education and experience and job security based on seniority -- contribute to layoffs. Because districts have to lay off their least experienced teachers first -- and those teachers cost much less -- schools end up cutting even more teachers to balance their budgets.

And that drives up class sizes.
I wonder if the StarTribune will now be villified by teachers? Maybe they can get their editors fired by the Senate? Wonder how they will respond to this statement?
From 1998-99 through 2002-03, 129 school districts lost students yet increased total teacher pay faster than inflation. Over that same time, 92 school districts lost teachers, yet increased total teacher pay over inflation.
Oh, probably by saying they're still falling behind. It appears that adjusting for inflation or cost-of-living differences isn't something we teach to Education Minne$ota officials. (Hat tip: Mitch, who says the union is succeeding in turning teaching into a blue-collar profession.)

More media-proposed lesson plans 

Best of the Web Today (fifth item) is encouraging "critical thinking" in a lesson plan written by CNN on Bush's commencement speech to the Air Force Academy. It begins,
During a commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy, President Bush compared the War on Terror to World War II and cast the Middle East as a critical front akin to wartime Europe. Define the term "rhetoric," and discuss how words can be used as "weapons" and to sway political opinion. Then, examine the choice of words used by President Bush in his speeches pertaining to Iraq and the War on Terror.
It encourages students to refer to CNN's coverage in order to "discuss how Bush is using words as weapons and what he hopes will be gained by his rhetoric." Wouldn't you think they'd have kids read the actual speech?

And they tell you this is how they would help meet a National Social Science standard on "global connections."

Well-spoken nothing at all 

Peggy Noonan notices that most graduates from our elite institutions want to go into communciations. But to say what?
They don't seem to have a clue. For this is a question that involves the area of Deeply Held Beliefs, and as far as I can see it the deeply held beliefs of these particular graduates is a uniform leftism whose tenets involve reciting clich�s. They believe racial and sexual diversity is good, peace is better than war, religious fanaticism is bad. But they don't want to spout clich�s--that's not why they went to Cornell. And they know their work will not draw attention if it is marked by tired and essentially noncontroversial ideas. No one thinks war is sweet, there's no market for racial segregation or male chauvinism.

I see no sign they are going to start thinking anything truly unusual for their time and generation--that religious conversion can be a wholly beneficial and life changing event, for instance, or that breaking with liberal orthodoxy might be the beginning of wisdom.

It must leave them finding it a challenge to speak of their beliefs in an interesting way. They often seem to fall back on attitude--wit, irony, poking fun at the thick-witted--in place of sustained thought, or meaning. And still they want to communicate for a living. I think of this problem as "big mike, no message."

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Contrast of commencement (non)speakers 

In contrast to Eddie Doctorow's disgusting display at commencement at Hofstra, Rep. Tom Lantos, a rare pro-war Jewish Democrat who survived Hitler and Stalin decided to decline an invitation to speak at City College of San Francisco after students warned they would protest his views. Said Lantos' chief of staff Robert King,
His feeling was that this ought to be about the kids who are being honored for the work they did -- not politics.

Expletive gun deleted 

When they asked us for quotes for the high school yearbook, I told them to use "expletive deleted". Not a cuss word that they would have replaced with the phrase -- I asked for the phrase itself, as a protest of the Watergate tapes and to thumb my nose at any number of things that made high school a less-than-pleasant experience for me. Really sophomoric in retrospect, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

At Pewaukee High School in Wisconsin, a student posed for his high school yearbook photo holding a shotgun and standing near a Confederate flag. Though he was told that there were no restrictions on photos -- and checking it with the yearbook advisor, who said it was fine -- he is now being told by school officials that it cannot be used. He is to graduate shortly.
"They pretty much asked me if I had another picture to submit," Schultz said. He was told the photo, which included a rebel flag in the background and Schultz in a cowboy hat holding his shotgun, was inappropriate.

"It (the photo) was very tastefully done," said Tammy Ankomeus, Schultz's mother. She also pointed out that students were encouraged by the school to show their personality in their photos, portraying themselves with sports equipment or other items that they identified with.

Schultz uses the shotgun at Menomonee Falls Rod and Gun Club, where he has been trap shooting since age 15. ...

Schultz and his mother stated they met with Principal Marty Van Hulle May 27 and showed him photos in past yearbooks that had included firearms.

"One is an actor from a war movie holding an assault rifle in front of him," Schultz said. "When 9/11 was going on, they showed a whole bunch of Marines getting off a helicopter with M-16s in front of them."

Schultz and Ankomeus stated they were told there were restrictions on yearbook photos, but they were not given any in writing. ...

Pewaukee School Superintendent JoAnn Sternke stated that she had no knowledge of the photos in previous yearbooks or a firearm being brought into school for a presentation and was only responding to the situation with Schultz.

"Weapons or images of this sort are not something we endorse or condone in the school environment. Weapons by law and school policy are not allowed on school grounds," Sternke said.

She said the yearbook is a publication that is representative of the school district. Sternke held that the district has a right to regulate content and determine the appropriateness of photos in it.

The article has the picture in question. School officials are questioning both the flag and the shotgun as possibly being "misconstrued". That's an awfully slippery slope; could someone have misconstrued my "expletive deleted" to tell them specifically to "pound sand" (the phrase my parents taught me after hearing my first f-bomb)?

(Hat tip: Joanne Jacobs.)

An English Department your mother won't love 

Mike Adams discusses English departments:
Recently, I wrote an article called �Summer Reading,� which was intended to motivate my readers to take some time to read classic literature over the summer. While mostly apolitical, it did close with the following line, which was deemed offensive by one of my readers: �(Go out and) pick up a great work of classic literature and enjoy the reading. You know, like the kind they used to assign in college when English professors taught English instead of homosexuality and feminism.�

The offended reader, from Ithaca, New York, called my above assertion �sexist, heterosexist, and gratuitous.� So, naturally, I apologized. No, I�m just kidding. Instead of apologizing, I decided to search the webpage of the nearest university English department to see what I could find. Naturally, I went looking first on Here is a summary of what I found out about the English faculty at Cornell University:
Go read the list (both Adams' and that last link, which is Cornell English's own list). Question: Is the pattern of specializations a coincidence? (Hat tip: Scholar Jack.)

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

One size does not fit all in science education 

A children's book writer yesterday writes about how her nationally-awarded biology bookwas uninvited to a classroom because her booked talked about evolution.
The day before my presentation, the school sent me an e-mail. The faculty and the principal had discussed whether it was a good idea to share a book about evolution in their school and they decided that without much more in-depth discussion, it was not. They hadn't shared my evolution book with the students, and they preferred that I not share it as well. Later, on the phone, I learned that parents with certain religious beliefs would object to the presentation of this book.

The school was asking me to censor myself, but the idea didn't much appeal to me. I knew I would do a disservice to myself and other writers by agreeing to this surprise, last-minute request.
Even though it appears Ms. Peters is imbued with the environmentalist religion herself, I think she has a point. But too, the parents of these children -- her book may have been aimed at a K-3 audience -- might have some reason to suggest that their children are not yet ready for this lesson.

In an otherwise horrible pilot on the WB for a show called "Summerland" that was on our TV last night (not my choice), a young boy asks questions about what Heaven looks like after his parents die in an accident. Where do you want your children getting that lesson? If you don't want the government teaching it to them, then perhaps a government school simply isn't the place for you. (But heavens forfend if you should ever get a voucher to help you with that choice!)

University of Alabama's Stamp Act 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is assisting our friends at the Alabama Scholars Association with the University of Alabama's refusal to allow ASA to use campus mail to send their newsletter, which had often been critical of the school's administration, at a preferred rate used by other faculty organizations. The NAS has joined in the debate to get this modern-day imposition of the Stamp Act reversed.

Integration of the curriculum 

The world grows surely more complex, but as Chris Matthew Sciabarra argues, integration is vital.
But an appreciation of social complexity must be fundamental to radical social theorizing. To be radical is not to offer canned solutions for context-less problems. It is the ability to examine the roots of social problems from different perspectives and on different levels of generality. It is the ability to situate each social problem within a larger system, across time. In seeking to change a society, we can never do one thing; we need to attack that society's problems across several dimensions. This "art of context-keeping," which is the essence of what I have called "dialectical thinking," is indispensable to radical analysis.

...When people are not trained to think systematically�worse: when they are trained to dis-integrate, to fragment, to atomize�they will not be apt to think of problems in their interconnections.

The whole essay warrants your reading.

Doctorate! Unh! What is it good for?!? 

Erin cites this view of why people get Ph.D.s from Grant McCracken.
This apparently irrational moment of consumer behavior, the purchase of a Ph.D. that will not bring employment, is actually knowing and deliberate. It is an act of self and world construction. It allows the individual to make certain claims to identity. It allows them to build and to occupy a certain understanding of the world.
This leads Erin to comment:
Looked at McCracken's way, the degree is a kind of affective license, a lifelong permit to make certain kinds of pronouncements about the world, and to excuse--even dignify--behavioral patterns that tend not to result in the most stable, secure, or happy lives. McCracken's analysis may look cynical on the surface--but it may be more accurate to say that McCracken is proposing that the pursuit of the Ph.D., at least in the humanities and softer social sciences, is itself a deeply cynical act.
I assume that "softer" social sciences is a way to let us economists off the hook, but I nevertheless think it's accurate even for us. Economists do like to discuss unintended consequences: they'll move an argument forward that makes policy X look like it's good, and then slam you with an unintended consequence that makes X look bad ... and sometimes will reverse again. An economist will always talk about "that which is seen and that which is unseen" even if they are not fans of Bastiat. It's hard to get your argument taken seriously when you lack a credential or marker of some sort.

But that said, one doesn't have to spend too long in graduate school in the social sciences or humanities. Most of my friends in Claremont were either econ or philosophy Ph.D. candidates (and a few government majors), a world I'm glad to have left behind.

Losing their history, too 

Apparently the lack of history knowledge has extended from the US to the UK.
A survey of 1,309 pupils aged between 10 and 14 and from 24 different schools found alarming levels of ignorance about the invasion of Normandy 60 years ago.

Only 28 per cent of primary and secondary pupils who sat the quiz last week were able to say that D-Day, involving the largest invasion force ever mounted, was the start of the Allied liberation of occupied western Europe.

Many of them could only say that it was something to do with the Second World War - though 26 per cent were flummoxed by even that fact. Some thought it took place in the First World War, or was the day war broke out, the Blitz and even Remembrance Sunday.

"It's a day when everyone remembers the dead who fought," said a 14-year-old girl at a north Devon secondary school. Only 16 per cent of 918 participating primary school children had the answer right.
The best story from this article comes from the end. A student scored 100% on the test because he played a D-Day computer simulation. That would fit my sweet youth of Avalon-Hill.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Copy that 

Kimberly Swygert points to a student who is suing his university in Britain for not catching him cheating sooner.
I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around this fiasco, because three idiotic concepts are at work here. First is the issue of Gunn not realizing plagiarism was "a problem;" that statement alone should qualify him as too dense for a university degree. Second is the charge made by Gunn that it somehow shouldn't count against him that the university didn't figure out what he was doing right off the bat. ...

The third batty idea here is that Gunn thinks he'll be able to find a solicitor to take his case. At least, I hope that's a batty, as opposed to doable, plan.

She also links to Fark's commentary, which is good scrollfood if I can find it. Can't nail the link yet, though. Gotta run, I'l find it later.

Feisty moms also help 

Following on yesterday's post about the alliance of private school parents and a public school in the Bronx, the Christian Science Monitor reports "that positive change in public schools can be achieved only by working from inside." Not a novel thought, but the means by which they did this are:
MOM ("Mothers on the Move") sprang to being in a classroom - but not the kind of public school classroom the group now works to transform.

It was instead an adult literacy class, where in 1991 a group of Bronx residents were struggling to learn to read forms printed in English. As an exercise, the teacher, Barbara Gross, suggested that her students - many of whom had children in the neighborhood schools - look those schools up in a citywide ranking.

Ms. Gross's students were stunned to discover that the schools their children attended were among the worst in the city. And Gross herself was taken aback to realize how little these parents knew about the public school system.

Thus was born the idea that together, neighborhood mothers could educate themselves about the city's school system, and collectively - with knowledge as their tool - work to improve their local schools.
There's much talk of "working within the system" and I suspect Ms. Gross was in no small part motivated to get parents to help get more money into public schools. Still, an attempt to educate parents on what's wrong with their schools has to be rooted in getting parents to care more about their own education in many parts of the country.