Archive for the ‘Education’ Category.

My Philanthropy Idea for Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is apparently crowdsourcing philanthropy ideas from the public at large.  I wish him well, and hope he finds some interesting and useful outlets for his excess cash.  I would however encourage him to find something whose model can grow and still remain robust.  I have found that there are many charitable activities that work great because of the passion and vision of one person, but are not easy to grow (many examples of local successful public school reforms fall in the same category).  If Jeff Bezos gives money, a charity is likely to see a huge increase in resources, both from Bezos's money and, because his decision is going to be public and high-profile, from money from others who donate because Bezos did.

Any decision he makes will likely be more to satisfy his inner need to be involved with something new and different rather than the optimal approach to help the maximum number of people.  Because he is presumably uniquely good a creating businesses, probably the best way for him to maximize the use of his money and time in improving the lives of a maximum number of people is to go start another business.  Certainly Amazon has created value for the rest of us that dwarfs the amount he has earned from it.  Taken another way, via Amazon he has hugely improved the lives of many, many people and in turn taken just a small commission for himself on this value created. He has lowered prices for us, he has saved us time, he has brought us many more choices.  He has created a platform for small businesses to sell their product that they could never duplicate themselves.  He has nearly single-handedly created the self-publishing business and provided an outlet for a ton of new authors (myself included).  He helps keep Apple and Google honest (and vice versa) from his competition with them.

Of course, he is likely tired of doing only this kind of stuff so he wants to do something more traditionally charitable, and that is fine, but I am exhausted with the notion that charity helps people but business and commerce do not.  Learning from this, one decision criteria might be that he looks for something that not only needs his money, but needs his expertise and vision as well.  The latter is likely way more valuable than the former.

If I had a billion dollars for philanthropy, I might start a new university with a totally new approach.  I would call Brian Caplan and I'd see if we could build a curriculum and an entire educational approach out of engaging multiple perspectives on each issue.   Admissions essay question #1:  "Tell us about a time you encountered a perspective or opinion on an issue very different from you own and tell us how you responded."

 

Best Thing I Have Read This Week, From Arnold Kling

From Arnold Kling:

My understanding of post-modernism is based pretty much on what I have read from its critics. What is the best defense of post-modernism that is out there?

These brief two sentences embody nearly everything that has been lost and desperately needs to return to public discourse and in particular to universities.  The equivalent bleg from much of current academia is:

Though I have not read anything he has written, someone is apparently dissenting from my views on post-modernism. Can someone please have him run off campus ASAP, or at least provide me with a safe room wherein I have no chance of his opinions reaching my brain?

Princeton Appears To Penalize Minority Candidates for Not Obsessing About Their Race

Buzzfeed obtained some internal admissions documents from Princeton, and I find them eye-opening, but perhaps not for the reasons others have.   The documents were part of an investigation triggered by several Asian-American students who accused the University of discriminating against them -- a claim I find credible from my own experience interviewing candidates.

There is nothing in the released material than convinces me I was wrong about Asian-American recruiting, but I want to leave that question aside for today and highlight something I have not heard anyone mention about the documents.  I am not sure if they are evidence of discrimination or not, or even if that discrimination really is or should be legal if it existed in a private institution.  But what is very clear is that the admissions department has very particular attitudes about race and ethnicity: it appears that race does not "count" if the student involved hasn't done something to highlight their race.  Or put another way, the admissions folks seem to be penalizing minority candidates for not obsessing about their race.  Here are a few examples:

Of a Hispanic applicant, an admissions officer wrote, “Tough to see putting her ahead of others. No cultural flavor in app.”

“Were there a touch more cultural flavor I'd be more enthusiastic,” one officer wrote of a native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

officers candidly discussed the race of black, Latino, and Native American applicants, often seemingly searching for those who highlighted their racial backgrounds rather than checking off boxes on their Common Applications.

"Nice essays, sweet personality," one admissions officer said of a multiracial applicant. "Bi-racial but not [National Hispanic Recognition Program] and no recognition of her [background] in app by anyone."

When one reader called an applicant's Native American heritage "appealing," the other noted that the only place the boy had mentioned the heritage was in a checkbox on his Common Application. He called himself "a white boy," the admissions officer noted.

I am guessing these are all code words for, "we don't see any race-based activism in this person's past."  So we only want kids who obsess about their race and ethnicity, and perhaps act really angry about it.  We don't want African-Americans or Hispanics or Native Americans who just seem like normal, reasonably happy, well-adjusted smart kids.

I have always been conceptually OK with ethnicity and some element of affirmative action being part of Princeton admissions, but this looks ugly to me.  I also wonder about how this will filter back to high schools.  Already, behaviors in private schools that send a lot of kids to top colleges has been changed over the years by perceptions of college admissions expectations.  There was a wave of thinking years ago that admissions departments liked kids who played musical instruments, so freaking every kid that graduates from elite private schools can play an instrument, though today it probably has no differentiating power (you will still see a few clever kids who find relatively unique instruments like the xylophone or the harpsichord).  Then there was a belief that you needed some sort of unique activity to stand out, and there was a wave of kids who clogged or practiced falconry.  Then the word got out that it was de rigueur to do community service, so everyone checks that box.  I wonder if we are not going to see a wave of private high schools riven with racial strife and activism because kids will feel like the only way their ethnicity will "count" at an Ivy League school is if they take over the headmasters office.  Well, it worked at Princeton, I guess.

Hat tip to Maggie's Farm, who from their link I think noticed the same thing.

Moral Princesses

I liked this term from Bleeding Heart Libertarians.  Perhaps it is common but I have not heard it before.  It seems apt:

Moral Princesses. In “The Princess and the Pea,” the prince believes that real princesses are so sensitive that a single pea place under 25 feet of bedding will disrupt their sleep. The general idea is that real princesses are sensitive to irritations that wouldn’t bother crude commoners.

Expanding on this idea, some people wish to signal that they are, for lack of a better phrase, moral princesses. They are so sensitive to moral concerns that they are enraged by things the rest of us crude commoners do not even notice. By frequently expressing their sensitivity, they thereby prove they are better than everyone else. (See this paper on moral grandstanding for more.)

Regular person: “Mmm, chicken tikka masala is delicious.”
Activist: “I can’t eat that, as doing so makes me complicit in the British colonialist legacy.”

Cultural Appropriation is Progress

I have written before about the absurdity of folks who demand cultural apartheid by hoping to ban what they call "Cultural Appropriation."  Of all the stupid sh*t the is circulated around a deeply broken academia nowadays, this is probably the stupidest.

Take note of this entirely reasonable editorial from an author in Canada.  I think he actually has a great idea:

Hal Niedzviecki, editor of Write — a publication for the union’s members — published an opinion piece in the spring 2017 issue titled “Writer’s Prompt.” In the article, in an issue dedicated to indigenous writing, Niedzviecki wrote: “In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.

“I’d go so far as to say there should even be an award for doing so — the Appropriation Prize for best book by an author who writes about people who aren’t even remotely like her or him.”

He went on to argue that Canadian literature remains “exhaustingly white and middle class” because writers are discouraged from writing about people and places they don’t know.

A sociological term, cultural appropriation is used to describe the adoption of elements or practices of one cultural group by members of another.

This is really a good idea.  I find it amazing that ethnic minorities simultaneously want sympathy for their various victimizations while at the same time don't want anyone imagining what it is like to be them.  So of course the response was to run him out of town on a rail

On Wednesday, the Writer’s Union of Canada issued an apology for the piece, announcing Niedzviecki’s resignation and pledging to review the magazine’s policies.

“The Writer’s Prompt piece offended and hurt readers, contributors to the magazine and members of the editorial board,” said the statement. “We apologize unequivocally. We are in the process of contacting all contributors individually.

Your Academia, At Work -- See What the March on Science Types Consider Science

The same sorts of folks who are smugly marching to promote their strange, religious version of "science" are producing academic studies like this (abstract):

A Semiotic Landscape analysis, whereby a community or environment’s signage is photographed for linguistic and visual analysis, is a useful means of discovering power relationships within that community’s language use. While Semiotic Landscapes and their predecessor, Linguistic Landscapes, are traditionally used to explore differences between dominant and minority languages in a community, this research extends the concept to analyse hegemonic masculinity at a CrossFit gym. It also shifts the analysis from an outdoor landscape to an indoor, more private setting. Using an autoethnographic approach, the author argues that while many of the CrossFit signs are designed to appear as humorous entertainment or motivation, they simultaneously encourage the subordination of women and certain men, and the naturalizing of a particular view of hegemonic masculinity, as embodied by the ideal CrossFit male.

I wonder if the real point was to get her gym membership paid for through a grant?  By the way, for those not in the know on the words used here, "autoethnographic" means "I didn't do any actual research or study or anything one would traditionally consider scholarship, I just sat around and thought about it and then started writing whatever came into my head."  There is little actual difference between autoethnographic research and posting rants on Facebook, except one has to go to school for years and years to be able to drop grand-sounding but essentially meaningless terms like "linguistic landscapes".

I would love to see a study attempting to count the percentage of academic papers in the humanities nowadays that are autoethnographic.  I am trying to imagine having some of the economics professors I know acting as a thesis adviser and trying to sell them on the idea of writing my thesis as autoethnographic research based on how bummed out I am that I keep running out of money before payday.  Hegemonic masculinity is forcing me to dine on two-year-old cans of Spaghetti-Os I found in the back of the pantry!

If you enjoy this sort of thing in a kind of black humor sort of way, I recommend to you @RealPeerReview on twitter.

Take the Pledge: Let's Take A Year Off From Giving To Our Universities

I have written both here and here about my issues with my own University. Many folks are frustrated with the state of college campuses nowadays.  Your issues may be different, but mine include:

  • Lukewarm support for, or even opposition to, free speech
  • Substitution of posturing, virtue signaling, and even violence for dialog and rational discussion
  • Unwillingness to teach students the need to engage opposing points of view
  • Utter lack of intellectual diversity in faculties and administration
  • Absurdly low standards for scholarship in many of the humanities and social sciences, where regurgitating the "right" politics is more important than doing good research
  • Outright discrimination against Asian-Americans in admissions
  • Diversity cultures that have gone beyond nurturing tolerance for all into promoting intolerance against new groups

Despite years of mounting criticism on these issues, the response of many universities to such criticism has not been reform but a doubling down on their illiberal policies.  Shaming is not working and not going to work, for the simple fact that the smug, elite culture that dominates Universities does not consider you and I to be woke enough to credibly criticize them.  The very failing of universities that we are trying to criticize -- that they are promoting a culture of ignoring, no-platforming, and even doing violence against anyone who disagrees with them -- makes them simultaneously immune to criticism.  Anyone who criticizes their actions is automatically someone not worth engaging.

So I am suggesting another approach.  Hit them in the pocketbook.  I know my University carefully monitors alumni giving - both dollars and percentage participation.  Even a five or ten percent drop in a year is going to get their attention.  So just take the pledge -- this year, I am not giving to my school.  Give the money to someone else.  I gave mine to Teach for America, but there are an almost unlimited number of good causes out there that could use your money, likely more productively that your University (which will probably just use your money to add a nicer television to the men's football locker room).

This pledge is carefully crafted both to have impact and not to ask folks for more than they are willing to give.  For example, it stops short of asking folks to stop giving forever.  For a really long time, I loved my alma mater and would like to love it again, and so I couldn't pledge never to support it.  The pledge also stops short of asking folks not to send their kids to such and such school.  College admissions tend to be a one-time shot at age 18, and deferring that chance for a year might close off opportunities forever.  Besides, if your son gets into Yale and can keep his head down for four years (maybe stay celibate?) and avoid the worst of the social justice craziness, the Yale diploma is still really valuable even if he does not learn a thing.

Arizona and the Case For School Choice

From the Arizona Republic:

Five of the nation's top 10 high schools are in Arizona — and they're all branches of the same charter school.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Basis Scottsdale is the nation's top-performing high school, followed by Basis Tucson North and Basis Oro Valley. Basis Peoria and Basis Chandler were ranked fifth and seventh, respectively.

The rankings consider students who exceeded state standards, graduation rates and college preparedness, according to U.S. News.

Two additional Arizona charter schools, along with two "special function" public schools, made the top 100.

Arizona was one of the earliest adopters of charter schools in 1994, and it continues to be at the forefront of school choice. However, the state has some of the lowest school funding and teacher pay in the U.S.

I love that last line.  Makes one question if the obsession on teacher pay and funding for bloated school administrations really is the key to education improvement.  I wonder if when the Arizona Republic writes their inevitable next article on Arizona having lower teacher pay they will add a clause that says "However, the state has five of the nation's 10 top charter schools".

This is a fascinating article and I encourage you to read the whole thing.  The article gives plenty of space to opponents of school choice and charter schools:

[Arizona Education Association President Joe] Thomas said any public school district in Arizona could replicate the Basis model if they were also allowed to work only with a small number of high-achieving students and "force the rest out of your school."

This inference that Basis gets its results by carefully cherry-picking students is undermined by facts from the same article:

There are no entry requirements or exams to get into a Basis school — just a game of luck. An annual lottery determines which new students are accepted.

Already, Basis schools have received 15,000 applications for 1,000 open spots for next school year, Bezanson said.

To be fair, since Basis does not participate in the free school lunch program and the city school bus program won't deliver kids to Basis, there are kids that probably are not able to apply, but again, this is far from a case of cherry-picking.  It is a case of setting very high expectations and expecting kids to achieve that.  Thomas's comment on this reflects the different philosophy of teachers unions vs. school choice folks:

Thomas said Basis schools are great for the small minority of kids who can succeed in the high-pressure environment. But most students don't — and public schools have the expectation to teach all students.

This is partially true, the Basis approach is not right for all kids, but given they have 15 applications for every 1 open lottery spot, it is right for a lot apparently.  But the difference in philosophy is that public school advocates want to force the Basis kids that are able to achieve at a high level into dumbed-down, plodding schools, moving no faster than the lowest common denominator.  School choice advocates, on the other hand, also acknowledge this difference, but rather than enforcing a one-size-fits-all public solution, advocate for a thousand flowers to bloom with many different school solutions.

There are many other charter schools in town that do a great job with kids of different needs.  My wife and I support a Teach for America teacher at a charter school in South Phoenix.  The kids in her class are mostly all Hispanic, many have parents that do not speak English and a high percentage are on the school lunch program.  These kids may not be quite at the Basis level, but they out-achieve most of the Phoenix public school system and are well beyond what kids from similar demographics are doing in local government schools.

Why I Quit Recruiting for Princeton

Princeton, like many top Universities, requires a face to face interview of every candidate.  They do this mostly through their alumni network.  I volunteered for this effort for well over a decade, and it was fun to meet and talk to a lot of bright kids.

However, it was becoming clear to me that Asians, with the same qualifications, had a much worse chance of getting in than other similar kids of other ethnicities.   I started getting Asian kids asking me about this and I had some canned answer from the University to give them, but that answer looked like BS to me.  I felt like I was being asked to lie if I told Asian kids they did not face discrimination in the process.

So I quit.  Princeton is a private institution (though it accepts a lot of public money) so I suppose it can pick candidates any way it wants, but that does not mean I have to act as an agent for them if I disagree with what they are doing.

The WSJ has a follow-up today on a couple of cases being made by Asians against Princeton and Harvard admissions:

In 2006 Jian Li filed a complaint with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights after he was denied admission to Princeton University. Mr. Li, who emigrated from China at age 4, had a perfect score on the SAT and graduated in the top 1% of his high school class. He alleged that Princeton violated civil-rights laws banning discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin. The complaint was initially rejected, but Mr. Li appealed and the government reopened the investigation in 2008. Seven years later, in 2015, the Obama administration, which strongly supported the use of racial preferences in college admissions and obviously took its sweet time reviewing Mr. Li’s case, issued a report exonerating Princeton.

Last year Mr. Blum’s organization filed a public records Freedom of Information Act request with the Education Department to gain access to the same documents that the federal government used to clear Princeton of any wrongdoing. Mr. Blum’s organization represents a group of Asian plaintiffs who are suing Harvard University over its admissions policies. The judge in that case has ordered Harvard to turn over six years of admissions records, and Mr. Blum suspects that the data will show that Harvard is unlawfully capping Asian enrollment.

America’s Asian population has exploded in recent decades, and Asian attendance at highly selective schools with colorblind admissions, such the California Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, reflects this demographic trend. At Harvard, however, the percentage of Asian undergrads has remained remarkably consistent for an institution that claims race is not a determining factor in who is admitted. Mr. Blum suspects that Princeton engages in similar shenanigans, but the school has been pressuring the Education Department to deny him the information that he requested more than a year ago.

Concerned that the government was finally going to fulfill the FOIA request, Princeton sued the Education Department on March 17 to block the release of the admissions documents. The suit argues that the material being sought is exempt from FOIA, a claim that the government has rejected. The school also maintains that releasing the data would compromise student privacy, and it likened its admissions process to “trade secrets” that, if exposed, would put Princeton at a competitive disadvantage in attracting students.

Don’t believe it. Admissions officers switch schools all the time, presumably taking knowledge of admissions procedures with them, and the criteria used by elite institutions to evaluate applicants is not the equivalent of an iPhone patent. Nor is student privacy an issue since names, addresses and other personal information can be redacted. Mr. Blum’s organization simply wants the number of Asians who have applied to Princeton, their SAT scores and grade-point averages, and other information that the school used to analyze applicants academically.

What really concerns Princeton is a potential discrimination lawsuit. What ought to concern the rest of us is the apparent determination of elite colleges to punish Asians students for their academic success. Asians have long been the forgotten victims of liberal affirmative-action schemes, subject to unwritten “just for Asian” admissions standards that recall the treatment of Jews in the first half of the 20th century. Princeton wants them to shut up about it. Let’s hope they don’t.

I will say that the act of turning down a perfect SAT is not limited just to Asians, so I don't take that as necessarily proof of discrimination.   Harvard and Princeton (and I suppose other Ivies but I really only know something about these two) seem to take a perverse pleasure in turning down perfect SATs.  I don't have the facts, but I wouldn't be surprised if the admit rate for kids with SAT's one notch short of perfect is better than those with perfect SATs.

My evidence of discrimination is based on years of actually meeting the kids, seeing their scores and resumes, and talking to them about their activities and passions -- and comparing who gets in and who does not.  And, of course, one merely has to look at the percentage of kids with Asian heritage at Princeton and compare it to universities like Berkeley that have color-blind admissions systems.

Kudos to Robert George and Cornel West

I have criticized Princeton on a number of occasions, but it deserves credit for hosting this statement on free speech and engaging contrary opinion from Cornel West and Robert George (who used to teach a class together at Princeton).

Arnold Kling's Observations on Education

All these observations are good, but I will give you the first three:

1. The U.S. leads the world in health care spending per person, but not in health care outcomes. Many people look at that and say that health care costs too much in the U.S., and we should be able to get the same our better outcomes by sending less. Maybe that is correct, maybe not. That is not the point here. But–

2. the U.S. leads the world in K-12 education spending per student, but not in student outcomes. Yet nobody, says that education costs too much and that we should spend less. Except–

3. me. I believe that we spend way too much on K-12 educatio

Why We Need School Choice, in One Chart

In 1973, when Ford was rolling out such losers as the Pinto and the Mustang II, would the cars have been any better if the Ford designers had, say, a budget twice as large?  Or would the same people have continued to roll out the same bad cars, just more expensively, until competition from Japan and Europe forced American car makers to get their act together?

If you have not been to a Sears store lately, and you have lots of company.  If you do not shop at Sears, think about why.  Now, imagine that Sears were to double the number of employees in their local store.  Would that change your mind and suddenly send you into the store to shop?  No?

There are times when everything about an organization is broken -- its management, its culture, its strategy.  These organizations may have perfectly good people in them -- I have no doubt that the folks at Ford in the 1970's were capable people, as are the employees at my local Sears store.   I call all these factors "organizational DNA".  This is from years ago about a corporate example, but the same is true of any organization:

All these management factors, from the managers themselves to process to history to culture could better be called the corporate DNA.  And DNA is very hard to change.  Walmart may be freaking brilliant at what they do, but demand that they change tomorrow to an upscale retailer marketing fashion products to teenage girls, and I don't think they would ever get there.  ...

Corporate DNA acts as a value multiplier.  The best corporate DNA has a multiplier greater than one, meaning that it increases the value of the people and physical assets in the corporation.  When I was at a company called Emerson Electric (an industrial conglomerate, not the consumer electronics guys) they were famous in the business world for having a corporate DNA that added value to certain types of industrial companies through cost reduction and intelligent investment.  Emerson's management, though, was always aware of the limits of their DNA, and paid careful attention to where their DNA would have a multiplier effect and where it would not.  Every company that has ever grown rapidly has had a DNA that provided a multiplier greater than one... for a while.

But things change.  Sometimes that change is slow, like a creeping climate change, or sometimes it is rapid, like the dinosaur-killing comet.  DNA that was robust no longer matches what the market needs, or some other entity with better DNA comes along and out-competes you.  When this happens, when a corporation becomes senescent, when its DNA is out of date, then its multiplier slips below one.  The corporation is killing the value of its assets.  Smart people are made stupid by a bad organization and systems and culture.  In the case of GM, hordes of brilliant engineers teamed with highly-skilled production workers and modern robotic manufacturing plants are turning out cars no one wants, at prices no one wants to pay.

I would argue that public schools in many parts of the country are in this situation.  Any organization can become senescent with value-killing DNA, but this process happens much more rapidly when there is no competition, as has been the case for public schools which have enjoyed a virtual monopoly enforced by the government (you can go to a competing school but you still have to pay for the government school you are not using).

If I am right, then the last thing you would expect to help is simply pouring more money into the same management, the same culture, the same organizational DNA.  But that is exactly what we have done.  That has been our lead strategy for 35 years, and still remains the preferred strategy of the Left.  Via Mark Perry:

Despite this history, President Obama's strategy was to throw even more money at the schools, and again it did not work:

One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.

Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.

The Education Department published the findings on the website of its research division on Wednesday, hours before President Obama’s political appointees walked out the door.

“We’re talking about millions of kids who are assigned to these failing schools, and we just spent several billion dollars promising them things were going to get better,” said Andy Smarick, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has long been skeptical that the Obama administration’s strategy would work. “Think of what all that money could have been spent on instead.”

One will hear that criticism of public schools in unfair because they have all these great teachers in them.  Examples will be cited.   I say:  "Exactly!"  That is why change is needed.  Public schools are hiring good people and putting them in an organization and system where they deliver poor results.  Let's liberate this talent.

By the way, one of the misconceptions about school choice is that it necessarily means the end of public schools.  I find this an unlikely outcome, at least in most areas.  Competition from Japan meant that Ford lost some of its customers to Toyota, but it also meant that Ford became a lot better.

 

 

 

Update on My Letter to Princeton

Part of what I wrote to Princeton:

left-leaning kids ... today can sail through 16 years of education without ever encountering a contrary point of view. Ironically, it is kids on the Left who are being let down the most, raised intellectually as the equivalent of gazelles in a petting zoo rather than wild on the Serengeti.

Princeton gazelle student writing in the Daily Princetonian:

In the morning, I woke up to a New York Times news alert and social media feeds filled with disappointment. The United States had democratically elected a man who, among so many other despicable qualities and policies, is accused of and boasts about committing sexual assault. As a woman passionate about gender equality, women’s leadership, and ending sexual violence; as someone dedicated to the Clinton campaign and ready to make history; and, quite frankly, as a human being, I didn’t know how to process this. I still don’t. I felt for my friends and anyone who feels that this result puts their safety and their loved ones’ safety at risk, acknowledging that I am not the person this outcome will affect the most.

I didn’t leave my room Wednesday morning. I sat and sobbed and I still have the tissues all over my floor to prove it. When I absolutely had to get up for class, I put on my “Dare to say the F-word: Feminism” t-shirt and my “A woman belongs in the House and the Senate” sweatshirt to make myself feel stronger. Still crying, I left my room.

After hearing the election results, I had expected that the vandal would have torn down my angry note or left some snide comment. To my surprise, it was still there, and people had left supportive notes beside it. I have no idea whether the vandal is a Trump supporter or a misguided prankster unable to fathom the negative impact that a Trump presidency will have on so many people. But I know that the love and kindness others anonymously left gave me the support I needed Wednesday morning.

In every election since I was about 18 years old, I woke up on the day after the election to a President-elect I did not support, one who championed policies I thought to be misguided or even dangerous.   But I had the mental health to go on with my life;  and I had the knowledge, from a quality western history education (which no longer seems to be taught in high school or at Princeton), that our government was set up to be relatively robust to bad presidents; and I had the understanding, because I ate and drank and went to class and lived with many other students with whom I disagreed (rather than hiding in rubber room safe spaces created by my tribe), that supporters of other political parties were not demons, but were good and well-intentioned people with whom I disagreed.

The Higher Education Monoculture

I have written before that many universities have focused on creating true diversity of skin pigments and reproductive plumbing among their students but in their primary world of ideas, have created an intellectual monoculture.  If you don't believe it, check out this quote from a Yale dean in the Yale Daily News.

Despite ongoing campus discussions about free speech, Yale remains deeply unwelcoming to students with conservative political beliefs, according to a News survey distributed earlier this month.

Nearly 75 percent of 2,054 respondents who completed the survey — representing views across the political spectrum — said they believe Yale does not provide a welcoming environment for conservative students to share their opinions on political issues. Among the 11.86 percent of respondents who described themselves as either “conservative” or “very conservative,” the numbers are even starker: Nearly 95 percent said the Yale community does not welcome their opinions. About two-thirds of respondents who described themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal” said Yale is not welcoming to conservative students.

...

By contrast, more than 98 percent of respondents said Yale is welcoming to students with liberal beliefs. And among students who described themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal,” 85 percent said they are “comfortable” or “very comfortable” sharing their political views in campus discussions.

In an interview with the News, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway said the results of the survey were lamentable but unsurprising. Holloway attributed conservative students’ discomfort at sharing their views partly to the pervasiveness of social media.

“So much of your generation’s world is managed through smart phones. There’s no margin anymore for saying something stupid,” Holloway said. “People have been saying dumb things forever, but when I was your age word of mouth would take a while. Now it’s instantaneous, now context is stripped away.

So the reason Conservatives have a problem at Yale, according to the Yale administration, is that Yale people don't tolerate folks who are stupid.  LOL.  The Dean later tried to back away from this statement, arguing that he did not mean Conservatives said stupid things, but his comments don't make any sense in any other context.

The institution is certainly hurt by this sort of narrow-mindedness.  It is more of a mixed bag for students.  While Conservatives are certainly frustrated they are frequently not allowed to bring speakers from their side of political issues to campus, there is potentially a silver lining.  As I wrote previously in my letter to Princeton:

I suppose I should confess that this has one silver lining for my family. My son just graduated Amherst College, and as a libertarian he never had a professor who held similar views. This means that he was constantly challenged to defend his positions with faculty and students who at a minimum disagreed, and in certain cases considered him to be a pariah. In my mind, he likely got a better education than left-leaning kids who today can sail through 16 years of education without ever encountering a contrary point of view. Ironically, it is kids on the Left who are being let down the most, raised intellectually as the equivalent of gazelles in a petting zoo rather than wild on the Serengeti,.

Why I Don't Donate To My University Anymore -- A Recent Letter to Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber

Christopher L. Eisgruber
1 Nassau Hall
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544

Mr. Eisgruber:

The other day I received a call from a Princeton student calling to encourage me to participate in annual giving this year. I was in a hurry, and I feel bad that I gave the student a rushed answer, but I told him that I thought universities were lost and that I no longer had any desire to donate money to any of them. The word “lost” is admittedly imprecise, but it was the best I could to summarize my concerns in a brief call.

When I was at Princeton, we used to laugh at those crotchety alumni who wrote angry letters about Princeton letting in women, or integrating the all-male eating clubs, or whatever else. I never imagined that someday I would find myself writing one of those “I can't donate to Princeton any more” letters, yet here I am doing just that.

Continue reading ‘Why I Don't Donate To My University Anymore -- A Recent Letter to Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber’ »

Three Reasons Why More Money Does Not Translate Into Better Education

  1.  There is absolutely no guarantee that spending more money increases service quality, especially when (as is the case with public schools) there is no competition to discipline spending and ensure that it is funneled to those aspects of the service that are actually important to customers
  2. Over the last 20-30 years, administrative staffing in public schools has grown from a small percentage of the total to about half the headcount in many public school districts, and thus likely more than half the salary budget (since administrators frequently make more than teachers)
  3. Much of the increased funding is going to retired teachers who aren't actually teaching anyone

Per-student spending on K-12 education has risen steadily over the last two decades, but student test scores, and teacher salaries, are stagnant. Why hasn’t this massive increase in investment produced better teachers and better opportunity for students? The short-answer, according to a new Manhattan Institute report by Josh McGee: State and local governments have catastrophically mismanaged their teacher pension systems. The cash infusion to K-12 has been used largely to pay for irresponsible pension promises politicians made to teachers’ unions and justified to the public with shoddy accounting. . . .

In other words, to cover benefits for retirees, states need to dig into education funds that might otherwise be used to attract and retain good teachers or buy better textbooks and build new facilities. So long as state governments are unwilling to reform the blue model pension-for-life civil service system, and so long as teachers unions continue to wield outsized influence in so many state legislatures, this pattern seems likely to continue indefinitely.

Campaigns to increase spending on schools are always popular, and understandably so: Education ought to be a great equalizing force in our society and, in theory, an efficient way to invest in the future. The problem is that in many states, new “K-12 spending” isn’t really an investment so much as a transfer payment to retired employees of the public schools who have been promised untenable lifetime pension benefits.

Being A Victim Apparently Has More Status Now Than Being A Gold Medal Winner -- Ryan Lochte Channels "Jackie"

There appears to be no rational way to explain Ryan Lochte's bizarre need to make up a story about being the victim of an armed robbery.  The media seems to be pushing the notion that he made up the story to cover up his own vandalism at a gas station, but that makes zero sense.  He had already defused the vandalism incident with a payment of cash to the station owner.  The rational response would be to just shut up about the whole thing and let it be forgotten.

But instead, he purposely made a big deal about the incident, switching around the facts until he was a victim of an armed assault by men posing as police officers, up to and including harrowing details of a cocked gun being jammed into his forehead.  The incident, likely ignored otherwise, suddenly became a BIG DEAL and subsequent investigation (including multiple video sources) showed Lochte to be a bald-faced liar.

The only way I can explain Lochte's motivation is to equate it with the lies by "Jackie" at the University of Virginia, whose claims of being gang-raped as published in the Rolling Stone turned out to be total fabrications.  Like Lochte, she dressed up the story with horrifying details, such as being thrown down and raped on a floor covered in broken glass.  The only real difference I can see, in fact, between Lochte and Jackie  is that the media still protects Jackie (via anonymity) from well-deserved humiliation for her lies while it is piling on Lochte.

I can sort of understand Jackie's motivation -- she was by all accounts a frustrated, perhaps disturbed, certainly lonely young woman who was likely looking for some way to dramatically change her life.  But Lochte?  Ryan Lochte has won multiple Olympic medals, historically in the sports world a marker of the highest possible status.  But in today's world, Lochte viewed victimhood as even higher status.

Update:  This is probably the fairest account of the whole incident.

Anatomy of Activism

There is one thing that activists can never, ever do:  declare victory and go out of business.   For activists, their chosen problem is always worse than ever and continuing to go downhill.

Here is an example, the book "Failing at Fairness," written in 1994 to make the case that education was failing girls.  Here is one summary of the book:

Drawing on findings from 20 years of research on sexism in American classrooms, this book examines the history of women's education and its shortcomings. The hidden curriculum, the effect of gender bias on self-esteem, test results, and professional orientation of girls from primary education through college were examined through naturalistic observation. The results suggest that girls are systematically denied opportunities in areas where boys are encouraged to excel, often by well-meaning teachers who are unaware that they are transmitting sexist values. Girls are taught to speak quietly, to defer to boys, to avoid math and science, and to value neatness over innovation, appearance over intelligence. In the early grades, girls, brimming with intelligence and potential, routinely outperform boys on achievement tests, but by the time they graduate from high school they lag far behind boys--a process of degeneration that continues into adulthood.

All of this will seem familiar, as women's groups typically claim that things have gotten worse on all of these fronts since 1994.   I have no doubt that these flaws exist, along with many others, in the government education system.  You certainly won't get me defending the public schools.  But I thought of this book today when I saw the chart below from Mark Perry, which I annotated with the publication date for Failing at Fairness:

college-degrees-annotated

It takes some work to look at this situation and decide that the main issue you want to highlight is how girls are getting hosed. But trust an activist to be up to the task.

Postscript:  This seems relevant (it has been around the net for a while, so I don't know what source to link, sorry)

stemwomen

What's The Deal With the State of New York and Free Speech?

Sorry, I am a bit late on this but it came out while I was out of the country.  While the New York AG is going after ExxonMobil and a number of think tanks to try to prosecute them, or at least intimidate them, for their past speech on climate issues, apparently the state of New York is also going after college students who want to boycott Israel.

I have never thought much of the BDS movement -- while like most western governments Israel certainly has its flaws, I find it bizarre that the BDS movement treats Israel like it's the worst government on Earth.  In particular, I am amazed that BDS folks frequently, while they condemn Israel, act as apologists for neighboring Arab nations whose human rights records are objectively far worse.

All that being said, if they don't want to have anything to do with Israel and want to advocate for others to take the same approach, they are welcome to do so in a free country.  But now there is this:

Continuing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's crusade against New Yorkers who don't support Israel, state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Nassau County) wants to ban public colleges and universities from funding pro-Palestinian student groups. A new bill sponsored by Martins would require state and city schools to defund any campus organization that supports efforts to "boycott, divest from, and sanction" (BDS) Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. The BDS movement has become popular on U.S. and U.K. campuses.

Martins' bill would also prohibit the funding of campus groups that support economic boycotts of any American-allied nation, although this bit seems designed to distract from his true goal: preventing anti-Israel sentiment on campus. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Martins referred to calls to boycott Israel as "hate speech" and "anti-Semitism" and said the state legislature has "no choice but to step in and prevent taxpayer dollars being used to promote" such sentiment.

If a state institution is going to fund student groups, then it needs to do so in a viewpoint neutral manner.

The only teeny tiny good part of this story is that perhaps a few campus Leftists who want to ban everything that they consider hate speech might have an epiphany that giving the government this sort of power is a bad idea, since one can never guarantee that one's own fellow travelers are going to be writing the hate speech definitions.

Incredibly, Not A Single University Has Challenged This On Their Own

FIRE is looking for a client (University or aggrieved student) whom it can help sue the Department of Education over their sexual misconduct guidance

Five years ago today, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced sweeping new requirements for colleges and universities adjudicating allegations of sexual misconduct. By unilaterally issuing these binding mandates via a controversial “Dear Colleague” letter (DCL), OCR ignored its obligation under federal law to notify the public of the proposed changes and solicit feedback.

To correct this error, and to begin to fix a broken system of campus sexual assault adjudication that regularly fails all involved, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) seeks a student or institution to challenge OCR’s abuse of power. FIRE has made arrangements to secure legal counsel for a student or institution harmed by OCR’s mandates and in a position to challenge the agency’s violation of the Administrative Procedure Act(APA). In keeping with FIRE’s charitable mission to advance the public interest, representation will be provided at no cost to the harmed party.

“In the five years since its issuance, OCR has acted as though the 2011 Dear Colleague letter is binding law—but it isn’t,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “By circumventing federal law, OCR ignored all stakeholders: victims, the accused, civil liberties advocates, administrators, colleges, law enforcement, and the general public. Real people’s lives are being irreparably harmed as a result. It’s time that OCR be held accountable.”

The DCL requires that schools use the low “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof (i.e., that they find an accused student guilty with just 50.01 percent certainty) when adjudicating claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The DCL’s requirement that colleges use this standard—found nowhere in Title IX or its implementing regulations, and specified before 2011 only in letters between OCR and individual schools—effectively creates a new substantive rule for institutions to follow.

Here is what is amazing to me:  Not a single university has challenged this rule, even though trashes the due process rights of is male students.  These same universities had no problem defying the law on things like ROTC and army recruiting (which represent mostly voluntary enticements of their students) but have rolled over and played dead over this much more direct threat to their students' well-being.

Brown vs. Board of Education, 1954-2016

University "Diversity"

Universities are, at their core, institutions based on knowledge and ideas.  So of course, when they define diversity, they make no mention of knowledge or ideas but instead focus on skin pigmentation, reproductive plumbing, and preference in sexual partners.  All the while, actual diversity of ideas, at least as measured by political affiliation, has gone down.  For libertarians and conservatives, most would argue this understates the decline and would argue actual tolerance for non-left-of-center ideas has declined even faster than this chart would indicate. (via Kevin Drum)

blog_faculty_ideology

Actually, Glenn, University Presidents Should Have Done This

Glenn Reynolds points to this story about Senator James Lankford challenging the Department of Education's "Dear Colleague" letters under the Administrative Procedures Act.  Lankford argues that the letters, which essentially end due process on campus for men accused of any sort of sexual misconduct from telling dirty jokes to rape in the name of Title IX enforcement, represent a new regulation that should have been subject to official publication and public comment.

Instapundit says that Marco Rubio should have done this, rather than taking the DEA's side.  Fair enough, but I have what I think is a better question -- why has not one single major university President brought a legal challenge against these letters?  Many of them complain, at least in private, and the letters certainly appear to me to be an illegal overreach.  But they all just rolled over and accepted it -- college Presidents all have become total lapdogs of the state.  They tend to preen that they and their universities are "leaders", but I would argue that they are leaders only in the sense that a random guy standing on a boxcar of a moving train and pointing forward is the leader of the train.

You want leadership?  Show me the first college President that formally rewrites their admission process to say "a minimum entry requirement will be the ability to maturely listen and respond to differing opinions without needing to crawl into and hide in a room full of stuffed animals and coloring books."

Postscript:  From Lois McMaster Bujold's Komarr

"People have some very odd illusions about power.  Mostly it consists of finding a parade and nipping over to place yourself at the head of the band.  Just as eloquence consists of persuading people of things they desperately want to believe.  Demagoguery, I suppose, is eloquence sliding to some least-moral energy point.... Pushing people uphill is one hell of a lot harder.  You can break your heart, trying that."

It is weird to say that Bujold gets underrated, given all her awards, but I think she does -- in large part because her books are fun and enjoyable to read rather than gravid and soul-sucking, as seems to be the current SF fashion.

Support Frank Lloyd Wright / Taliesin Architecture Students

It is a tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West architecture school (in Scottsdale, AZ) that students build their own small shelter in the desert.  I am a fan of Dan Simmons' Hyperion series.  If any of you read it, perhaps you remember the section where Aenea is at some strange out-of-time version of this school.  Following the real-world tradition, she builds her own dwelling in the desert.

These are not necessarily cardboard box and plywood forts -- many are real engineered structures whose materials can be expensive (the students do most of the building with their own hands).  I wish more architecture schools emphasized their students actually constructing some of their own work.

The students are looking for your help to support their projects, and have a Kickstarter campaign in progress.

The video below shows what they are doing:

As an aside, if you are in Phoenix, I would put Taliesin West as one of the top 2 places to tour in town, along with the Musical Instrument Museum.   Phoenix of course is much more of an outdoor town.  The very top thing to do in town, not just to tour, is probably to climb Camelback Mountain or Piestawa peak.  Both are mountains dead in the middle of the city, something that is relatively unusual (in Denver, Portland, Seattle, etc the mountains are off to one side).  The views are spectacular, and there is no funicular or cable car.  The view only rewards effort.

A Terrible Example of Potential Speech Suppression

A group of Harvard Law professors wrote an editorial a while back criticizing parts of the movie "A Hunting Ground" -- a movie that from every thing I have seen offers a pretty fertile ground for criticism.   Now, it appears that makers of the movie are considering using Title IX to suppress this criticism they don't like, arguing that since they are (to them) obviously the defenders of women, anyone who criticizes them must be attacking women.  Suffice it to say that this is pretty far afield from what Title IX was meant to accomplish.

One of the professors, Jeannie Suk wrote in the New Yorker:

But last week the filmmakers did more than understandably disagree with criticism of the film, which has been short-listed for the Academy Award for best documentary. They wrote, in a statement to the Harvard Crimson, that “the very public bias these professors have shown in favor of an assailant contributes to a hostile climate at Harvard Law.” The words “hostile climate” contain a serious claim. At Harvard, sexual harassment is “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including verbal conduct that is “sufficiently persistent, pervasive, or severe” so as to create a “hostile environment.” If, as the filmmakers suggest, the professors’ statement about the film has created a hostile environment at the school, then, under Title IX, the professors should be investigated and potentially disciplined.

To my knowledge, no complaint of sexual harassment has been filed with Harvard’s Title IX office—though I’ve been told by a high-level administrator that several people have inquired about the possibility—and I don’t know if the school would proceed with an investigation. Precedent for such an investigation exists in the case of Laura Kipnis, a feminist film-studies professor at Northwestern University, who earlier this year wrote an article criticizing aspects of Title IX policies and culture and was accused of creating a hostile environment on campus; Northwestern conducted an investigation and ultimately cleared Kipnis of sexual-harassment charges. A handful of students have said that they feel unsafe at Harvard because of the professors’ statement about the film. If a Title IX complaint were filed and an investigation launched, the professors wouldn’t be permitted to speak about it, as that could be considered “retaliation” against those who filed the complaint, which would violate the campus sexual-harassment policy.

It's Stalinists all the way down.