Friday, March 31, 2006


This is my final post and my first attempt at humor. King will be back next week, but I'm hoping that we hear from him this evening, when he may be able to fill us in on conditions in New Orleans, where he is attending a conference.

I've been hearing a lot lately about the effects of global warming. As the ice caps melt, some scientists tell us that sea levels may rise as much as 20 feet globally.

I've got to tell you that this has me plenty worried. As the east and west coast of America vanish under water, what is going to become of the east and west coast liberals???

And then it hit me! They could go to France! Now, think about it. It would be a definite win-win situation. The liberals would be entering an environment where the kind of policies they desire have long been in effect. They could be really happy, while the French would be getting a new, hard -working (at least used to working more than the 35-hr per week norm in France) set of immigrants, that won't have to be assimilated...they already hate the US.

Now, granted, the US liberals would be considered ultra conservative in France, but surely they would be more acceptable than the current set of immigrants that France denies having any problems with.

And then it hit me, and my great idea collapsed in ruin (as so often happens with my great ideas). SHOOT! The very liberal policies espoused by the american liberals and long in effect in France mean that there won't be any jobs for the eager, liberal, potential Frenchmen.

Darn! I hate it when reality gets in the way of a good fantasy.

Then a terrible thought hit me. If they can't go to France, then maybe they would come to Minnesota?

I'll probably lay awake all night tonight worrying about it. Now if they all settled in Minneapolis-St. Paul, or got jobs on college campuses, the chances are that nobody would really notice. But I think that's just too much to hope for.

I think I'm going to have a antacid tablet and then go out and have a beer this evening. After all, pretty soon it will all be wine bars, won't it?

Have a good weekend...and Welcome back, King.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Accreditation Blues..... 

SCSU is preparing for its upcoming accreditation review from our institutional accrediation organization (the North Central Association or NCA). In the College of Business we are also preparing for our latest accreditation report to the AACSB (the oldest accreditation association for schools of business).

If you've ever been through these, you wouldn't wish them on your worst enemy (if you're a nice person, that is ;-)). Sometime in the past, somebody (probably long gone) promised that you would do something within a specific time frame. Now you have to document what you've done.

I've worked at 3 universitites and it appears to be the same everywhere....nobody is even sure of what was promised, let alone what was done to fulfill that promise. In many cases we actually will have implemented a strategy to accomplish the desired just exactly what was it again?

The part that is raising my ire right now is an upper division writing component. Apparently sometime before I arrived here (7 years ago) it was decided that an upper division class that I currently teach would be designated as an intensive writing class. I wasn't told about it, it doesn't appear in the undergraduate catalog under the description of the class, and nobody has stepped up to tell me exactly what this writing component should consist of. Normally that still wouldn't be a major problem. Students do lots of writing in the class and are evaluated on it. But now the questions I'm being asked deal to how a student would fail the class based on the writing component.

Let me tell you, it's difficult to explain how a student will fail the class based on their writing if you never knew that they were supposed to fail the class based on their writing. For that matter, I can't believe that we ever agreed to that. In order to fail the class based on written skills, the written skills component would have to be worth at lease 40% of the student's grade.


I have a class to run that contains content. I'm supposed to treat that content as being of so little concern that less than 60% of a student's grade is based on it. I can't believe that anyone in the college ever agreed to something like that. In fact, after consideration I don't believe that they ever did.

So we're in passive resistance mode here.

Just like the majority of campus.

If you're in business (I came from business before I got my PhD), you can laugh at what goes on in Academia. But don't laugh too loud...when I think about it I realize that a lot of what went on in the real world was chillingly similar.


HOORAY!!!! We hired somebody.... 

Our department is very happy. We just hired a new faculty member for next year!

This doesn't sound like much, does it? Consider the following.

There are approximately 3,500 institutions of higher education in the US. Most of them teach business, though not all of them require a PhD to teach business at their institution.

There were 1,035 Doctorates awarded in all business fields the last year that data are available for.

Of those, only 59% have the right to work in the US. In general, only 65% of doctorates in business want to teach.

Factor in our low salaries offered here, and....I don't even want to go there.

If I have my math right, we're down to fewer than 400 new potential business faculty a year that are eligible to work in the US. Some disciplines are affected more than others. A hire in Accounting or Finance is a cause for a PARTY.

Granted the market for faculty is somehat global, but the numbers are still scary. There are over 600 AACSB accredited schools of business, and this is less than one person available to each university each year...across ALL business disciplines.

SSSSSOOOOO...we're happy.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Peyton Place North... 

Yesterday I mentioned a situation that in a perverse way made me feel better about the situation in the US. Here's one at the University of North Dakota that makes me feel better about SCSU.

Believe me, this story has everything. Student walkouts, faculty discord, restraining orders that keep a department from teaching, divorce, deaths under suspicious circumstances....if it were one of those lurid novels it would be a real page turner.

It's easy to write this off as just academic sillyness, but having worked in the real world I can attest that it happens there as well. Did I tell you about the time a colleague's wife came into work and shot him? (I'll skip to the end...he survived and they were still married the last I heard).

But the paragraph above really ignores the real victims of what is going on. I think the article does a good job of illustrating the problems a situation like this causes for students. You would think that professors could act professionally enough to minimize the effects of their personal problems on the primary reasons they are employed...the students. Unfortunately, we have lots of examples that tell us this isn't so...both here at SCSU and, apparently, at UND.

h/t pm by way of kb


If you had to choose one.... 

As bad as it may seem at times here in the would you like to be a French citizen? The nationwide strikes and repeated violence make me think of things that have been in the news recently.

Recent riots by the children of immigrants result in burning of hundreds of cars, while officials claim that discrimination doesn't exist in France.
A stagnant economy with little employment growth and unemployment approaching 10%.
Unemployment for younger workers at twice that rate.
Fewer and fewer workers to support their generous social benefits system.
A brain drain as younger workers seek opportunity elsewhere.
Decreasing world influence and a president who can't stand to hear English spoken (I'm waiting for the Bush jokes here ;-)).
Antagonistic political relationships with the US and others.
The promise of more strikes in the future.
Criticism from the rest of the EU for protectionism and for scuttling closer EU integration.

And that's just a start.

In a perverse kind of way, the events in France make me feel better. Why? Becasue France was supposed to have it all....the month of vacation, the (nearly) 4 day work week, jobs guaranteed for life, a classless society, etc. Here in the US we don't have any of those things. In addition, we find ourselves working harder and harder to compete globally.

The thing is, that competition is a part of the American make-up. It is part of our culture. And though we are having problems with globalization and increased competition, we still have jobs and a promise for the future if we're smart about how we compete.

The French, on the other hand, seem to have lost the battle and don't even have a clue as to how to respond.

Which would you take? The French future or ours?


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

If you're a fan of silliness in higher education... 

Take a look at Mike Adams column at

I love to read stuff like this because it makes me realize that SCSU is not the only university afflicted in such a way.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Now with 300% more democracy babes 

Fellow St. Cloud blogger Gary Gross has moved his webpage after the recent troubles of Blogger. Let's hope he moves everything over from his old blog.

Belarus, Ukraine, and the European magnet 

I did more reading than writing today, which felt really good, and then did some lecturing tonight which leaves me a little too tired to go back to preparing for a conference this weekend (which is why I'm having jw guestblog for me -- the bothersome office crep got done earlier today.) So a shortish note on Belarus' crackdown and the Ukraine election.

On Russian Mushroom is a translation of a short LiveJournal entry:
I think, as a result of the recent events it's become obvious: in Belarus, there is no opposition, but there is a people. And to defeat the people is impossible.
I think there is an opposition, as I was arguing at length on NARN last weekend. But it was small and it needed fuel to grow. There is nothing like this to do that:
This is a mistake, and a very bad one. Dragging people out of hospital to jail is one thing, impersonating a U.S. diplomat to snatch an opposition politician is another. Seeing the pictures you realize these aren't just students; now it's the students' parents and uncles and aunts.

Today they look south and they see Ukraine holding elections, where they do not turn out well for the president, and there is no violence. Instead, the president tells his current PM to negotiate a new government with the woman he replaced. Ukraine may still have many problems, and you might want to think that Yushchenko is the cause of them, but a country stays together and may have a second peaceful transfer of power in 18 months. 'Round those parts, we call that progress.

LEvko makes an interesting note about that progress:
In the repeated second round of the last Presidential elections held on 26th December 2004, presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, broadly speaking representing the eastward-orientated portion of Ukraine, obtained 44% of the vote. Yushchenko, leading the westward-orientated Orange forces, and constantly supported by Yuliya Tymoshenko, obtained 52% of votes cast.

Now according to a poll of exit polls, of yesterday's Parliamentary elections, Viktor Yanukovych and other eastward-orientated parties will obtain about 35% of the vote, while Our Ukraine, the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc and other Orange parties will obtain about 45% of votes cast.

The rift between Our Ukraine and the Tymoshenko bloc may be deep and Yushchenko's popularity in decline, but the 'European magnet' seems to be attracting an increasing number of the Ukrainian electorate.
That magnetism, always to the west of Belarus, now beckons from the south as well. Putin will of course remain Lukashenko's friend, but the feeling of isolation must nonetheless grow.

The west would do well to continue to hold out the offer of aid for reforms to counter Putin's development of a client state, even as it ratchets up the rhetoric over the repression of the weekend. Lukashenko lives on the we-versus-they politics of isolation. I would not give him an opportunity to use that line.

Online Education Booms.....elsewhere. 

Online education is booming. The number of students taking an online class jumped almost 50% from 2002 to 2004, to about 2.4 million. At the same time in Minnesota we are looking at decreasing enrollments of traditional students, so the increase nationwide is really significant.

For-profit colleges and universities are benefitting the most from that increase. Two weeks ago the Star Tribune published an article (no longer available, cached version here) where they documented increases of 1,000% in online classes at Walden in the last two years, and increases of over 100% at Capella since 2002.

But there are numerous people who suggest we should examine online education carefully before jumping wholesale into the practice. The 3/27 edition of the Chronice of Higher Education online contained an article (subscribers only) detailing the efforts of a Congressman from Michigan (a former face-to-face professor at a small private college) to learn more about online studies.

It is difficult to know whether the position he espoused is valid or not. The Chronicle cites him as talking about an unnamed study of online education that was deeply flawed, but used by supporters of online education to support their views. Since the citation wasn't given, we aren't able to identify the study. It might be instructive to speculate, however, why an academic wouldn't have conducted his own search for what he might consider to be a valid study. There are literally thousands of studies of distance education and hundreds of studies of online education...and metaanalyses of those studies. If he hasn't looked, he's probably biased. If he's looked, it wasn't mentioned in the article.

That kind of attitude prevails here at SCSU as well. Continuing Studies (CS) indicates that 70% of students taking CS's online classes are on-campus students. This statistic probably best illuminates our students' desire for the kind of flexibility afforded by online classes and a lack of marketing by MnVU (MnSCU's online arm) to other students (the latter is just a guess on my part).

For many here (and elsewhere) the evidence of demand for online classes for on-campus students and the explosion of online classes at high-priced for-profits don't set off any bells. They don't believe that online pedagody can't provide a quality education and that the problems of teaching online (cheating, plagiarism, etc.) aren't solvable. The interim Dean of the college of business seems to agree with that position, and seems very concerned that faculty are making too much money teaching online classes (?!?!?!?!?).

Facts don't seem to have a place in this debate.

In the meantime, online education grows by leaps and bounds....elsewhere.


Academics or Athletics....choose! 

There is an article referenced in today's Chronicle of Higher Education online about a Tennessee State University student who lost her tennis scholarship because she decided to attend (on behalf of the university) a journalism conference instead of tennis practice.

Sounds like an open and shut case of athletics trumping academics, right?

Sometimes these things aren't quire as simple as they seem. Certainly the primary purpose of the student's presence on campus is to get an education. The student is on the staff of the student paper and the conference she attended was relevant to that experience. The article doesn't tell us what the student's major is, so going beyond that assessment is difficult. It is possible that the conference was more of a perk than an educational experience.

A question that remains unanswered is what does the student owe the university (and the tennis team) when she accepts a scholarship. Scholarships are awarded for a number of reasons, but in general they are expected to benefit the institution as well as the student. The student was the number 1 singles player on the team...but the team hadn't won a dual meet in the past two years.

Would it make a difference if this was a "breakthrough" season for Tennessee State? Should the allusion in the article to previous problems with the student's attendance at team practices play a part in our evaluation?

I'm a professor now, and I lettered in two sports as an undergraduate. I'm not certain that we can evaluate whether this was a case of athletics trumping academics or just a case of a student not living up to expectations she accepted along with the financial support of a scholarship. Regardless, the instant reaction of somebody perusing the headlines with be that athletics is running wild again.


Get those bets down..... 

Universities tend to attract interesting people. At SCSU we have a professor with a PhD in statistics that does research in online gaming. He comes by his interest a previous life he was a card counter (card counting is not illegal) and is at least nominally banned at most of the Las Vegas casinos.

He's fascinating to talk to. After a couple of conversations with him I now win at the slots when I go to Vegas (really!). He's also shown me how some of the online gaming sites aren't sufficiently careful not to allow paired bets that guarantee that you don't lose.

Recently he has been doing research into cyberextortion. In the past few years we've seen a number of well-known companies be attacked by hackers interested in bringing down their online sales functions. It turns out that the online gaming industry is particularly vulnerable to these types of distributed denial of service attacks, where the company's servers are bombarded with enough false "requests" that legitimate business is lost in the shuffle or the servers are brought down.

These cyberextortionists contact the company and demand a payment for leaving the company alone for a period of time...or else they will bring down the company's servers during a critically busy time for the company. Companies are left with the decision of whether to pay (and face further blackmail in the future) or fight the extortionists (hiring consultants, buying additional online capacity, etc.) and run the very real risk that this strategy doesn't work and that they lose business during a busy time of year. Naturally these companies are reluctant to go public with their problems and risk losing their customers to competitors. Our cyberextortion researcher tells me that during Super Bowl weekend at least one major gaming site was unavailable...with no explanation forthcoming.

With the Final Four coming up (a good betting weekend, though it doesn't approach the volume of Super Bowl weekend) I'm guessing that the cyberextortionists will be at it again. If you are reading this from somewhere that online betting is legal, you might want to get those bets down early.

Who says that academic research has no application in real life? ;-)


Guest blogger this week 

Work has me swamped for about a week and I need a little time to clear some things off my plate. Ergo I have added a guest blogger for the week, known to you here as reader jw. JW was at the last MOB Road Show and I thought we might get him to blog on his own then, so maybe a taste of it this week might just be the thing that launches him, as it has done for the latest PowerLine blog of the week Big Lizards.

I'll get a post up about the crackdown in Belarus and the Ukrainian parliamentary elections sometime today, and then I expect to disappear for the rest of the week. But check back for jw's insights into academia and politics. JW, the floor is yours!

Saturday, March 25, 2006

NARN II at White Bear Lake Superstore TODAY! 

Volume 2, or the headline act as our devout fans call us, of the Northern Alliance Radio Network will be at the White Bear Lake Superstore today from 1-3 for a live remote. Stop by and see us!

Belarus protests continue despite heavy police presence 

The weekend rally of the Belarussian opposition has not been disappointing:

Demonstrators attempted to return shortly after midday on Saturday, but their path was blocked by police in riot gear and a bumper-to-bumper wall of bulldozers surrounding the square.

The Minsk police closed down the Belarusian capital's underground rail system, in order to interfere with opposition efforts to gather in central districts.

An estimated 4,000 anti-government protestors collected across the street from the October Square. Shoving matches erupted from time to time between demonstrators and special forces police, but by 1 p.m. GMT (3 p.m. local) there had been no major incidents of violence.

Demonstrators chanted 'Long live Belarus!' and 'Lukashenko Shame!'

Russian Mushroom is auditing Live Journals from the area.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Color revolutions aren't spontaneous 

I suspect Captain Ed and I are going to have some real disagreement tomorrow on NARN. I completely disagree with this paragraph about the fall of the Belarussian protests at October Square.
The Belarussian opposition let Lukashenko off the hook. By reducing the protests, they killed the enthusiasm for joining them. They also left an opening for Lukashenko to use reasonable force to bring the demonstration to an end without looking like a brutal dictator. Instead of facing tens of thousands of entrenched and joyous demonstrators, they rounded up a couple of hundred isolated and ineffective, though brave, people in a standard raid.

I think this misunderstands the nature of the color revolutions in the xUSSR. The comparisons between Belarus' nascent opposition and the Orange Revolution next door completely misses the history of the Orange Revolution, which took years to create. The Orange Revolution was the culmination of an effort started by mass protests of "Ukraine without Kuchma" (UBK), which came from the grisly murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in September 2000. UBK eventually got protests going in December of that year, which lasted well into 2001. These groups too were relatively small and were attacked repeatedly, though Kuchma was smart enough not to use uniformed police. By the end of 2001, it appeared, Kuchma had solidified power, sent Yushchenko from the prime minister's office into opposition, and was contemplating constitutional changes that would keep him in power indefinitely.

And that's the point: The breakup of protests was not the end of the opposition to Kuchma. It was the beginning of another phase in the development of a real opposition.

The success of UBK was a series of small steps, starting with one television station in Kyiv revolting against its own management that wanted Gongadze's widow kept off the air, the transformation of UBK from street protests to political party (Our Ukraine, headed by Yushchenko). Natalka Zubar explains:

Throughout 2001 a process was underway on �Maidan� of analyzing and making sense of the experience gained from �Ukraine without Kuchma� which was first recorded on 18 May 2001 in our manifesto. In this document of doctrinal significance there is a key phrase: �� we have one current objective: Ukraine in which it�s a buzz to live. Our Ukraine.�

The Name of Viktor Yushchenko�s bloc �Nasha Ukraina� [�Our Ukraine�] appeared two months later, on 15 July 2001.

It would be another three years before the Maidan filled again with people, who by then had been formed into workable groups with a network that would operate even with harrassement by the police. Arresting any group would not have had any effect; even for the OMON to have descended on the Maidan would have not led to the defeat of the movement, though it might have delayed it for a time and would have caused far more bloodshed.

One has to hesitate in drawing parallels between Belarus and Ukraine. The ethnic and cultural distinctions between them, and between each and Russia, are quite different. A substantial share of Ukrainians had seen Russians as oppressors for centuries, so aligning Kuchma with Putin rallied support; there are few in Belarus with this feeling. The role of the independent media that did exist in Ukraine in 2000 (Channel 5 TV, Gongadze's internet paper, diaspora publications) cannot be understated; these do not exist in Belarus.

If the protests were disorganized and unmoving, why did Lukashenko react as he did? Do not discount the timing of this, just before the start of the weekend. He did not wish to risk the possiblility that the protests would be large, would demonstrate resolve. This attack was not an act of strength but of weakness.

Maybe this time it peters out because it's disorganized. Or maybe it's the start of something bigger. I'm not in the political prediction business. But it's really quite preposterous for people to think that color revolutions are easily set off by a simple spark of a stolen election. It takes time to lay down enough tinder for a fire to catch. Just because this will go off the evening news for awhile now is not a sign that the opposition has blown it in Belarus. I'll throw in with Lenin on this one: This is just the beginning. They've got the stomach, Ed, but they also have the brains to keep their powder dry.

Well, not THAT kind of diversity 

The Wall Street Journal notes a program that sends Afghan women to colleges in the US. It pays for the travel, the schools give them a free ride. How many signed up?

In 2002, Yale received a letter from Paula Nirschel, the founder of the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women. The purpose of the organization, begun in that year, was to match young women in post-Taliban Afghanistan to U.S. colleges, where they could pursue a degree. Ms. Nirschel asked Yale if it wanted to award a spot in its next entering class to an Afghan woman. Yale declined.

Yale was not alone. Of the more than 2,000 schools contacted by Mrs. Nirschel, only three signed up right away: Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, Notre Dame College in New Hampshire and the University of Montana, Missoula. Four years later, the program enrolls 20 students at 10 universities...

And it's not like these are bad students who need remedial English. Not one of them has a GPA under 3.5. Notre Dame College -- four blocks from my parents home when I was in high school and college -- closed at the end of its 2002 year; its campus was bought out by So. New Hampshire Univ., where my sister teaches. Sadly they're no longer on the list.

Suppose you really wanted to bring diversity of viewpoints to your campus. All you need to do is give a free ride to an Afghan woman -- certainly a group that's experienced discrimination -- and have her share her life experiences with your students and faculty. Why won't other schools jump at the chance? Why wouldn't we at SCSU?
Nadima Sahar, who will graduate from Roger Williams in May with a political science degree, says: "Staying here has never crossed my mind. . . . We are responsible for making sure our country succeeds, so that future generations don't face problems we did." Mrs. Nirschel expects a "trickle-down effect." The returning students will "influence their family, their community and the country at large." Clearly there is more going on here than the usual search for campus "diversity."

For those who will embrace it.


Duke fans, back to work! 

Our local paper repeats the story of how much time is lost at work from people surfing the Internet watching the NCAAs, estimating the cost to the US from lost productivity of $3.8 billion.
Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm, estimates that $3.8 billion in production is lost by American companies during the tournament.

They say for every 13.5 minutes the almost 60 million basketball fans spend on the Internet watching March Madness games, the cost to employers in lost wages alone exceeds $237 million.
Carl Bialik researched this number two weeks ago,
Last year, Challenger relied on a survey from the NCAA in 1997 that found 22.9 million Americans are college-hoops fans, meaning about 14.3 million working Americans follow the sport (Challenger used Census stats on the proportion of Americans in the work force). This time, Challenger used an unrelated Gallup poll, conducted in 2004, that yielded a number four times larger than the NCAA's for the proportion of Americans who are fans of the sport.

Gallup's managing editor, Jeffrey M. Jones, told me in an email, "I don't agree with the estimate," citing the concern that not all self-identified fans will surf the Web, even if they can. He added, "To be fair, they probably should compare how much is lost to productivity by surfing the Web or sports sites on a typical day, and subtract that from their estimate since companies probably lose money every day by employees surfing the web, not just during March Madness. They also mistakenly assume that there will be lost productivity over a three week period. There are only two days where there are games during the working day, the rest are at night and on the weekends."
In other words, the number is garbage. The proper number is a net figure. How much additional time surfing do you do that you don't make up staying late at work? Bialik credits David Nicklaus for some of the analysis, as did Phil Miller. Our young SC Times reporter could have used a little more research on this story.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

He wouldn't know pollution if it poked him in the eye 

I walked by some earnest-looking young man at a bulletin board with a stapler. I hate staples in bulletin boards; someone has to take a knife to pull them out. On outdoor ones I can see the risk of having your paper blown away, but this was indoors. I looked at the advert, and it was for summer jobs for the Campaign to Save the Environment, in a bright yellow.

Well, I thought, he's just a leftist who wants to be sure his message doesn't get taken down.

When I came back the other way an hour later, I saw he had stapled up six identical posters. An outdoor board had ten more.

If I'm an environmentalist, wouldn't I think that ten identical posters plastering one bulletin board is wasteful? Maybe he should put them behind a veil.


The law of unintended consequences, chapter 92 

In today's New York Times, a story from a college admissions officer watching her daughter get rejection letters, perhaps because she's female.
Why, indeed? She had taken the toughest courses in her high school and had done well, sat through several Saturday mornings taking SAT's and the like, participated in the requisite number of extracurricular activities, written a heartfelt and well-phrased essay and even taken the extra step of touring the campus.

She had not, however, been named a National Merit finalist, dug a well for a village in Africa, or climbed to the top of Mount Ranier. She is a smart, well-meaning, hard-working teenage girl, but in this day and age of swollen applicant pools that are decidedly female, that wasn't enough. The fat acceptance envelope is simply more elusive for today's accomplished young women.

Demographics are part of the issue, but so too is the persistent message to women that higher education is so valuable. Admissions offices and feminist propaganda has shifted the demand curve for women so much that now
The elephant that looms large in the middle of the room is the importance of gender balance. Should it trump the qualifications of talented young female applicants? At those colleges that have reached what the experts call a "tipping point," where 60 percent or more of their enrolled students are female, you'll hear a hint of desperation in the voices of admissions officers.

ACTA Online notes that there's nothing in this article that indicates the admission officer would be concerned if the ratios were reversed and it was high-quality male applicants being waitlisted. That doesn't matter to me as much if it also means admissions offices are beginning to rethink the process by which they achieve gender balance. If you want it, create messages that appeal to both sexes; if you want an equal flow of applicants and you are getting too many female applicants, perhaps you need to think about creating more programs that appeal to males.

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Newmark, you magnificent ba*****, I read your book!! 

Like most people we run a pool hereabouts for the NCAA, in which teams are auctioned off, money gets split from a pool for the best-finishing eight teams. Problem with it was, nobody bids on Southern or Monmouth. So we create incentives by paying out winnings to the lowest-ranked (or lowest-seeded) teams to win one game and two games. It's less than what those other teams get paid, but it's enough to induce some bidding on the lower seeds. Craig Newmark demonstrates what happens when you don't think about incentives enough. (Unlike her pool, ours was designed by economists and originally was for economists, but now more non-economists play.)

And, as an econ blogger with libertarian tendencies, I had to buy George Mason. Winner!

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen might be the bigger winner.

That was all she wanted 

Last week when I wrote about Karen Murdock and the Century College story I mentioned CC was having a forum on Islam. Karen reports that the forum went very well:
Hi, King, I just got back from the panel discussion held here, entitled "Muslims and the Religion of Islam: Misperceptions and the Facts." The title was a bit misleading, but the discussion was suprisingly good. There were 4 speakers on the panel, including a Muslim student from Century ... The other 3 speakers were Muhammad Banyeh (sp?) from Macalester College, who was the most impressive of the group, Hassan Muhammad, imam of a mosque in St. Paul, and Ahad Zamman, another imam and directorof a charter school in Inver Grove Heights (who was a little bit scary).

The room was packed (at least one teacher here required his/her class to attend) and the tone was cordial and respectful. I am sure such a dialogue was the result of the controversy I started here, so I am pleased. Nobody pointed me out or identified me in any way.
Yes, that is very much the whole point. She created a display and got her college to discuss the Religion of Islam in a panel discussion. Of course that will be harder now that the faculty in her division have required approval of displays on bulletin boards out of concerns that it leaves "spaces for ads, inflammatory remarks, profanity, and personal attacks because there is little accountability or structure," according to minutes from the division's meeting. There's no such thing as "enough" free speech; Murdock's display is just one more example of what good can come from more of it.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006


A couple of quick notes before I leave for the day:

Regarding the antiwar walkout on Monday, a Minnesotan wonders whether the timing of this to the departure of Minnesota National Guard troops to Iraq. I hadn't really thought of it; I did not see any signs speaking directly to MNG troops in the photos I saw. But it might have come up in speeches. She wonders if they did this the prior two years. I'm sure they did on the one-year anniversary. On the two year in 2005? I think they were still sitting shiva for Kerry.

Taxprof notes a law professor who has banned laptops from her classroom because they are distracting. I see very few laptops; I do teach in labs where each student has a computer, and they've been emailing and IMing for years. There is a piece of software you can put in labs, though, that allows you to put the student's screen on your screen (and if you wish, on the overhead, but I've heard a story of someone finding their student viewing p%rn) or to put on their screen what is on yours and nothing else. I treat this just like the calculator question -- the best way to solve it is to standardize them. We have $2 calculators for our students to use during exams; no problem. This will come in other technologies before long.

Now if I could just invent that device that gives a short, sharp electrical shock to the student whose cellphone rings in class...


Holy Cross' real claim to fame is hoops 

Fraters are wondering about the Gophers' first round opponents, College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Someone asked me whether those of us who went to Catholic colleges in New England root for Boston College in the NCAA basketball tournament. If you grew up long enough ago, you might have rooted for the home of Bob Cousy and Tommy Heinsohn. Not to mention early baseball great Louis Sockalexis.

Truth be told, though, I rooted for PC because of Ernie D. And how can you not root for the team that had a player named God Shammgod! Alas, this wasn't the Friars' year.

Keeping your powder dry and warm 

This is the scene at October Square in Minsk early this evening (seven hours ahead of us). You become quite depressed, I think, seeing how small the crowd is there. But it's small because the opposition made a decision (Robert Mayer thinks it a mistake) to hold off on the larger protests until Saturday. Visitors to the area are having their bags searched for food, so a frequent technique is for drive-by dropoffs, where people drive up, drop off food and speed away before the cops come.

The Lukashenko government is dismissing the protests as "pathetic". Besides Mayer, my NARN brother Captain Ed is also saying putting off the protests is a mistake:

In order to face down tyrants like this through "people power", momentum has to build continuously until the force of it can no longer be denied. Starting and stopping these kind of demonstrations make them easier to handle and will fail to convince ordinary Belarussians to flock to their standard.

Hopefully those protesting for fair and open elections and real democracy in the last bastion of European dictatorship can pick up the threads of their peaceful revolution on March 25th. If they do, they should take care to continue the effort until it succeeds instead of waiting for the weekends.

I don't agree. The ability of Lukashenko's forces to blockade October Square is already in place, and it may be better to lull them to sleep and organize outside the square than to try to hold people in the square in bad weather. And meanwhile refine techniques, as Veronica reports about the drive-by dropping of food.

Moreover, unlike Ukraine in 2004, there is as of yet no good stories on which to hang the charge of fraud against Lukashenko. It's pretty widely known that before the election his popularity ratings were in the low 60s, so the results of the election, showing Lukashenko receiving more than 80% of the popular vote, are laughably implausible. But statistical statements carry far less weight than stories of ballot stuffing. The OSCE statement, while unequivocal in its conclusions that the vote was fraudulent, allows enough wiggle room with statements like this...
The conduct of voting on election day took place in a calm and peaceful atmosphere. In general, polling was well organized and PECs and voters had a good understanding of voting procedures. Unauthorized persons were seen at 7% of polling stations visited, and in 3% of stations they were directing the PEC in its work. make it harder to claim outright fraud. The cheating occured in tallying ballots, a much more easily hid operation. In general, it appears, the Lukashenko regime has decided to commit fraud knowingly but behind a curtain, and then claim victory when it succeeds in suppressing the opposition rallies.

Mark Almond, a person almost virulent in his Sovietphilia, thinks the results are valid and a triumph for Lukashenko's brand of market reforms. Would that there were any. A editorial by Anton Semenov, however, offers optimism (courtesy JRL):

The ideology and practices of almost any authoritarian regime presume that the main direction of social development has supposedly been found once and for all and is embodied by the current head of state. Presidency for life, as in Turkmenistan, or a hereditary monarchy, formal or actual, as in Azerbaijan, is the most logical institutional form for such a regime. Could open despotism in Belarus, that is, in Europe rather than in Asia, and without its own reserves of oil and gas besides, as in Turkmenistan itself, be stable, and in these days besides -- that, of course, is another question.

By giving the opposition the possibility, though limited, to express its opinion during the election struggle, the regime came into conflict with itself.

After all, in an authoritarian state, the opposition is brought down to the level of "renegades," "traitors," and "moral freaks" by official propaganda. (The specific habit of the authorities of Belarus, where the memory of the last great war is especially keen, is to accuse the oppositionists of secret or even open sympathies for Nazis and the polizei). Politically disloyal citizens are in effect excluded from the full-fledged members of society. (To show greater contempt, Lukashenka became fond of calling his opponents "thugs".) But when a leader of the "renegades" and "thugs" is registered as a candidate in an election anyway, despite all the pressure, and he is allowed to speak in the regions, and a couple of his speeches slightly distorted by censorship are even shown on the air, the legalization of the oppositionists in social consciousness occurs.

And hence, the myth of a "unified nation" that has gathered around the leader cracks.

Robert Mayer and David Marples are convinced that, regardless of the electoral outcome, this is the beginning of the end of the regime. So am I, and I remind people that the pace at which these things change can quicken without warning.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Better than UFC 

Jim Paine notices that there's going to be a series of debates between Ward Churchill and David Horowitz. Put this thing on pay-per-view, and I'll bring the popcorn.

Belarus tries to jumpstart a revolution 

After the results of the Belarussian election were announced, with president-for-ever Alexander Lukashenka winning 82% of the vote that the OSCE has said was fraudulent, opposition leaders are trying to set up a tent city in the central square of Minsk, the capital. Fifteen tents are reported to be set up as they attempt to mimic the other color revolutions in the region. The police have made moves on the group, but so far it's not clear they are going to do more than test the protestors and wait them out.

One line of attack on Lukashenka has been to publish far and wide cartoons like this one which are of course forbidden to be shown in Belarus. The website has many others, and those wishing to free Belarus from Europe's last dictator are invited to post these around their blogs or websites (though maybe not at Century College.)

It will be imperative over the next few days that Belarussians come forward to the square and swell the ranks of the anti-government protest, which currently peaks at early evening around 10,000 and falls to 1,500 overnight. Maybe it will help that the Russians have decided the elections were free and fair; they did that twice in Ukraine for Viktor Yanukovych, who eventually lost.

Good updates coming out of Minsk through some LiveJournal entries; take a look at Russian Mushroom FMI. UPDATE: Good photos from October Square (h/t: the ever reliable Neeka's Backlog.)

Monday, March 20, 2006

The weekend "hell yeah" 

It takes me about 80 minutes to drive to the station from my house, and I was a little delayed by getting Littlest and two other chess players I coach settled into the city youth tournament. That was fortunate because I might have otherwise missed some of Craig Westover, who said essentially what is written here about Katherine Kersten's Wednesday column.
Yes, there is a "gay agenda," but it is driven by leftist politics, not sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is merely the means of pushing the politics, much like gender is simply the means for leftist politics masking as "feminism." If conservatives are true to the principle of individualism (and do not succumb to group identification), then they shouldn't condemn the one because of the actions of the many.

Hell yes! I say. Kersten and some others of the right have succumbed (good word, Craig!) to trying to intellectually engage the left on the same terms they use. Dennis Prager makes the point about how the left responds to editorials like Kersten's:
The "anti" arguments are effective. Conservatives have to spend half their time explaining that they are not bad people before they can be heard. But the Left has paid a great price. Because they have come to rely so heavily on one-word dismissals of their opponents, they have few arguments.

Which is they rely instead on invective.

The enemy on campuses isn't gay studies, women's studies, area studies, peace studies, or whatever, separately. It is one agenda. It is leftism. It is socialism. Strike at the root, which are most sociology programs in American universities, and the entire edifice crumbles.

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Your intellectual content may vary 

Good reader and colleague sf sent a note on the campus discussion list noting the difference between SCSU's little antiwar protest and a forum at Minnesota-Duluth. There, a teach-in rather than a walkout. There, the teach-in will include a student from College Republicans and is sponsored by the History Department (who seems to get the concept of intellectual diversity.) Here we get a walkout sponsored by "CODE PINK, the Hmong Student Organization, People Uniting for Peace, the Social Work Association and the Women�s Center." There, it appears, someone is trying to teach. Here we hand out toy soldiers and provide a full day of entertainment.

Somehow, I don't think this will be showing up in our promotional videos.

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Grades assign responsibility 

I saw that Katie Newmark was flabbergasted over a column by Colman McCarthy suggesting that tests of high school students are "demeaning". I'm not at all surprised, because that's this Colman McCarthy who teaches peace studies. And in that article we found at that Mr. McCarthy uses a staff teacher to issue grades. This came out because students at this school said the class "is headed by an individual with a political agenda, who wants to teach students the 'right' way of thinking by giving them facts that are skewed in one direction." If he never gives a test, and then has the grades given by a proxy, in what sense is his statement true? What he avoids is giving grades.

Grades are important because they assign some responsibility to both the student and the teacher. The student is held accountable for learning the material in the course. Why should a teacher find it demeaning to grade a student's learning? He shouldn't: The grade represents the charge we are given in teaching, not only to instruct and to correct but also to judge.

Mr. McCarthy isn't a teacher at all. He's a lecturer who wants an audience that is uncritical. Students will regard a teacher critically when they know they may receive poor grades, and that's fine. If you can't hold up to the criticism, get the heck out of the classroom. And since he's not a teacher, McCarthy's got no business giving exams and doesn't have an informed opinion on the topic Matthews discussed. Only because of his status as a retired columnist for the WaPo is McCarthy allowed to write to Matthews on its editorial page. What a waste of space.


Leading indicators changes and statistical imputation 

The latest report on leading economic indicators includes some data revisions that are muddying the results. Besides the 0.3% decline in indicators for February, the reading for January was revised to 0.5% from 1.1%. While many will make a big deal out of this, it comes from downward revisions in two numbers which the Conference Board estimates, so that it can report out the data faster. That is, the Conference Board uses a statistical model to estimate the values in LEI for which they don't have actual data to move the series forward in the economic news cycle. At the bottom of page 3 of the report, they say it is an autoregressive model. We therefore know that an autoregressive model -- meaning that the series is forecasted as a weighted average of past observations -- did not estimate capital goods new (where they made an error more than 18%!) and for the personal consumption expenditures deflator (the price index used to create real M2 money supply, and a number the Fed is said to focus on for its measure of inflation in the economy.) Those two changes alone account for all but 0.04 of the revision to January LEI.

It's really then not news. The revision is not because of new data but due to a mistake in projecting the missing components in LEI. And since we could observe the Conference Board's errors in advance of them happening, the reaction to this report should be neutral or even slight positive.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Joanne Jacobs on NARN TODAY! 

I'm excited to report that Joanne Jacobs, an early supporter of and inspiration to the Scholars and arguable the Queen of the Edubloggers, will be our guest at 2pm on the Northern Alliance Radio Network. Her book, Our School, tells the story of a charter school in San Jose, CA, that takes in ninth graders with fifth grade math and reading levels and gets them ready for college. Its success rate with these kids in getting them to college is 100%. How do they do that? Tune in and find out at AM1280 the Patriot, or here to stream if you're outside the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro.

Friday, March 17, 2006

But bam! he's entertaining! 

I have a number of friends who watch Jim Cramer's show. I've watched it myself a few times, but frankly watching Law&Order: SVU re-runs is more my style when I'm killing time (particularly the Alexandra Cabot years, for purely professional reasons I assure you, Mrs. S!) But in both cases it's entertainment. I don't take legal advice from actors, and I sure as hell don't take financial advice from entertainers. Here's why.
The problems with following Cramer's 1885 calls on 876 unique stocks giving an average return of basically zero, you'd do just as good throwing darts at the newspaper stock listings and then flipping a coin to see if you wanted to go long or short. If you do buy or sell a stock, there's no clear indication on what to do with it later. And of course each time you trade you pay the broker.
That's why they make those football betting shows they play on Saturday mornings, too. But those guys aren't interesting enough to get on MSNBC.

OK, we get the point 

Over the last week we have received a series of announcements that no doubt relate to the little soldier I got before spring break:
On Monday, March 20, KVSC {the campus radio station -- kb} will suspend regular programming to broadcast a special all-day event entitled, Fight for Peace: A History of Peace and Protest Music - Its Impact on Society and Culture. The event is designed to bring attention to the third anniversary of the Iraqi War. Throughout the day, KVSC will focus on providing its listeners with an intelligent balance of peace-inspired music and topic-related news segments.

March 22nd
Winter Soldier
For the week of the three year anniversary of the Iraq War, the Social Responsibility program is sponsoring this powerful documentary of the testimony of Vietnam war veterans on the atrocities they committed or witnessed. Given the emerging information about the US use of torture, extraordinary renditions, use of chemical weapons, etc., this film challenges what we might think soldiers are taught, what they are expected to do, and what are standard operating procedures during war.

March 20 11:10 am: WALK OUT AGAINST THE WAR, meet at Atwood Mall, march will proceed through Stewart Hall and loop around through the Miller Center and end in Atwood. {note, Stewart Hall is a building with classrooms, and includes my office -- expect photos}

In short, it's antiwar week on campus (which gives it something in common with fifty-one other weeks of the year hereabouts) and the leftist rhetoric will blow with gale force next week. Such events will occur on campuses around America, and the press will undoubtedly give them large megaphones.

And of course campuses are places where such things would happen, but God forbid an affirmative action bake sale. Free speech for me but not for thee, because thy speech is irresponsible.


Evaluation inflation 

One of my maxims in evaluating faculty is this: The more stock a professor takes in his student evaluations, the more concerned I am about the integrity of instruction. Mark Steckbeck, discussing professor ratings now being online, gets at the same concern:

A diploma certifies that a student has some base level of knowledge sufficient to represent the objective(s) of the institution. Therefore, what I am supplying in the form of education is actually an obstacle to what some students ultimately seek: that diploma. I look at most � not all � disgruntled students as individuals who I blocked from obtaining their desired end. My job is to preserve the integrity of the institution by preserving the signal of the diploma. This means evaluating each student�s ability at the end of each class and flunking those who in my estimation have not proven competence in a subject. Their negative remarks are often part of their outburst of anger that results from their failure.

Although some students may have constructive comments about their professor�s performance, the incompatible objectives discussed above lead to too much noise in student evaluations of faculty to make them meaningful. Worse still, if administrators weigh evaluations for tenure and promotion there is a resulting perverse incentive for faculty to degrade the integrity of the institution.

SCSU's contract allows professors to define their own packages for promotion and tenure as they see fit; I cannot compel anyone to include material in their packets, nor can anyone in the administration. But I do not comment on a faculty member's student evaluations in my recommendation for promotion and tenure unless I also have some assessment that education has occurred.

A testable hypothesis: There is a positive correlation between student grades and student evaluations. If you could test this holding knowledge or skills added constant, you'd have an interesting paper. Call it 'evaluation inflation'.

Don't you want net cost? 

I can't make much out this economic profile of SCSU students. The most striking number is that our graduates in 2003-04 carried an average debt of $19,588 at an institution with tuition and fees of $4,550 per year. There's about a 3:1 ratio of loans to grants in our student aid packages. Students are paying on average $1,053 out of pocket for a full year here at SCSU, and borrowing $2,441. Half of the borrowing is at subsidized rates.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hack of the month 

God put your brains away from your genitalia for a reason, boys, and here's why.
Victoria was a hoax UCLA co-ed, created by Cal's Rally Committee. For the previous week, "she" had been chatting with Gabe Pruitt, USC's starting guard, over AOL Instant Messenger. It got serious. Pruitt and several of his teammates made plans to go to Westwood after the game so that they could party with Victoria and her friends.

On Saturday, at the game, when Pruitt was introduced in the starting lineup, the chants began: "Victoria, Victoria." One of the fans held up a sign with her phone number.

...The chant "Victoria" lasted all night. To add to his embarrassment, transcripts of their IM conversations were handed out to the bench before the game: "You look like you have a very fit body." "Now I want to c u so bad."

Pruitt ended up a miserable 3-for-13 from the field.
If you play for NC State, stay out of chats, please. I have you in my pool.

(h/t: Newmark's Door)

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New recruit 

It's cool when universities hire famous people? Does it make you famous if you're the story in a City Pages article? JB thinks so, and notes that person is coming to SCSU. "They'll give dang near anybody tenure there." Word, brother. Looks like the professor's act is playing well off off Snelling already.


Take me off your list 

John Fund has been hammering the administration of Yale about the Taliban student, and now reports that someone in the law school's alumni office has been suspended after emailing two alums who disagreed with the admission of that student. The suspicion is that the official got their email addresses from a private database, and then used an anonymous account to call them "retarded" and "disgusting". I'd say it's to be expected; it's why I try not to leave my address in the hands of alumni offices.

I'm not as bothered as some over admitting the jihadi to Yale. It simply shows once again that elite universities have become incapable of making moral decisions. Readers of this blog will find that no surprise.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Century College faculty hide behind the curtain 

Karen Murdock, the geography professor at Century College who had the cartoons of Mohammed taken down, told me after our interview on Saturday that there was to be a meeting of her division's faculty at the school to discuss the use of bulletin boards. She mailed me her notes early this morning. The conclusion of the meeting was to assign bulletin boards to departments or 'disciplines' within the Social Science division and "make sure that all the faculty within a discipline agreed on what should go on the boards." Prof. Murdock was the only person who voted against the motion.

If you would like to see her notes, click here. Note that she names names. I am not verifying this information, just placing it somewhere for others to read it. But I do have a couple of comments about the discussion.

Note that the reaction of faculty to not having rules about bulletin boards is to claim chaos. "We've opened Pandora's box," says one. And why? Because they fear offending anyone. Prof. Brueggeman says we should not put up just anything on bulletin boards because of mothers bringing their kids to college? Where do the kids go during classes? I have had kids brought to class by their parents, and as long as they are quiet I have no problem ... and I also have no problem promoting debate in that room. But they are fragile, and cannot see some cartoons on a bulletin board?

I note the words "Muslim" and "Islam" appear nowhere in the notes. I have a real problem believing the dust-up isn't directly related to the subject of the cartoons, particularly since the college's mulitcultural affairs office has called for a forum:
Next week Century College will host an educational forum titled Muslims: Misperceptions and the Facts. The forum will address misperceptions about Muslims and the religion of Islam, while also discussing the traditions and customs shared by Muslims across the world. This event will be held on Wednesday, March 22, 2006, from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. in Room W1006.
This event is free, and everyone in the campus community is encouraged to attend.
Prof. Murdock has not been invited to speak, though after the events of the last month I'd think she had an interesting viewpoint for this educational forum. Somehow, I think, this isn't a coincidence.

This paragraph is a simulacrum of what happens when people who are afraid of free speech (and afraid of being seen as censors) try to come to grips with speech that offends:
Gary said that he was all in favor of free speech, but that it should be �responsible speech.� He said, �We have freedom of speech in every classroom� and did not need the bulletin boards outside the classroom to reflect free speech. He felt that the �proper venue� for discussion of such controversial issues should not be in �a public hall� but �in a classroom�or special forums.�
Good debate rolls and rollicks and can be rough. It dishonors your students to think that they cannot handle speech, no more than it dishonors Prof. Murdock to think the negative comments left on her pad to the side of the bulletin board somehow would be "too much" for her. And to call it "responsible speech" is to hide your censorship behind a curtain.

If students aren't going to grow up to deal with speech they find offensive or even hateful on a college campus, please tell me where would you like them to learn it?


ROI human capital 

This is worth thinking about.
Suppose you are an employer and are filling jobs for which no credential is required. In other words, for typical white-collar jobs--product design and engineering, sales, marketing, non-CPA accounting work and so forth. Would you pay a steep salary premium for a four-year degree holder versus a high school grad? You might. Perhaps you�d think the four-year degree speaks to the job applicant�s intelligence, along with a certain facility to set goals and finish them.

But what if you could guarantee those qualities in other ways (military service, missionary work, etc.)? See, I think the Harvard or Yale degree is worth plenty, not because of what Harvard or Yale teaches--the postmodern university can do more harm than good; witness Yale�s admission of a former Taliban spokesman. The degree simply puts an official stamp on the fact that the student was intelligent, hardworking and competitive enough to get into Harvard or Yale in the first place. May I present to the jury Bill Gates? He was smart enough to get into Harvard. Then he proved his financial intelligence by dropping out to start a company.

Okay, enough Harvard/Yale whipping. Like oceanfront property, their degrees will always command a premium and will probably pay out a terrific ROI. The same is true of degrees from 10 to 20 other private colleges. But beyond those 10 to 20 schools, I suspect the price of a four-year, private college degree--$100,000 to $175,000--will be money poorly invested.
Where does one go, then, to find a good return? Online universities? Public universities? What is it that these two institutions could provide that would give a young person a positive return on their human capital investment, if not a marker that they were "intelligent, hardworking and competitive enough to get into XYZ State in the first place"? Wish I knew; I'd sleep better if I did.

(h/t: Division of Labour.)

Skimming the ten percent 

A little birdie has come through for me with answers to the questions relating to my post on remedial math. We took a look at the class of 1999, which admitted 2,546 freshmen. 456 took the basic math concepts tutorial and 320 passed it with a C or better. 54% of them graduated in six years. 273 took the intermediate algebra course; 161 got a C or better; 58% graduated in six years. (There were only 17 students who took both.)

One of the things that teaches is that if you can get them through these classes, there's a success rate there that isn't all that bad. (Our 6-year rate over all is in the 40s, so those passing the tutorial did better than average.) But consider the 248 students who didn't even have the ability to get through the tutorials. That's almost 10% of the enrolled new freshmen that year that could not get into the general education math course and graduate from the university, in whom we invest substantial state dollars. Should we charge back school boards for having students so ill prepared for college?

Joanne Jacobs notes the same type of ill-preparedness in California, where only 45% of new entering freshmen in the Cal State system needed neither English nor math tutorial coursework.


Sabbaticals are expensive 

It's not clear to me why Richard Vedder and others in this article on the cost of faculty sabbaticals think these are exorbitant. Sabbatical is part of the terms of employment, like tenure or summers. These are given in lieu of higher base pay, sort of like throwing plane tickets into a ballplayer's contract when he says he wants his family to be able to fly out and see him (as I recall, the pitcher Kevin Brown had these; I understand the practice is not uncommon.)

Now people think anyone anywhere gets a sabbatical. At SCSU they are contractually obligated to faculty after ten years if the faculty member asks. That's a bit unusual, for in many other places there is a competitive process whereby one offers a plan for study, grantwriting or other academic endeavor to be done during the sabbatical. It's not being paid to sit on your duff but to be reassigned for a year to something outside the classroom. This is of course expensive, but then most of us faculty in fields where there are ample private industry opportunities work at a substantial discount, for which sabbatical, tenure, and June, July and August are repayment.

Do some faculty abuse sabbaticals? No doubt true, particularly when you get them as a contractual obligation. But the gist of the article seems to be that faculty not teaching are being lazy, and that's just not true.


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

So what am I? Chopped liver? Spitbull? 

You know, a guy could get a complex.

HH: You know what's very interesting about Minnesota is that it is a new media state. The Start Tribune, obviously, is going to be against you, because they're just over the left edge of the world. But you do have Powerline, you've got a whole bunch of great bloggers up there, Shot In The Dark, you've got Captain Ed Morrissey. If you can stay away from the Fraters guys, you'll be in good shape, Congressman.

What do those four blogs have in common? What's missing here?

Guess I better open SCSUScholars Radio.

(h/t KvM -- you think you got rain?)


Too much free speech or not enough silence? 

Jim Paine notices that the first actions of Jay Bennish, the teacher who involuntarily took a week off from classes after a 20-minute political conniption in a geography class, was to suggest that the student was wrong for taping the lecture.
If Bennish were courageously Speaking Truth To Power, why then was he so eager to condemn the agent of that Truth's broad dissemination? And parenthetically, is anyone besides me just a tad tired of the phrase "speaking truth to power"? The phrase implies brave speech in the face of terrible retribution, but what retribution has Bennish faced? He's back teaching classes, albeit with the apparent promise to present both sides of whatever argument he's discussing (what a huge concession; I had always assumed�wrongly, it turns out�that that was the responsibility of every educator).
Speaking truth to power, besides being an overused phrase, is also absolutely not what we do. When we hear words we do not like, in many places, we react with power and force, be it censorship, taking the offending person to sensitivity training, etc. ACTA Online tells of a great student editorial at Oregon State, on the occasion of the David Irving's imprisonment in Austria as a Holocaust denier. Elizabeth Meyer writes:

This doesn't mean that hate speech must go unnoticed by universities. The universities can respond by holding forums, condemning such speech (but still allowing it) and providing support to student groups attempting to educate the
campus about such issues. An atmosphere where the university just ignores it can easily be closed to minorities and women. But by simply banning it, the university pushes the problem under the rug only to have it rear its ugly head later, once the bigots are finished with school.

Supreme Court Justice Brandeis argues, "the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones." Our society has decided that for a functioning democracy, we must be able to evaluate ideas on our own. Yet if a university shields its students from offensive speech, the targeted students will never learn to defend themselves and the offensive students will not have their views directly challenged.

ACTA notes that while the battle against speech codes is painted as a conservative cause, this is very misleading. For the very same reasons that conservative students look to be more prepared to debate than liberals -- because they are challenged to speak -- so too should we educate those to speak against hate speech. Silence when something needs to be said is a great incentive to learn how to speak to power.

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Throw another mistake on the barbie 

Oops! The College Board now says another 1600 SAT exams need to be looked at for possible scoring errors. And rather than a "minute" number of grades from the original 4,000 erroneously-scored exams being reported as higher than earned, it turns out the number is about 600. Now, that's not a high percentage of the 495,000 exams they score, but it's nonetheless too high an error rate for a test that carries a great deal of importance. Expect more than a few more schools to dump the SAT.


Smoot Hawley tick..tick..tick.. 

One of the reasons I was opposed to the blocking of the Dubai ports deal was the signal it sent of protectionism to our trading partners. We see a little bit of that today with the announcement that the UAE will shift some of its reserves from US dollars to euros.
The United Arab Emirates, which includes Dubai, said it was looking to move one-tenth of its dollar reserves into euros, while the governor of the Saudi Arabian central bank condemned the US move as "discrimination".

...The governor of the UAE central bank, Sultan Nasser al-Suweidi, said the bank was looking to convert 10 per cent of its reserves, which stand at $23bn (�13.5bn), from dollars to euros. "They are contravening their own principles," he said. "Investors are going to take this into consideration [and] will look at investment opportunities through new binoculars."

Hamad Saud al-Sayyari, the governor of the Saudi Arabian monetary authority, said: "Is it protection or discrimination? Is it okay for US companies to buy everywhere but it is not okay for other companies to buy the US?"

I was lecturing last night on international capital flows and saving and finance. There's a very simple story one tells in your intermediate (or even principles) macro course where you ask "what happens if the government of a large, open economy discourages foreign investment?" Students draw their savings and investment curves and learn interest rates go up, savings and investment go up, and the dollar to depreciate. Exactly how is this good for the United States?

Of course, you will answer, the UAE is a minor player, but in terms of buying US firms it's not.
�America�s trade deficit hit an all-time high for 2005, and the country is not in the position to start dictating where foreigners can invest,� says financial expert and Daily Reckoning columnist Chris Mayer. �The only way the United States is able to sustain such a deficit is by getting money from abroad, by attracting investment dollars.�


Short people got no reason 

Mitch is upset that Northwest Airlines is offering to sell aisle seats with a $15 upcharge versus sitting in the middle. He's 6'5" and he thinks they're after him:

Let's see - wretched service, no pretzels, no pillows, surly strikeprone staff, and making you pay to not feel like you're in the black hole of Calcutta...

...Why would one take Northwest, again?

Precisely because I can buy the kind of seat I want. Let me review my options: I can sit at the window and disturb my seatmates two or three times with visits to the bathroom -- this due to frequent use of beer to alleviate my discomfort with flight; I can sit on the aisle and have my shoulders constantly bumped and scraped by the food cart that has no pretzels for Mitch (I never seem to have this problem after ordering aforementioned beer); or I can sit in the middle with my wide shoulders, save enough money for even more beer, and boy is the guy in the aisle seat mad at me now!

Humor aside, the ability to price different goods differently makes for a more efficient market. Precisely because the middle seat is less desirable than the window or aisle, its price should be less. This type of pricing often annoys people: baseball teams wanting more money started charging more for the Yankees and Red Sox games (the Twins are doing it this year) which causes a lot of people to complain. Truth be told, if you asked everyone on the plane what they paid for their tickets, you'd find a wide range of prices. Airlines have price discriminated for years.

But what do I know? I'm 5'8". Seat length isn't my issue.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

The churn 

Here are the top ten companies (except for oil) in the US in 1959. How many of them are currently in the top ten?
1. AT&T
2. GM
3. DuPont
4. General Electric
5. Union Carbide
6. U.S. Steel
7. IBM
8. Sears, Roebuck
9. Aluminum Company of America
10. Bethlehem Steel

Answer: Only one, GE, which is #1. As
Business Week points out, the 1959 list was dominated by manufacturers; today's is dominated by service firms like Microsoft and WalMart and financial service firms. The churn is part of the economic process in every country, even China. If I was investing in China -- and I'm not, at least not actively -- would I want to buy their booming manufacturing sector or their still nascent services sector?

Can you borrow me a test? 

In the continued discussion of whether or not faculty speak good enough English, along comes a bill that would require MnSCU schools to test new faculty for "clear English pronunciation".
State Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, figures this is a problem and has proposed a solution: He's introduced a bill intended to ensure that all teachers use "clear English pronunciation" before being allowed to teach undergraduate students.

Heidgerken, a former teacher and cafe owner, said he's gotten an earful about incomprehensible instructors from his own kids, former students and employees.

"I've had many students say they dropped a course or delayed graduation for a semester because they couldn't get around this one professor they couldn't understand," he said. "All I'm trying to accomplish is getting the best education we have for postsecondary students."

Most of the concerns focus on disciplines such as math, science and engineering, where foreign-born professors and teaching assistants are common.

The bill would require that schools in Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) ensure their teachers speak plain English.

It would "request" that the University of Minnesota do the same; the Legislature can technically only request compliance from the U because it is an autonomous body under the state Constitution.
The North Dakota law proposed that if 10% of students complain, you would remove TAs. I don't know if that would apply to full-time faculty or even adjuncts.

How, exactly, does Bud plan to test these people? Is the assumption that, when we bring faculty to campus to visit with us to decide if we want to hire them, that existing faculty do not care if the faculty member can speak English well?

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Weird quote of the day 

I'm sure he'll read this and be upset with me, but an SCSU professor is quoted at a meeting discussing the Jim Knoblach-sponsored bill on immigration asking this question:
Laws that focus on enforcement only bring fear to daily life.
Laws without enforcement are what? Suggestions? Given the two truckers who ran a red light at 29th and Division this morning and almost hit my friend pulling out before me, I might say lack of enforcement brings fear, too.

Let's hope the reporter took the professor out of context.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Century College prof on at 2pm 

Hope you can listen in at 2pm CT to Prof. Karen Murdock of Century College, the professor who's story about the Muslim cartoons I wrote up here, on the Northern Alliance Radio Network. Streaming audio is available here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The cost of low math skills, and to whom 

Reading Joanne Jacobs' post on the cost to universities of remediation got me to wondering how many SCSU students go through remedial courses. This isn't pretty. For Fall 2005 semester:

MATH 070 (Basic Mathematical Concepts)
Enrolled 641
Completed 563
Freshmen 437

MATH 072 (Intermediate Algebra)
Enrolled 216
Completed 165
Freshmen 114

Here are the course descriptions. You can see they're remedial because they do not count towards graduation. You must take a test to get into the 100-level mathematics courses that do count.

Those credits cost a student $548 for each class. The state subsidizes for about the same rate. We admit about 2200 new entering freshmen a year, so you can see that about a third need at least some remediation; for those in MATH 070, their next step will be to take MATH 072 unless they can retake the math placement test and get out of it. So taxpayers are paying nearly $650,000 for getting these students up to a level of math that would let them take ... general education math at a college level, which is more than a bit short of calculus. Students not completing these classes -- a significant percentage -- must retake, and pay again, as does the taxpayer.

Were there graduation exams in high school written as tests of college readiness, it would put out of business programs like our Division of General Studies. When universities have a harder time filling their entering classes with qualifying students, it's not unusual to see DGS enrollments grow.

Checker Finn is suggesting the school districts sending out these underprepared students should pay for these remediation courses. Fat chance!

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Whoops! Sorry, my mistake 

USAToday reports that 4,000 students were affected by a mis-scoring of their SATs because of a computer malfunction. While they say most mistakes were within 40 points, that can matter quite a bit for admissions and financial aid awards. Less than one percent of scores were affected.

I have a question, based on this paragraph from the USAToday report:
The College Board said it would refund registration and related fees to the affected students. It added that it reported only cases in which the corrected scores were higher than originally reported.

It doesn't seem to be a problem in the article. But a Chronicle of Higher Education article about this yesterday, however, said that was causing some chafing among college admission officials.
"There's an incomplete explanation of what the problem actually is, how it was discovered, and why they took so long to let us know," said Dennis Trotter, vice president for enrollment and marketing at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa. "For them to send us a memo saying this was a small statistical error feels a little condescending and is not acceptable."

Some students are getting admitted now than did before, and otehrs are getting more financial aid. Moreover, and I think the biggest problem, some students are now realizing that their decision not to apply to some schools because of their scores was based on bad information. Hard to see how that gets fixed.


That's a pretty good number 

That was my reaction when a friend at breakfast shoves his HP handheld in my face and shows me the February employment report. (I'm not sure why he did that -- being helpful? Wants to show me his handheld is faster than mine? I'm going with a 'compensation' theory myself.) It's pretty good. Even better than fair.
Nonfarm payroll employment grew by 243,000 in February, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 4.8 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. Job gains occurred in construction, financial activities, health care, and several other industries.

The unemployment rate was up a tenth because, though we had more jobs, the number of people entering the workforce rose by 335,000 in the month.

One area of a little concern will be the rise in wages, which for the 12 months to February rose 3.1%. While that hasn't translated to higher consumer prices generally just yet, it is something to keep an eye on. Kash noted yesterday that long-term rates have finally started higher, and maybe are signalling an early end to the inverted yield curve. But these results are adding pressure to the Fed to raise short-term rates too, though Reuters is reporting steadiness in interest rate futures markets right now. David Altig is also noting the pressures on the Fed from overseas, with Japan and the EU perhaps getting off the mat and demanding more capital at home. I'm already on board for a 5.25% Fed funds rate as being consistent with a Taylor rule-led monetary policy that targets 2% inflation. (Your refresher course.) 5% is almost already priced in the markets for May. Whether or not you think Bernanke needs to "buy credibility", that move fits current operating procedures from which I think he will not deviate.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Would you have it with a goat? Would you have it on a boat? 

FIRE is taking up the case of Karen Murdock, an adjunct professor at Century College. Last month I noticed her story of having the Mohammed cartoons taken down and told by a senior faculty member that it would be better if she did not repost them. The administration falls all over its PC self, holding a forum to promote understanding. I thought the story ended there but, FIRE reports, it's taken a rather bizarre turn.
FIRE wrote to Century President Lawrence Litecky on February 16, stating that �[t]he college�s responsibility to free speech and open inquiry far outweighs any responsibility the college has to avoid offense� and that Murdock could not be punished for posting the cartoons. That same day, O�Brien sent Murdock a letter canceling the scheduled meeting and insisting that the �administration did not remove the political cartoon you posted, nor direct that it be removed or not reposted.� O�Brien also responded to FIRE, asserting that no meeting had been scheduled with Murdock and citing an e-mail sent by President Litecky to the entire Century community vaguely urging that �discourse about the many competing ideas and beliefs� should be conducted �in a respectful, thoughtful, and tolerant manner.�

Believing that discussion and the free exchange of ideas at Century were now secure, Murdock posted the cartoons again on February 25, this time behind a curtain. Three days later, censors struck again, tearing down the cartoons in midday, and Lyons asked that they not be reposted. A memo he posted on the bulletin board explained that materials on that board should �rotated in a timely fashion,� and that faculty members have �expressed concerns about the displaying of the cartoons on a division of social and behavioral sciences bulletin board.�
Here are photos of the bulletin board in question, the sign, and a quote from a UM professor which argues offense comes before education. Even when she self-censors to protect sensibilities, the piece is attacked. The college's position is that the cartoons may not even be viewed by passers-by. The school is arguing that the decision to take them down ultimately rests with Professor Murdock, who responds that a request from both senior faculty and an administrator to an untenured faculty member carries force. She continues,
We are a college. We are supposed to be a forum for the free exchange of ideas. If we can�t talk about this controversy at a college, where are we supposed to talk about it? We are supposed to be able not merely to deal with controversy but actually to welcome it!
Of course such things are not welcome, as we saw earlier this week at UMD. This is the nature of academia today, that the only people whose ideas are to be challenged by education are those who are 'privileged'. I am amazed that this story has been buried since the first wave of articles last month. It needs more coverage to induce President Litecky and the Century College administration to protect what rational inquiry requires: free speech.

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Shifting textbook costs 

Let's suppose we take our economics lesson from yesterday and apply it to the problem of textbook costs, spurred by Virginia's second law in less than a year that governs how its public university professors and students work with books. Again, here's that lesson, from Vernon Smith:

A is the customer, B is the service provider. B informs A what A should buy from B, and a third entity, C, pays for it from a common pool of funds. Stated this way, the problem has no known economic solution because there is no equilibrium.

Now, in some sense the textbook story is similar. The negotiation over a textbook selection is between the professor and the publisher, not between the prof and the student. The student is then told what should be bought from the bookstore. The texts, though, are paid for by the student, who has incentives to hold down costs by buying cheaper used books, going to book exchanges on campus, or sometimes just not buying the book and sharing with others. The presence of substitutes, and the pain of high prices, assures an equilibrium.

Introducing market restrictions on the bargain between publisher and professor and between publisher and bookstore, as Virginia is doing, accomplishes little. Remember, the bookstore on campus pays a fee to the university for the exclusive right to sell at the most convenient bookstore location. Reduce bookstore profits, and you reduce the university's revenue from selling space to the bookstore. Where will that be made up, if not tuition or higher taxpayer subsidies to public schools?

Second, as I noted last July, increasing demand for used books by the bookstores is going to increase the value of a new textbook, increasing its price again. More and more, we do not own textbooks, we only rent them. Increasing the rentability of a textbook by making it harder to introduce new editions will only increase demand for books and thus their price.

In short, there isn't a real market failure in textbooks. These restrictions will shift money around and perhaps help hide the true cost of the book, but those costs will be borne by someone.

I have one last prediction: There will be a backlash from faculty in Virginia public universities that their academic freedom is being infringed by these restrictions. Yawn.

UPDATE: From an email by the distinguished Learned Foot, to whom I sent the Chronicle of Higher Ed summary because of his expertise in the academic textbook market (its reporting is in the quotes, from this subscribers link; LF in italics):

"Under the measure, promoted by student advocates..."

...So you know it was well-thought-out.

"come up with their required reading lists for the coming semester early enough for buy-back programs and bookstores to stock up on used copies of those books"

Which will do nothing to lower costs since you can get most widely-used (and a lot of not-so-widely used) used textbooks from wholesalers within a week.

"public colleges must require campus bookstores to sell such textbooks separately."

Bundles are often sold at a discount. This will drive up prices in a lot of instances.

"This legislation brings the power of the free market to textbooks,"

(Uncontrolable laughing)

No, allowing independent competing bookstores (like the one I worked at in college) will bring the power of the free market to textbooks - not rearranging the deck chairs on your monopoly. Especially since it is quite obvious that nobody connected to this "legislation" has the slightest clue about the book business.

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Service with a smile 

I love reading newspapers and magazines both for new information and for people who crystallize something I feel more than know into something tangible. When I read those things, I find myself saying "hell yes" to the paper or the monitor. These don't happen too often.

Peggy Noonan, to be blunt, drives me nuts. She reminds me of my mom, or my old microeconomics instructor in grad school. You wade through a lot of tedious stuff, like what's going on with Aunt Dena, or how to invert a matrix, or how her son saw Reagan this one time, and you find yourself wondering why you're doing this. (With Mom, of course you know.) And then at moments you least expect it, they roll this pearl across the table to you, an unexpected gift that makes you smile and say "hell yes".

Today's pearl (and in classic Noonan fashion, the last paragraphs):
The Clooney generation in Hollywood is not writing and directing movies about life as if they've experienced it, with all its mysteries and complexity and variety. In an odd way they haven't experienced life; they've experienced media. Their films seem more an elaboration and meditation on media than an elaboration and meditation on life. This is how he could take such an unnuanced, unsophisticated, unknowing gloss on the 1950s and the McCarthy era. He just absorbed media about it. And that media itself came from certain assumptions and understandings, and myths.

Most Americans aren't leading media, they're leading lives. It would be nice to see a new respect in Hollywood for the lives they live. It would be nice to see them start to understand that rediscovering the work of, say, C.S. Lewis, and making a Narnia film, is not "giving in" to the audience but serving it. It isn't bad to look for and present good material that is known to have a following. It's a smart thing to do. It's why David O. Selznick bought "Gone With the Wind": People were reading it. It was his decision to make it into a movie from which he would profit that gave Hattie
McDaniel her great role. Taboos are broken by markets, not poses.
My emphasis. Mitch writes that Clooney "spoke of Hollywood's 'courage' in reinforcing an orthodoxy they always supported," but Noonan identifies the source of that orthodoxy. They believe their own fiction as non-fiction. Since I tagged Mitch with a Sideways reference earlier today on his blog, let me use this scene from the movie:
Mike Erganian: What is the subject of your book? Non fiction?
Miles Raymond: Uh, no. It's... it's a novel. Fiction. Yes. Although there is quite a bit from my own life... so I suppose that, technically some of it is nonfiction.
Mike Erganian: Good I like non fiction. There is so much to know about this world. I think you read something somebody just invented, waste of time.
Miles Raymond: That's an interesting perspective.
People live in a real world, are attracted to real things, where they see something that strikes them as a serendipitous pearl, to solidify for them something they sense but don't know. That's what Gone With the Wind was, a movie that gave expression to concerns about America's history with slavery. It wasn't challenging them; it was validating.

Noonan's pearl also gives us a way to see what bothers me about how my children, and maybe yours, grow up. They mistake their experience of media -- movies, TV, video games, internet chats -- with experiences of life. It is an act of maturity to be able to separate those, and it is an act of parenting to give children the latter experiences. Maybe that's why I enjoyed so much taking time with Littlest Scholar and her basketball team at a tournament in New Ulm a few weekends ago. The prize, the tournament championship, was secondary to the fact that kids were experiencing life, with time in the car driving through central MN, winning and losing, eating pizza in a hotel lobby, playing board games. Is it a bright, shining moment? Don't know, but then, you never know which moment it is the kid will tell you was meaningful fifteen years later when they're an adult. "Remember when?" And you won't. But she did, and that's all that matters.

When you give people real life experiences, when you validate and honor the place in which they live, when you serve them, they return things to you like fame and money. Serving others is how you make a living. Hollywood serves us by being beautiful, Noonan says; the movies it makes now, on the other hand, are self-serving.

UPDATE: Spitbull thinks Steyn is better.

Alas, you can't trade a president emeritus 

I have enjoyed reading The American Experiment Quarterly for years, and several years back got to write an article about affordable housing for them. This came because a colleague of mine introduced me to Mitch Pearlstein, and the three of us had a very fine time over lunch some place in Monticello. Stories of the good old days of Al Quie, connections made since then, and finally about that issue, made me completely forget that they took the vegetarian to the place where only salad was available. Sometimes conversation is more important than food (and people that know me know food is important!)

I have not spent much time in contact with him, but writing this blog and the Northern Alliance and MOB brought me to many Center of the American Experiment events and meeting their people; they have many of the brightest young conservatives in the state.

Or, at least, they did.

Mitch Pearlstein, the founder of the center, will return as president after a 20-month period as its president emeritus. Pearlstein said the center will restructure to return to addressing public policy issues such as poverty, race, values, economics and taxes.

"We used to focus more on cultural and social issues and want to return to that," he said, refusing to comment further on the departures.

Those leaving include Annette Meeks as the center's president and CEO; Corey Miltimore as its director of media research and study; Randy Wanke as communications director; Chris Tiedeman as director of government affairs and; Ryan Griffin as development director; and Jonathan Blake as research fellow.

Under the recent leadership, the center retooled itself and had begun to play an aggressive role in influencing public policy in Minnesota. As an example, last year it rolled out an ambitious project to help conservative students battle what the center saw as liberal orthodoxy in academia.

That would be Intellectual Takeout, which has advertised on this blog in the past. A media advisory I received about this on Tuesday night indicated that the departures were not necessarily voluntary; a board member was named as the contact person for information about the changes. Meeks was quoted as saying,

I am so very, very proud of the many significant public policy accomplishments achieved by this team during our tenure at American Experiment. Policy highlights include the launch of two important web-based sites:, and, as well as the excellent scholarship put forth by Dr. Cheri Pierson Yecke, as well as several other significant policy studies on a wide range of issues of importance to Minnesotans. I look forward to working with these fine individuals in the future as we find new and innovative ways to continue building the conservative movement in Minnesota.
Indeed, the profile of the Center had moved the last two years in my view, becoming more active and less of the think tank and speakers' shop that it had been in its first years. Intellectual Takeout was rather innovative; the Center had poured a good deal of resources into the project (I know, as I was getting calls from them for reading lists that they might use, some of which they did.) It seemed odd to me that a direction change made less than two years ago would be reversed like that if everyone had agreed to the change.

I spent part of yesterday inquiring of some people what the heck had happened. One source close to the situation reported back that Pearlstein's placement as president emeritus was a goodwill gesture to soothe his exit as leader of CAE, an exit I now am told he did not initiate. His compensation package remained generous and he remained active with the board.

I've seen this sort of thing in academia all the time, particularly with department chairs. When a new one comes, sometimes the old one wants to second-guess all the changes the new one makes. Sometimes that's good, because new chairs make mistakes -- God knows I did. Thankfully the fellow I replaced (because of contractual term limits, not anyone's dissatisfaction) let me make them and kept his opinions to himself, until I realized I had farked things up and needed advice from him. Oftentimes that doesn't happen, backbiting ensues, and in more than a few instances the old chair returns to the office, portrayed as a white knight to save the department from peril. That is sometimes true, but more often not.

In football, when a new quarterback is tabbed to start, it's damned awkward to look at the sidelines and see the fellow who's been benched watching the action. They want to play, and sometimes that means they are hoping for the new starter to fail. I admire teams that decide to trade the old starter to another team, so the new starter doesn't have to look over his shoulder.

That's the best I can make of Pearlstein's line, "We used to focus more on cultural and social issues and want to return to that." He wanted the ball; "we did things better when I was the starter." And a board of directors that lets that friction become a purge of six staffers on a staff that is pretty lean anyway has to look in the mirror and wonder how things became this way.

UPDATE: Kennedy v. Machine reports that the others left after telling the board they supported Meeks, and if she went they would too. By the way, Gary, Bledsoe was a perfect gentleman with Brady. Think more like Kurt Warner.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Invitation to econometric exercise 

What do you suppose is the simple correlation between average teacher pay by state and the state's NAEP scores for 4th and 8th graders.

I'll put the number down at the bottom of this post.

Now of course that's a simple correlation, and as Frank Stephenson (the fellow who calculated the number -- his sources are linked on his post) points out there is of course the possibility of omitted variable bias. So he's inviting you to write him and ask for the data and see if you can improve on his estimate.

Of course, this is actually old news. But the number is interesting. And you're welcome to try to change the result.

(Which was negative:
Specifically, the correlations between real teacher pay and student performance on the math and reading NAEP for fourth and eighth grades ranges from -0.226 to -0.30.)


I'm sure this is just so we can practice our Spanish 

Before there was Brokeback Mountain, there was "My Mother Likes Women". And it was shown on campus thanks to GLBT Services, a part of our Student Life program. Student activity fee dollars at work.

It doesn't appear to be that great a movie (I missed this ad before the showing) if you go by the reviews. The university has had a very good international film series each year, and you'd think a good Argentine film would get attention there. And they have shown at least two Almodovar films in it, which frankly are the worst films I've seen in that series. (I really don't like that guy.) It is interesting to me that a movie that critics who like the movie tend to say "isn't about lesbianism" is being shown by the GLBT office.


Consumer sovereignty, health care, and education 

Not for nothing he's a Nobel laureate: Vernon Smith, the 2002 winner in economics, reduces the problems of rising health care and education costs to a fairly simple abstract:
Here is a bare-bones way to think about this situation: A is the customer, B is the service provider. B informs A what A should buy from B, and a third entity, C, pays for it from a common pool of funds. Stated this way, the problem has no known economic solution because there is no equilibrium. There is no automatic balance between willingness to pay by the consumer and willingness to accept by the producer that constrains and limits the choices of each.
Source, WSJ (subscribers' link.) What happens in the normal market situation? A, the customer, participating in a perfectly competitive market, is not even known to B. All B can see is that he may sell all the product he wants at the going price, and A happens to show up to buy it. Consumer sovereignty reigns as long as they can know what they want:
Consumers are sovereign as long as they know what they want and are able to act upon their desires. If consumers are tricked or fooled into making purchases that do not satisfy their wants and needs due to limited information or deceitful business practices, then consumers might not be the rulers of the economic realm. They might be pawns.
One must wonder how it is that parents could not know how much education to purchase for their children. The choice becomes a choice about curricula, and about price. Smith points out,

If there is a solution to this problem, it will take the form of changing the incentive structure: empowering the consumer by channeling third-party payment allowances through the patients or students who are choosing and consuming the service. Each pays the difference between the price of the service and the insurance or subsidy allowance. Since he who pays the physician or college calls the tune, we have a better chance of disciplining cost and tailoring services to the customer's willingness to pay.

Many will say that neither the patients nor the students are competent to make choices. If that is true today, it is mostly due to the fact that they cannot choose and have no reason to become competent! Service providers are oriented to whoever pays: physicians to the insurance companies and the government; universities to their legislatures. Both should pay more heed to their customers -- which they will if that is where they collect their fees.

But can it ever happen? Will government allow this? Isabel Paterson, in The God of the Machine in 1943, was skeptical:
Where teaching is conducted by private schools, there would be a considerable valuation in different schools; the parents must judget what they want the children taught, by the curriculum offered. Then each must strive for objective truth; and as there is no public authority to control opinion, adults must be supposed to exercise the final judgment on what they learnt in school, after they have graduated. ... But every politically controlled educational system will inculcate the doctrine of state supremacy sooner or later, whether as the divine right of kings or the 'will of the people' in democracy. Once the doctrine has been accepted, it becomes almost superhuman task to break the stranglehold of the political power over the life of the citizen. It had his body, property and mind in the clutches from infancy ... But would not some children remain illiterate? They might, as some do now, as they did in the past.
Not for nothing do universities return to their American Democracy Projects and "democratic citizenship" requirements. Their emphases on "responsible citizenship" are reinforcements of blind obeisance to the state that has been with them almost from birth.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Impressions of a caucus 

I had not been to a caucus in many years, so this year I decided to see what my fellow St. Cloudians were up to and went. I'm from New England where we have town meetings, and they really aren't the same.

Because there are four candidates for the CD6 nomination, I listened to representatives for all four there. Janet Knoblach and the two Knoblach kids got up first for Jim. She was nervous but did a fairly good job, speaking without notes. I thought she spent too much time on their background; we know Jim up here, so this was unnecessary. She also was the longest speaker. Jay Esmay came himself as a former district 15 chair. His delivery gets tighter every time I see him. It was a rather unresponsive crowd with a number of first-time caucusers there, so his attempt to get question/response fell flat. He adjusted though and showed excellent energy. Bill Walsh, who's been about every place you can imagine in Minnesota politics, is now working for Phil Krinkie and pitched for him. Bill's been a communications director and it showed. Bill stayed for the entire caucus, indicating Krinkie is interested in his level of support here. (More on this, below.) Lastly there was some confusion over who would present for Michele Bachmann. Two local guys tried to do so. One went down a couple of of tangents on constitutional interpretation, one-world government and the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. Not a high point of the evening; a college student who I know works with Bachmann was there and we commiserated over the experience afterwards.

An SCSU CR got up and read a letter for Mark Kennedy. The young lady was nervous but the letter was very strong. Local SCSU aviation professor Jeff Johnson spoke as well. Jeff missed out getting the nomination for a state senate run in November and now is back for a run this summer and fall. He's very much a social conservative and spoke with more polish than I had expected.

The precinct caucus was enjoyable because I spoke with people who have been here a lot longer than me and who run in different circles. Between this and a few other conversations, I learned,
Because the precinct I'm in is fairly strongly Republican, there were more delegates electable than precinct caucus attendees, so I'm now one. As my wife points out, the last time I did this, I was a Democrat. (This was long, long ago.)

It was nice to see so many friends, including one who said, "I didn't know you were a conservative!" I hadn't seen Scholar Jack for several weeks, but he plunked down next to me as if he and I had both come in from our cabins in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Good to see Pscymeistr at the caucus as well; he expects to post his impressions as well.

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Increasing teacher productivity, the DFL way 

As I read the DFL plan to give more money to schools with smaller class sizes, I was reminded of some humorous graffiti put up in the 1970s in Italy that was to make fun of Communist slogans used in the many political campaigns there. Examples included BOSSES' POWER", "MORE WORK, LESS PAY," and "ALL POWER TO THE DROMEDARIAT."

A sense of humor helps make sense of this proposal.
Growing class sizes are one of the top problems plaguing public schools in the eyes of many educators and parents. Under the proposal, schools that keep their class sizes under specified levels would get anywhere from $100 to $500 per student for each qualifying classroom.
So first you will reduce the number of students taught, and then they will give you more money? The problem isn't too many students. It's too little productivity.
I have a study in which I examined every change in class size at every elementary school in Connecticut over a 20-year period. In schools, class size varies from year to year because enrollment varies. Therefore, with 20 years and 800-some schools, there is a tremendous amount of variation in class size to examine.

I found there was no effect of class size on achievement at all, even when children were in small classes for all six years of elementary school.

There really is only one study in which a class-size reduction improved student achievement: the Tennessee STAR experiment. But the effect on achievement was tiny--a 10 percent reduction in class size raised achievement by two one-hundredths of a standard deviation in achievement test scores.

More importantly, in the Tennessee STAR experiment, everyone involved knew that if the class-size reduction didn't affect achievement, the experimental classes would return to their normal size and a general class-size reduction would not be funded by the legislature. In other words, principals and teachers had strong incentives to make the reduction work. Unfortunately, class-size reductions are never accompanied by such incentives when they are enacted as a policy.
The difference between STAR and the DFL proposal is that there is no link between lowering class sizes and assessed achievement. You just get the money. Which is just as well, based on the evidence.

But hey, LESS WORK, MORE PAY! Sure to appear on a t-shirt near you soon.

(h/t: Residual Forces.)

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I didn't know we were Buds 

I thought it clever that I got an email/spam from "Coach Bud Grant". I thought it even more clever that it actually comes from the coach himself. What he's selling is a new stadium, not that you'd actually know that from the letter for a few paragraphs:

Dear KING,
I�m writing to ask you to join me and thousands of Minnesotans and football fans from all walks of life as members of a new citizens� coalition, Minnesota Momentum. Our group was recently formed to support the plan to build Northern Lights � Minnesota�s Sports, Retail & Entertainment Center.

This economic development project, with $1 billion in private investment, will include shops, restaurants, space for small businesses, a new medical center, 260 acres of preserved wetlands and trails and more.

I�ve agreed to serve as co-chair of Minnesota Momentum with Kathi Ackerman of Minnesota DARE and Larry Spooner, a Vikings fan representative, because I want to see this exciting project move forward.

It�s a great opportunity to finally resolve the Vikings stadium issue � which has dragged on for long enough � and provide a tremendous boost to our state economy by bringing in $1 billion in private investment.

I am surprised and impressed that St. Cloud's own Chamber of Commerce director Theresa Bohnen is on the board of Minnesota Momentum. That means I get to ask her what the big deal is. If it's such a great deal, what with that cool billion of private investment and not a dollar of state taxpayer money, this should be easy to get the citizens of Anoka County to vote for.

Don't you think this FAQ is missing just a little something? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

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Teach your children well 

It is spring break week here at SCSU, and as I was strolling down the hallways of our building I see more and more evidence that there's no embarassment in confusing the mission of education with political activism. The newspaper to the left here is listed as the product of our master's in social responsibility program (their grad student office is just around the corner from my department.) Titling their newsletter "A Better World", the lead article in this issue is "Beyond the dead come quiet wounds: Thousands silently returning stateside with devastating injuries." The article contains the empty metaphors we have seen in so many other places, such as "These are people who never expected to pull duty on the front lines in a war zone," as if they were all dupes when signing up for the Guard or Reserves, and "The lack of a citizen response to the mounting casualties defiese a single explanation," (oh? try Soldiers' Angels.) Below it, "Faces in the program," with a story of a student activist with an undergraduate degree in sociology which prepared her for ... the masters program. Now, she says, she can continue to work on producing the Vagina Monologues and pay equity bake sales (not to be confused with affirmative action bake sales -- that kind of discernment is what you get the masters for!) A story of a graduate who has become a residence director at a school out east talks about her creating a recycling program and a symposium on globalization. I sincerely doubt from her description that any serious discussion of economics will occur.

Last week, as I was walking out of my building to the student union for lunch, this earnest young woman comes up and hands me this cute toy soldier, advertising an anti-war march to "Bring Me Home." I reacted to her cheerily, probably out of nostalgia. We had kids like that in high school (Vietnam ended before I got to college.) But I do have to wonder about the simplicity of this discussion, when the signs around her say the march is to mark "the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq." I know a guy who has a great speech that could be used to provide some balance to this event. I had to harsh the nice young lady's mellow, but did anyone think to invite him?

Nah, that wouldn't be socially responsible.


Monday, March 06, 2006

At the wall, gone 

Your image of Kirby Puckett, if it's like mine, involves the call from Herb Carneal "it's far, it's deep, at the wall ... HE CAUGHT IT!!!" We take those for granted nowadays as part of the Web Gems on Baseball Tonight, but the guy who made it famous, almost routine, was Kirby.
I was commenting to a colleague earlier today that the well of support for Kirby was amazing here. This is not the most forgiving place for people who fall from grace (anyone seen Tommy Kramer lately?) and Puckett had his share of legal and personal issues. Not a word of this came up in any coverage I heard today as Kirby approached death.

This is something rather unique to the baseball player, who has time during the game to express the joy of the game. Shots of the bench in a basketball game are boring; football benches seem to be preening zones; only in baseball is there sometimes (too seldom!) a spontaneous joy of players who are enjoying a win in game 74 of a 162 game schedule that has months still to run. Whenever you watched the Twins of the 80s and 90s and you saw that spontaneous laughter, it seemed, Kirby was in the middle of it. And it was shared by an entire generation of Twins fans. Just like John Gordon's home run call, he touched us all.

That sense of loss, not just of a player but of a feeling, a feeling of uncontrolled joy, will go on here for a few days not just for Twins fans but anyone who loved to watch Puckett play. And how could you not? In a sport that gives hope to us bad body types, he was the ultimate hero, the roly poly guy who could not only crack a double off the baggie but almost inexplicably leap up to bring back the opponent's home run.

And then the grass will turn green, and we'll head back to the Metrodome, and BBTN will be on every night with scores and Touch 'Em Alls and Web Gems, and eventually we'll go back to just enjoying the game. That will be in fact the most fitting tribute to Kirby. He loved the game, and it loved him.

UPDATE: Saw John's post; the pitcher was Charlie Liebrandt, a very good pitcher who had the misfortune of throwing one of the games most memorable home runs. One of my first publications in the local paper was an op-ed on the following season's labor troubles -- seemed an annual event at the time -- in which my closing sentence was to ask whether there was any amount of money that could compensate Liebrandt for the lifetime memories of that pitch.

By the way, I disagree with Rocketman's statement that you had to be a Twins fan to appreciate him. I watched him beat my Red Sox, answering a top-of-the-ninth rally by Boston that tied the game with a winning double. The big smile out on second was so infectious I couldn't help but smile myself.

UPDATE 2: I'll stand by my statement, Liz: He wasn't the greatest player of his time (check Win Shares, or this from Baseball Prospectus in 2000 when he first was eligible for the Hall), but he was the heartbeat of two world champions.

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You're overblown! No, YOU are! 

There was an editorial last week by a professor of French at UM-Duluth in which she reported having an article torn down, perhaps because its content was politically incorrect. I am pretty sure this is the article. You might think the professor is overreacting; certainly this letter writer today does:
Let me get this straight: You are offended because one article you had on your UMD door was taken down? (And you don't even claim to know who did it?) And you are offended because the Diversity Commission offered to send six students to a "White Privilege Conference?" You see these two things as attacks? Wow, it sounds like you should go to the conference. Seriously.

He means this conference.
The White Privilege Conference (WPC) provides a forum for critical discussions about white privilege, white supremacy and oppression. WPC is recognized as being a challenging, empowering and educational experience. The workshops, keynotes and institutes are designed to be engaging, informative and practical/useful. The conference participants and presenters include corporate and non-profit folks, students, educators, activists, musicians and artists. This conference is not about beating up on white folks. This conference is about challenging the society in which we live and working to dismantle systems of white privilege, white supremacy and oppression.
Phew, for a minute I thought it was a conference on tearing down articles. Seriously, take a few minutes and click around that site. According to the letterwriter who thinks the faculty member is blowing this out of proportion,
People of color wake up every single day and are reminded throughout that day that they are not white. Shouldn't we take a look at that disparity, especially in a country of immigrants and First Nations who were quickly dominated by whites?
The professor has written a rather antagonistic article to those groups, saying that offering to pay admission for UMD students to that conference is offensive. It's not; it's just another waste of money. Hard to pick a dog in this fight.


I could use a stand-in 

MTV has been using stand-ins for classes, but none have taught economics. The best of these that I've looked at was the Russell Simmons piece on focus groups. Now, it's not like there are no famous people who know some economics. Heck, one of my colleagues went to DePaul with Ray Manzarek. So, who do you think I should try to get as a stand-in?

Those answering "Josiah Bartlett" are kindly asked to click away from this site.

(h/t: Craig Newmark -- two in one day!)

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Bad sports weekend 

Phil and Stephen give me grief about our athletic failures this weekend. In both cases, the teams were expected to do poorly and have performed well. Both men's and women's basketball teams are in the NCAA D2 playoffs starting this weekend. The women's team we knew would be pretty good, but the men's team had massive holes to fill around center Matt Siegle and filled them they did. If they find a post player for next season, SCSU will be even better.

Don't mind Phil; it's the first time Mankato has won the conference outright. And while their team is good, the guy I love is their coach, who has always had teams that play hard. Let's see how the two teams do in the playoffs.

Hockey? I don't care. In the immortal words of Dan Jenkins, "Drop the puck in Kansas and the first team to knock it in either ocean wins." When I want to watch a fight, I go for UFC. Now, UFC with skates, on ice? That I'd watch, but cut the crap with the puck.

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Replication studies and Captain Ed's blogswarm 

Ed Morrissey and I were getting ready for the NARN broadcast Saturday and I read his post on the Gitmo detainees. In it he refers to a study by two lawyers, one a professor of law at Seton Hall, which analyzes the cases against 517 detainees (which Ed thinks is the vast majority of those still there. I'll take his word for that.) The general conclusion of the study is that over half of the detainees are not found to have committed hostile acts, suggesting that they are improperly detained.

Since it was fresh Saturday news we took it on the air, and as is my wont I am talking and reading at the same time, reading the study. When Ed said the data they used was now posted at the DoD site, I suggested that the best way to determine if the study is right is to replicate it. Ed subsequently has called for a blogswarm to do just that, a project you can still volunteer for.

Professionial journals like these (forgive the parochial nature of my selections -- these are the journals I know) require replicable results, and has been a "best practice" in my view for many years. Gary King suggests a model policy.
Authors submitting quantitative papers to this journal for review must address the issue of data availability and replication in their first footnote. Authors are ordinarily expected to indicate in this footnote in which public archive they will deposit the information necessary to replicate their numerical results, and the date when it will be submitted. The information deposited should include items such as original data, specialized computer programs, lists of computer program recodes, extracts of existing data files, and an explanatory file that describes what is included and explains how to reproduce the exact numerical results in the published work.

Obviously the paper in question hasn't been published yet, and I don't expect papers in progress to post their data, since they still need to get the benefit of publication first. However, in this case we have public data, and the paper has some notes that would allow one to get a grip on how they should be coding the data.

In essence, Ed's blogswarm is a call for refereeing the paper by the blogosphere, which is an interesting experiment. Ed's provision of coding forms and making them public is helpful, and what should happen next is a response from the Denbeauxs to verify or refute the codings.

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A degree by any other name 

I've been spending time with some members of my department debating quantitative requirements for our major. (Debating doesn't mean arguing here: We are having a good discussion with people who see things differently. A little raucous at times, but I've enjoyed it by and large.)

Via Craig Newmark, I see Duke's economics department is having the same debate, frustrated by its college's requirement to keep a traditional liberal arts degree (the A.B.; we offer the B.A. here.) So they are continuing to offer the A.B. but make its requirements almost identical to the B.S. degree.

Most amusing: Duke's economics department has both a director and associate director of undergraduate studies (presumably with some compensation or release from teaching). It has 668 majors. We have about 1/6th that, and we have neither position -- the department chair does the advising (that's me). Further evidence of my productivity...


Friday, March 03, 2006

Harry Browne, RIP 

If you've ever been around the libertarian movement, you know of Harry Browne. He was the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party in 1996, and I voted for him that year. He maintained a website through the end of last year. At times I thought he was wonderful; indeed, my view of him was such that when it turned out his campaign had violated party rules it was the last straw with my disillusionment with the LP, scant months before 9-11 would have blown my ties asunder anyway.

But while my disappointment with politics was complete, I still read and own "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World." Perhaps its most important passage comes in "The Unselfishness Trap" from that book. I watch how people think the only way they can be good is to be 'unselfish', which means to sacrifice. The good, Browne points out, can also come from serving others for your own sake.

...your daily life is made up of dozens of such exchanges � small and large transactions in which each party gets something he values more than what he gives up. The exchange doesn't have to involve money; you may be spending time, attention, or effort in exchange for something you value.

Mutually beneficial relationships are possible when desires are compatible. Sometimes the desires are the same � like going to a movie together. Sometimes the desires are different � like trading your money for someone's house. In either case, it's the compatibility of the desires that makes the exchange possible.

No sacrifice is necessary when desires are compatible. So it makes sense to seek
out people with whom you can have mutually beneficial relationships.

Browne understood the basic fabric of a capitalist system, and offered it to people in a self-help book that was quite popular in its time. Walter Williams, 35 years later, said it succinctly, "income is earned through pleasing and serving one�s fellow man." Income provides 'certificates of performance' that allow one to claim the product of another man, who in turn uses the same certificates, &c.

Harry Browne died Wednesday at age 72. Lew Rockwell provides an obituary.


Do teachers even get capitalism? 

You'd have to live under a rock not to have heard about this teacher in Colorado who went on a 20 minute rant about Bush, America, conservatives, etc. Michelle Malkin has details. Over at Generation Why?, there's a quote that pricked up my ears more than most:
"Do you see how when looking at [the teacher's definition of capitalism], where in this definition does it say anything about capitalism is an economic system that will provide everybody in the world with the basic needs that they need? ... Do you see how this economic system is at odds with humanity, at odds with caring and compassion, at odds with human rights?"
I have had long discussions with educators and economists who teach social science teacher candidates. There is no shortage of materials that teach about capitalism for high school students. And yet there remains a rather amazing amount of ignorance among teachers about economies. Jay Bennish isn't an exception; his crime and punishment come from not realizing someone was running a recording device. (Watch and see how quickly that hole is plugged!)

The corrective -- and I suppose you'd expect me to say this -- is more economics. An older paper by Allgood and Walstad shows that increasing economic education of teachers not only improves their economic literacy but also improves economic perspectives. Interestingly, student performance in high school economics after these teachers went through the Allgood and Walstad, in which they received up to three summer courses in economics, improved more if the teacher's economic attitudes aligned more with those of professional economists.

Teaching economics means teaching a method, not an outcome. This does not fit the behavior of many teachers, though. As Thomas Sowell once wrote,
Too many teachers, from the elementary schools to the graduate schools, see their role as indoctrinating students with what these teachers regard as the right beliefs and opinions. Usually that means the left's beliefs and opinions.

The merits or demerits of those ideas is far less important than whether or not students learn to analyze and weigh those merits and demerits. Educators used to say, "We are here to teach you how to think, not what to think."

...There are students in our most prestigious law schools who have never heard arguments for the social importance of property rights -- not just for those fortunate enough to own property, but for those who don't own a square inch of real estate or a single share of stock. How they would view the issues if they did is a moot point because they have heard only one side of the issue.

People who go through life never having heard the other side of issues ranging from environmentalism to minimum wage laws are nevertheless emboldened to lash out in ignorance at anyone who disturbs their vision of the world. The self-confident moral preening of ignoramuses is perhaps an inevitable product of the promotion of "self-esteem" in our schools.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

The biggest problem is, I'm not shocked 

*UPDATED: Reader Bob points out the student dropped out of school rather than fight the charge and possible expulsion. That is correct; I regret the mistake. I fail to see how that makes William & Mary's behavior any more justified.

At William & Mary, which I will remind you is a public school, a male student was accused of rape, named publicly by the administration, and then had all charges dropped. Yet, as Wendy McElroy points out, the student remains expelled withdrawn* from school and the charges are on his student record.
The situation at W&M is more typical of how PC functions on campus: quietly, bureaucratically and against the "little guy." The case is also significant because includes a blueprint of how to break the back of PC power. Namely, uproot the laws and policies through which it bites.
A student newspaper is leading the charge. At a public university, students are to have all the rights that any citizen would have, and indeed the school's student handbook guarantees the student's civil liberties. Sadly, I'm not surprised that the university, in its haste to appear politically correct, ran roughshod over those liberties.


How do we know how the economy is doing? 

By spending money, of course. Do we spend enough to find out? Menzie Chinn takes a look. The key quote:
The cost of skilled/educated labor necessary to gather and analyse the data is going up faster than the overall CPI, but the cost of information and communication technology is going down rapidly. Overarching this discussion is the increasing complexity of the U.S. economy and the interactions with the rest-of-the-world. As many of the previous posts have highlighted, many of the statistics we currently have now are not up to the task of tracking the economy.

But this assumes that all the data we need must be collected by the government. If, say, BLS was shuttered, wouldn't there be another survey that estimated unemployment using private means? It's not like privatization hasn't already happened. Take a look at the history of the NBER, or the privatization of U.S. leading economic indicators.

The question then becomes: is there more private information about the economy now, replacing that which the government has collected?


Black flight 

Katherine Kersten takes her message from the StarTribune to the WSJ this morning, detailing the decline of the Minneapolis public school system, particularly for black parents:
In 1999-2000, district enrollment was about 48,000; this year, it's about 38,600. Enrollment projections predict only 33,400 in 2008. A decline in the number of families moving into the district accounts for part of the loss, as does the relocation of some minority families to inner-ring suburbs. Nevertheless, enrollments are relatively stable in the leafy, well-to-do enclave of southwest Minneapolis and the city's white ethnic northeast. But in 2003-04, black enrollment was down 7.8%, or 1,565 students. In 2004-05, black enrollment dropped another 6%.
Crediting "state's longstanding commitment to school choice," Kersten explains that charter schools and open enrollment have given low-income parents choices, and those parents are choosing charter schools.
While about 1,620 low-income Minneapolis students attend suburban public schools, most of the fleeing minority and low-income students choose charter schools. Five years ago, 1,750 Minneapolis students attended charters; today 5,600 do. In 2000-01, 788 charter students were black; today 3,632 are. Charters are opening in the city at a record pace: up from 23 last year to 28, with 12 or so more in the pipeline.
The column is part of what I see as a concerted effort to take education away from the DFL in Minnesota as their issue. Meanwhile, charters that look more and more like the best private schools are springing up, such as Beacon Preparatory. I have long been concerned about the viability of charter schools, burdened with a great deal of regulation. But Kersten's article indicates that there is a bull market in charter schools, and that demand for them may come from unexpected sources.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Closure, sadly 

The St. Cloud Police Department has confirmed that a body they found in the Mississippi River at 1:30 today was that of missing SCSU student Scot Radel. Scot has been missing for four weeks; after a couple of weeks off, the police decided over the weekend that they would take three days with a special diving team to try one more time to find the body, and looked in the area where footprints that matched the shoe style Scot was wearing were found on the river ice, which was breaking up at that time.

I am happy that they found the body when it was still identifiable, and that the family can now begin closure and seek healing. My prayers and those of the whole community go to the Radel family.

UPDATE (10 pm): The University Chronicle story has plenty of details, including the likelihood that the local police originally looked too far downstream for Scot. The Times report is here.

Discussing spirituality with students 

Where does spirituality fit into a college experience? The latest findings from a continuing national study of spirituality in US higher education, released Tuesday, reveal that faculty views on the subject diverge some from student perspectives.

While 81 percent of faculty consider themselves spiritual persons (and 64 percent call themselves "religious"), only 30 percent agree that "colleges should be concerned with facilitating students' spiritual development." Nearly half of college freshmen in an earlier survey called it "essential" or "very important" for colleges to encourage their personal expression of spirituality.

(source.) The study, by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, will strike some as being a little odd. If spirituality is so important to students, why can't faculty discuss it? 56% of students surveyed (in a pilot, not the full study discussed above) said faculty never provided opportunities to discuss the meaning and purpose of life; 62% said faculty never encourage discussion of spiritual matters.

...findings to date suggest that college students place a premium on their spiritual development and many of them hope�indeed, expect�that the college experience will support them in their spiritual quest.

I guess my view is different because I worship in a mission church. The thing I've decided we Lutherans do worst is talk about faith with others ... and that's even true for this small core of high-commitment people I worship with. It is hard to find places where you can talk about faith; much of what we do in and outside worship service is to discuss what to do when an opportunity appears, and how to be receptive to the opportunity. Then you pray for opportunity, and, well, the Holy Spirit does the rest.

This raises in my mind two problems for the classroom. For some, the classroom is about the subject matter you prepared, the purpose you created: In short, it's about you. But spirituality is seldom about you. It's about your Creator. It is hard to shift focus like that. Second, it's difficult to see where opportunities arise. I know faculty who would never talk about their church activity, yet will happily discuss their family life or off-campus friendships. If what we really do is profess, a word with many definitions, to what extent are we just giving tongue to words and to what extent do we affirm and think and confess? I don't think there is a bright line there.

But it's not anything particularly worrisome that faculty have a hard time with this. Anybody has a hard time with this, and the concerns of not professing faith for fear of offending someone of a different faith, and of course we'll find most faculty want to stay far, far away from the topic.

Nevertheless, we should know that student are expecting us to talk about it. And less than half of faculty agreed with the statement that "the spiritual dimension of faculty members' lives have no place in the academy." So the question is, how to bring it in?


Graph of the day 

Liz is away, but sent me a link to a report on employer costs since 1991 by GAO. This report looks at the comparison of employment costs for wages and salaries and for benefits. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. The report states that benefits growth was even larger for union workers and lower for part-time workers. Real health benefit costs rose 27% over the period (real in this case meaning greater than the rate of inflation) and represents $1.59 per hour for the average worker.

As Daniel Weintraub notes, employer-provided health care is keeping down money wages.


Blogads survey 

Over the last year I have adopted BlogAds for the advertising you see on the right-hand side of this page. I like them; I have been able to completely support the operation of this blog off the ad revenue there so that you never see a Sullivanish cash call here for me. (I'm happy to report the ad revenue has been enough to even allow me to buy a couple of things off eBay for family members, to thank them for letting me play with this thing.)

What they could use help with, though, is a survey they are doing of blog readers, in order to represent to potential advertisers what the market of blogreaders look like. Would you please take the survey? As well, please answer question 23, which will allow me to ask BlogAds for information on the type of people reading the Scholars. Thanks!