Archive for the ‘Education’ Category.

The Ideological Turing Test: How to Be Less Wrong

If you plotted my "certainty" curve over time, it probably hit a low point in high school, climbed to peaks during college and just afterwards, slid over time as my face got pressed up against the glass of the real world, and dropped even lower when I discovered RSS readers and put a wide variety of feeds into it.  That is not to say I am not confident -- at least as long as we are talking about intellectual and not social skills -- but I am more open to being wrong than I have been since I was about 18.  I am fairly sure I still greatly overestimate my own correctness.

I was thinking a while back about why I perceived myself to have had this period in high school when I was less certain of my infallibility.  One reason had to be my finally coming to terms with nagging questions about the religion I grew up with.  Another was probably due to high school debate, where after vociferously defending a policy position for an hour one immediately had to walk into another room and defend the opposite side.  Even then high school debate was becoming broken, but being forced to argue both sides of every issue was a great experience.

All this is an introduction to a nice work by Charles Chu called "The Ideological Turing Test: How to Be Less Wrong."  It is hard to excerpt, because it covers a lot of ground, but I wish in retrospect my high school had printed something like this on my locker door.  If I had a billion dollars and wanted to found a new university**, I would make the ideological Turing test the core of the educational philosophy.  Think of what goes on in colleges nowadays and being a professor and saying "OK, class half over.  Nice discussion.  Now everyone switch sides."***

 

** Name a major private university with a national reputation or that your friends' kids have considered attending that was founded after 1900.  I can come up with only a couple: Rice University in Houston and several of the Claremont Colleges (e.g. Claremont-McKenna) in California.  Only one school in the Ivy League is less than 250 years old. Most folks can perhaps name one in their local city (ie Grand Canyon University here in Phoenix) that is newer but does not have a national reputation.  I guess that it could take a while to develop a national reputation, but 100 years?  Really?  In the art school world (which aren't generally considered universities) I can name at least 4 schools with a national reputation (at least in the art world) that were founded much more recently, several in my lifetime (SCAD, Ringling, Art Center, Cal Arts).

*** I did very well at Harvard Business School, better than I have done at anything else in my life (they did not have class ranks but I was pretty damn close to #1 out of 900, after being literally the last person they let in off the waiting list).  It helped that I love the format and loved the subject matter.  Also, to be honest it helped that I could do math (which held back half the class but led to my marrying someone I was tutoring) and that English was my first language (I had great respect for foreign students who even attempted to survive the case method in a second language).  But the real trick to success was to shine in the discussions, which were 70% or so of the grade.  And I did so with a simple trick.  I watched the discussion, and jumped in on whatever side was losing or had the fewest supporters, irregardless of what I might believe.  Not only was this a ton of fun, but it was appreciated by the professors -- they did not want to intervene in a discussion but felt like they had to if the argument got too unbalanced.  I took all kinds of positions against my true beliefs.  I argued that the only mistake "neutron" Jack Welch made at GE was not firing more people.  I slammed Steinway for ignoring new technology and fetishizing hand craftsmanship.  And I convinced everyone I must hate Canada when I opened a rant on the nation with "Canada is like a whole other state," riffing off the then-current Texas travel ad that said "Texas: It's Like A Whole Other Country."  I am not sure how one would do such a thing today when comments in class are seen more as virtue-signalling to your crowd than they are thought-out policy positions, and when taking the "wrong" side, even as an intellectual exercise, can lead to nationwide social media shaming.  By the way, my keys to succeeding at HBS are embedded in my novel BMOC, currently free on Kindle.

Good For Princeton

This is great news from my alma mater, which I have criticized in the past:

Much of the news regarding free speech on campus is enough to make anyone despair. Year after year more people and ideas are muzzled.

But some very heartening news of late comes from Princeton. Due largely to a new book promoting free speech by Princeton University political scientist Keith Whittington and the unusual support and campus-wide promotion of the book by Princeton’s president Chris Eisgruber, Princeton is now in the forefront of those American colleges and universities that have said “stop” to the onslaught of thuggish campus militants intent on shutting down free speech. This latest development comes on the heels of several other very positive developments on the free-speech front at Princeton.

Three years ago, in April of 2015, the governing board of the faculty at Princeton adopted the main body of what has come to be known as the Chicago Principles of free speech and free expression. Originally drawn up by a committee of the University of Chicago chaired by law professor Geoffrey R. Stone, these principles condemned the suppression of views no matter how “offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed [they may appear] by some or even by most members of the University community.”

Wow, Public Schools Must REALLY Suck

The title was my first thought when I saw this over at Kevin Drum's:

The Gates Foundation has spent about $200 million since 2010—in addition to other sources who kicked in about $400 million—on an education initiative designed to increase student performance:

The school sites agreed to design new teacher-evaluation systems that incorporated classroom-observation rubrics and a measure of growth in student achievement. They also agreed to offer individualized professional development based on teachers’ evaluation results, and to revamp recruitment, hiring, and placement. Schools also implemented new career pathways for effective teachers and awarded teachers with bonuses for good performance.

They helped out all teachers; fired bad teachers; promoted good teachers; and paid bonuses to effective teachers. So how did it work out?...

Long story short, there was no improvement at all in student achievement, despite the fact that funding was far greater than it would be in any real-life reform of this nature. There may have been some other successes in this program, but if the ultimate goal is better students, it was a complete failure. Whatever the answer is, rewarding good teachers and firing bad ones sure doesn’t seem to be it.

The organizations around these teachers must really suck because no reasonable person would expect that, in a service business, increasing employee accountability and upgrading the employee base would have no effect on customer service.

I have written before about how bad, senescent organizations destroy the value of good employees.  For example, in the context of the General Motors bankruptcy:

A corporation has physical plant (like factories) and workers of various skill levels who have productive potential.  These physical and human assets are overlaid with what we generally shortcut as "management" but which includes not just the actual humans currently managing the company but the organization approach, the culture, the management processes, its systems, the traditions, its contracts, its unions, the intellectual property, etc. etc.  In fact, by calling all this summed together "management", we falsely create the impression that it can easily be changed out, by firing the overpaid bums and getting new smarter guys.  This is not the case - Just ask Ross Perot.  You could fire the top 20 guys at GM and replace them all with the consensus all-brilliant team and I still am not sure they could fix it.

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.  ...

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.

Postscript:  From some experience with private schools, I would say the biggest difference is that private schools set higher expectations.  Even starting in kindergarten, my kids were doing WAY more advanced work than in public schools.  I understand that public schools are public and thus tasked with teaching everyone, so there is pressure to pace the work to the slowest student.  But the slow pace of public school starts even in the early grades before the school reasonably knows who the slowest kids are.  Public schools that have low expectations for student performance are not going to be suddenly improved by better teachers.  Putting Gordon Ramsey behind the counter at a Long John Silver fast food restaurant is not going to make the food suck any less.

The Wrong Way To Educate: How I Would Have Handled the Pictures of White Dudes at Harvard Medical School

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School, is going to remove pictures of medical luminaries from the walls of its auditorium because they are mostly all white guys.  Now, I don't really get freaked out about this the way some folks seem to.  I can totally understand why a University might not want to give the message to an incoming class that they somehow need to look like those pictures to be successful.  But I am exhausted with the notion that the way to handle uncomfortable things in society or in history is to hide them from students.  This seems the opposite of education.  I have had several great teachers in my life who would use uncomfortable facts as a springboard for learning.

I can't necessarily match the teaching greats, but here is how I might handle it.  Imagine a speech to an incoming group of Harvard Medical Students in this auditorium.

Welcome!  And congratulations!  All of you have followed very different paths to get here, but the one common denominator is that every one of you has the demonstrated intellectual and personal excellence required to meet the rigorous standards of this institution.  As I look around today, I see an incredible diversity of people -- a diversity of genders and ethnicities and home countries and family incomes but who all share in common the desire to help mankind through medicine.

If you look around the room you will see a bunch of paintings of medical luminaries who all made great contributions to medicine and this institution, and in the process helped save lives and make the world a better place.  But the odds are that you will also notice that the men -- and they are all men -- may not look like you.  There is a reason for that.

The issue is not that these 30 men should not be on this wall -- they all made important contributions to the study of medicine and everything you study over the next 4 years will build in part on their work.  The issue is not with these pictures, but the ones that are missing.  For every one of these pictures there should be at least one more of a woman or a person of color.  But those pictures are missing.  Even worse, the contributions of those people are missing.  They are missing because our world, our country, and even this institution made it difficult or impossible for brilliant people who were not white and male to reach the place where you are all sitting.  Medicine -- and our society -- are far poorer for this loss.

There are those who have suggested that we take down these pictures and hide this legacy from you.  These people have good intentions and want to avoid demotivating people who might look at these paintings and assume success will be impossible for them because they look different.  But I say that these pictures-- and all the ones that are missing -- should be your motivation.  All of you who might have been left out of this institution in the past are here now.  Look around the room, the world is truly changing!  This is your chance to make those advances in medicine that we lost in the past because we so short-sightedly excluded so many outstanding people.

Imagine you are back at this school 50 years from now with your grandchild.  You have spent the day dodging Harvard's frequent entreaties to donate money and you duck into this auditorium for shelter.  You point up to the walls and tell your grandchild, "do you see, about halfway along that wall where all the faces go from looking the same to being quite varied -- that was when your grandma was here at school."

Ugliness at Harvard

Long time readers will know that several years ago I became convinced that Princeton was discriminating against Asian-Americans in their admissions process, a process I had participated in for over a decade.  Princeton, as far as I am concerned, can bake its academic cake for whoever they want, but I in turn don't have to participate in it so I quit.  I found the disconnect between Princeton's pious words on diversity and the reality of their actions to be distasteful, and I really really did not like having to toe the party line when Asian interviewees asked me if I thought they had an equal chance of admission with other students.

More data on this issue is just becoming public as various briefs that have been filed in a lawsuit representing Asian-American students against Harvard are being released.   I thought this bit from the Wall Street Journal looks pretty ugly.

Asian-American applicants have higher academic and extracurricular scores than any other racial group, as well as the highest overall rating from alumni interviewers, according to the plaintiffs. However, Harvard’s admissions officers assign Asian-Americans the lowest score of any racial group on the personal rating, which includes a subjective assessment of character traits such as whether the student has a “positive personality,” the plaintiffs said.

Do you think they mark them down as "inscrutable?"  Remember, this is from an institution that criticizes pretty much everyone else on the planet for propagating racial stereotypes.

OK Folks, Here is A Rorschach Test on Gender

I am going to show you this chart from the New York Times and you tell me the lede:

If your first reaction was something like "wow, the gender gap in favor of girls in English simply dwarfs any gender gap that exists in favor of boys in math," you had the same reaction as I did.  All I could think was that all this discussion of getting more girls in STEM is a fine aspiration, but my God, boys in English are a dumpster fire.

I saw the chart standalone like this before I flipped to the source New York Times article and read more.  And, incredibly, this is the title of the article: "Where Boys Outperform Girls in Math:  Rich, White and Suburban Districts."  That's right, the authors look at this chart and all they want to talk about is the small area in the lower right quadrant of the chart, the only place where boys out-perform girls (and even there the maximum boy advantage perhaps a third of the girl advantage across the board in English).  This is bizarre beyond belief.

I wrote the other day in a sort of toss-off conclusion that is looking more accurate today:

Look, I have no doubt that one could easily put together a book about all the ways the public education system fails girls because I think the public education system in many parts of this country fails EVERYONE.  But we seem to keep obsessively questioning whether we are doing enough for girls in education when the problem seems to be boys....

I am not an expert on why this is.   Shifting success norms from competition to cooperation, elimination of historic outlets for non-academic males like vocational programs, and huge amounts of money and counseling resources all dedicated to girls probably play a part.  But the frustrating thing is you almost never see a discussion of this topic.  Anyone who does try to address it is immediately pigeon-holed as some alt-right male rights extremist and defenestrated from the Overton Window.

Update:  Had "boys" and "girls" swapped in the third paragraph.  Thanks for those who pointed it out.  As one reader noted, I need to find a female to help me edit I guess.

Failing at Fairness: Getting the Story 180 Degrees Backwards

The other day the indispensable Mark Perry wrote:

....women have earned a majority of bachelor’s degrees for the last 36 years starting in 1982. Not shown here, but women previously earned a majority of associate’s degrees starting in 1978 and a majority of master’s degrees starting in 1981. By 2006, women earned a majority of doctoral degrees and the “takeover” of higher education by women was complete for degrees at all levels! But instead of declaring “victory” and moving on, many women are still claiming “victim status” in higher education with the need for special gender preferences in the form of funding, scholarships, centers, commissions, fellowships, awards, programs, and initiatives that are only available for women, or are primarily for women.

I have annotated his chart (shown below) to amplify his last sentence.

One of the seminal books on the topic of girls in education was "Failing at Fairness" by Myra P Sadker and published in 1994.  The Google Books summary of the book is as follows:

Failing at Fairness, the result of two decades of research, shows how gender bias makes it impossible for girls to receive an education equal to that given to boys.

  • Girls' learning problems are not identified as often as boys' are
  • Boys receive more of their teachers' attention
  • Girls start school testing higher in every academic subject, yet graduate from high school scoring 50 points lower than boys on the SAT

The book was very influential.  I know it sat on my feminist wife's night table for quite a while.  But note the publication date on Mark Perry's chart above.  For kids in high school when that book was published, a fair median date for their college graduation would be 6 years later, or around the year 2000.  It's fair to estimate that girls in high school at the time Sadker was writing were going to be 33% more likely to get a college degree than the boys in the same classes.   Anyone who had read that book alone and nothing else on the topic would have called you a liar for predicting that.

Look, I have no doubt that one could easily put together a book about all the ways the public education system fails girls because I think the public education system in many parts of this country fails EVERYONE.  But we seem to keep obsessively questioning whether we are doing enough for girls in education when the problem seems to be boys.

The New York Times actually talked about boys falling behind in education a few years ago, and had this telling chart about ways in which boys lagged in education.  The article forced on poor boys, but note that boys of all socioeconomic classes lagged.

And this is before we even get to the most disturbing metrics about boys and girls, such as youth crime.  While girls have closed the gender gap in crime somewhat, boys are still 10 times more likely than girls to be arrested for a homicide, and boys are more than twice as likely to be arrested for any sort of crime than girls (source).  Remember that last mass shooter who was female?  Neither do I.

I am not an expert on why this is.   Shifting success norms from competition to cooperation, elimination of historic outlets for non-academic males like vocational programs, and huge amounts of money and counseling resources all dedicated to girls probably play a part.  But the frustrating thing is you almost never see a discussion of this topic.  Anyone who does try to address it is immediately pigeon-holed as some alt-right male rights extremist and defenestrated from the Overton Window.

My Apology to Art Students

For years (as an engineer) when I made fun of college students not doing any work or not studying anything of actual utility, I often used art students as an example.  Today I offer my apology.

My daughter is an illustration major at a college called Art Center in Pasadena, CA.  I don't know if this is usual for art schools or if it is just this one college, but these kids do an insane amount of work.  My wife and I both attended Ivy League schools and my son went to Amherst, all of which are high on rankings of top academic stress schools, but none of us ever worked like the kids at Art Center.  My daughter coasted to A's in one year at Rice University, which she would describe as a cake walk compared to art school.   Her art school features five 5-hour classes a week plus each class can and does issue up to 9 hours of homework a week.  Typical weekly assignment for 1 course:  draw 300 hands.

In addition to all of this there are mid-terms and finals.  Below is one project my daughter did for one course's final exam, a set of children's books put together from scratch with her own art.  This strikes me as an insane amount of work.

I will add that I have become reconciled to art school in other ways.  To some extent my daughter's false start going to a major university in a liberal arts program was a result of our family's expectations about college.   Our bias was that a liberal arts degree from a highly-ranked university was the path to success.  Art school was for slackers who ended up sleeping on the street in a refrigerator box.  But you know what?  Art school teaches a real craft and teaches it rigorously.  Can Yale say that about its gender studies program?

One caveat to this is that my daughter can write.  She went to a high school where all the assignments and exams were essay-based.   She can toss off a polished 5-paragraph essay in her sleep.   If this were not the case, I would worry about this one aspect of art school.  I consider writing (and remember, this comes from a mechanical and aerospace engineer) to be the most important core skill and an education that does not teach writing or provide a lot of writing practice is suspect in my mind.

The Number One Reason the Ivy League Schools Are Broken

Ivy League schools are broken, at least to the extent they are true to their word that they are trying to serve mankind and not simply their own prestige.  Consider this from the WSJ:

Harvard hit a new low this year—in terms of its acceptance rate.

The university admitted 4.6% of applicants, or 1,962 students for the class set to begin this fall. Last year, it admitted 5.2% of applicants.

The eight campuses making up the Ivy League notified applicants on Wednesday evening about who will make up their first-year undergraduate class come fall. Seven of the eight posted record-high application numbers, while Dartmouth had its highest number in five years; seven recorded their lowest-ever acceptance rates, as Yale tied with its prior record.

Many of the applicants looked perfect on paper. At Princeton, more than 14,200 of the 35,370 applicants had a 4.0 grade point average. Brown boasted that 96% of its admitted students are in the top 10% of their high school classes, while at Dartmouth that rate hit 97%.

Yale admissions officers were “impressed and humbled” by the volume of qualified candidates, said Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions and financial aid. That school tied its record-low 6.3% admission rate this year.

These schools invest the vast majority of their impressively-large capital funds in continuing to improve the quality of education by some fraction of a percentage.  In contrast, none of them have made meaningful investments in increasing their capacity to bring their already super-high level of education to more students (by this I mean doubling or tripling the size of its school-- Princeton to its credit did increase its capacity several years ago by something like 15%).   The number of clearly Ivy-qualified students has increased perhaps by an order of magnitude over the last 30 years but Ivy capacity has increased only trivially.

Let's say an Ivy has 5,000 students and a 10 point (on some arbitrary scale) education advantage over other schools.  Let's consider two investments.  One would increase their educational advantage by 10% from 10 to 11 (an increase I would argue that is way larger than the increase from investments they have recently made).  The other investment would double the size of the school from 5,000 to 10,000 but let's say that through dilution and distraction it dropped the educational advantage by 10% from 10 to 9.   The first investment adds something like 5,000 education points to the world (5,000 kids x 11 minus 5,000 kids x 10).  The second adds  40,000  points to the world (10,000 x 9 minus 5,000 x 10).  It's not even close.  In fact, the expansion option is still favored even if the education advantage drops by 40%.

I have written this suggestion in various forms to every Princeton President in the last 20 years and have finally just given up trying.  I have come to the conclusion that the administration and faculty don't actually care so much about Princeton's net contribution to the world, and care more about prestige.  In their hearts, I would bet that most of the administration and faculty -- very rationally from their personal incentives -- want to be associated with what is arguably the top undergrad school in the country, and might even consider cutting the class size in half if that is what is required to get stay there.  They get rewarded for being associated with a school with an educational advantage that is as high as possible, and no one's evaluation of that associated prestige is affected by whether that education is provided to one person or one thousand. If you buy Bryan Caplan's argument that college education is mostly all signalling, then we alumni should have the same attitude.

I did have one Princeton President engage me on this (Shirley M. Tilghman, who also oversaw the modest growth in Princeton's size I mentioned above).  The counter argument I hear is that it is really hard to keep these institutions great while tripling them in size and taking online students or whatever.  But that is a cop out, in my view.  The people who run these institutions preen that they are the thought-leaders in education.  Well any fool can run a capital campaign at Yale and build a new molecular biology building.  One of these folks should take on a harder task.   I have had my issues in the past with Arizona State (ASU) President Michael Crow, but I think it can be argued that he is contributing more to the world trying to figure out how to improve the education of 100,000 kids than is the Harvard President educating the same hand-picked 5,000 undergrads with incrementally-increased intensity.

It Is Interesting to Note that High School Debate is as Broken as When I Did it 35 Years Ago

From the WSJ:

For weeks, high school debater Benjamin Waldman rehearsed his argument affirming the resolution that the criminal-justice system should abolish plea bargaining. Now that it was time to speak, he took a deep breath and let it rip.

“...thecriminaljusticesystemisareflectionofandapplicationofthelawandimpositionofpunishments.Pleabargainingwasamechanismforthesejudgestomaintaintheirvastpoweranddiscretion…”

After six minutes of speaking at this blinding pace, topping out at 300 words a minute, the 15-year-old sat down, ready for his foe’s cross-examination.

To impress judges, they had to pack into that brief time arguments of intellectual depth and complexity, complete with citations of legal scholars or philosophers. Any point left unrebutted could be deemed conceded. Every word had to be read aloud for the judges to score it. The result was speech at roughly the pace of a cattle auctioneer.

Rather than focus on logical arguments made cogently and elegantly, the approach in my day (and it appears today) was to carpet bomb the other side with as many arguments as possible and claim victory on any points that were not rebutted.  The standard for both argumentation and rebuttals was lame, with a quote from some source, likely both weak and quoted out of context during summer camps where evidence is compiled, usually good enough to check the box.  The skills taught are apropos of pretty much nothing.

The other problem that existed in my day, and which I am told still obtains in various forms, was that every argument had to save us from a nuclear war.  You couldn't win with intelligent but modest policy tweaks.  We actually had a big poster with an atomic mushroom cloud on which we would keep score of the number of nuclear wars saved or caused by our teammates.  I swear I heard debates about things like ocean fishing and mineral rights where most of the discussion was around avoiding a nuclear war.  It was simply nuts.

Great Moments in Public Spending

Our two largest Arizona public colleges are spending over $18 million in public funds just to get rid of their football coaches.

I use the words "public funds" knowing exactly what I am saying.  The schools dispute this, saying:

...no tuition dollars nor public money will fund the buyouts. Both universities have self-sustaining athletic departments

But this is total cr*p.  Money is fungible.  They can pretend that this money comes from athletic program revenues, just as certain electricity customers pay extra to say that their undifferentiated kilowatts from the grid came from a particular solar plan or windmill, but its not true in either case.  Marginal spending is paid for in the end by the marginal source of funds, and the marginal source of funds for universities is tax money.  That is $18 million that could have been spent for about anything in these public education institutions but was prioritized towards trying to upgrade the football coach.

Oppressors, Oppressed, Privilege, and Free Speech

A few days ago I wrote:

Speech codes are written by and for the privileged.  They are written by the oppressor to shut up the oppressed.  George Wallace did not need the First Amendment, black kids trying to go to the University of Alabama needed it.  So the progressive opposition to free speech (e.g BLM shouting down the ACLU over free speech) is either 1) completely misguided, as the oppressed need these protections the most or 2) an acknowledgement that progressives and their allies are now the privileged, that they are the ones in power, and that they wish to use speech codes as they have always been used, to shut up those not in power.  In our broader society the situation is probably #1 but on university campuses we may have evolved to situation #2.

Example of #1 (via Overlawyered)

A woman has been questioned by police and could face a hate crime prosecution after she waved a banner at Belfast’s Pride parade reading “Fuck the DUP”.

In a case that could have consequences for free speech and the right to offend across the UK, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) says it will pass a file to the region’s public prosecution service (PPS) after Ellie Evans, 24, held up the placard at the August parade to protest against the party’s policies on gay marriage.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint from DUP politician Jim Wells, who told the Guardian that the slogan constituted “incitement to hatred and potential public disorder”.

Example of #2

A few months later, I received a letter from two Reed students of colour that was being distributed among alumni like a piece of samizdat. The students didn’t reveal their names for fear of being ostracised, but they described a campus that had been overtaken by militants who routinely shamed as racists anyone who didn’t agree with them. One of those singled out had been a freshman named Hunter Dillman who had been branded a racist after asking the organiser of a Latina student group an innocent question. He was ultimately hounded off campus.

The students said the Facebook shaming became even more virulent as the year went on. When another white student apologised to Amanda for being unable to attend a particular protest because he was behind on his schoolwork, Amanda accused him of being the kind of white guy who would ‘laugh at a lynching’. The students felt Amanda’s charge was so outrageous that they decided to take a big step: they would all ‘like’ the student’s apology on Facebook, even though they might be called racists as well. ‘As students of colour we felt that we had to do it’, one of them later told me. ‘It would have been 100 times worse if somebody white liked it.’

 

UNC Avoids Athletic Sanctions By Arguing their African-American Studies Dept. Had Staggeringly Low Academic Standards

Well, it appears the common Conservative critique that many university race and gender programs have really low standards has a new supporter:  The University of North Carolina.  UNC successfully argued that it was not giving its athletes special treatment in the African-American studies department -- they had low standards for all students in that department.

A years-long probe into widespread academic fraud in North Carolina’s athletic program, including its storied basketball powerhouse, reached an unexpected end on Friday when the NCAA announced it would not issue major sanctions against the school.

The prolonged investigation focused on a major at the university, African and Afro-American Studies, where about 1,500 athletes over 18 years took advantage to make good grades with little to no work involved. The university’s defense did not focus on the legitimacy of the courses—the NCAA said “generally, the facts of this case are not in dispute.”

UNC instead argued that any problem was university wide, not limited to the athletic department, because the courses were available to all students. On Friday, the NCAA accepted the university’s explanation. .

“A Division I Committee on Infractions hearing panel could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated NCAA academic rules when it made available deficient Department of African and Afro-American Studies ‘paper courses’ to the general student body, including student-athletes,” the NCAA said Friday.

Greg Sankey, the head of the Southeastern Conference who was the chief hearing officer on the panel, said athletes “likely benefited from the so-called ‘paper courses’” but that “the information available in the record did not establish that the courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes.”

Just so we are clear exactly what we are talking about, UNC freely admits, in fact desperately argues, that it was offering courses like this:

UNC’s surprising defense focused on its own systemic shortcomings. It said that the problems were so fundamental at the school, it wasn’t actually an NCAA issue, and therefore wasn’t for the NCAA to govern. One estimate said athletes made up about half of the roughly 3,100 students who participated in the classes.

These classes were generally portrayed and shown to be fake for the most part. The NCAA, in its decision, said the classes did not require attendance. The students rarely, “if at all” interacted with a faculty member. The classes typically required one paper where the person who graded it admitted she did not read them in the entirety. These classes, the NCAA said, had “liberal grading.”

For reference, the entire UNC system (not just this location) consumes about 12.5% of the entire North Carolina state budget.

Update:  I was thinking over the weekend about whether this really horrible level of education for the money could be considered racist, since a substantially disproportionate number of the students in this department are black.  If one argues that the value of college is in the education itself, then it is preposterously racist, particularly since it hurts minorities at other colleges by reinforcing the general stereotype of low academic standards in race studies programs.  If one argues that the value of college is only in the degree itself - the piece of paper - I suppose one could consider this affirmative action.

OK, I Am Failing the Ideological Touring Test Here

I pride myself on being able, generally, to craft arguments on various issues along any of Arnold Kling's three axes of political discourse.  But I can't come up with an argument for why college students (likely Progressives on the oppressor-oppressed axis) would be legitimately afraid of the beach ball (via Maggies Farm).  My libertarian axis explanation of course is that having found that the "those guys' speech scares us" approach has been successful at shutting down speech of their opponents in the past, they are rationally pursuing a proven winning strategy.  But what is the Progressive argument here?

The Teaching Company (Also Known as Great Courses)

A while back I was writing about something -- the Civil War I think -- and I mentioned that I had been lucky enough to have James McPherson as a professor.  I remember a comment on the post that said something like "yes, yes we know, you went to Princeton."  I certainly was lucky, and that school contributed a lot to what I am.  But as far as attributing sh*t I know to a source, Princeton is in at least second place.   By far the greatest source of what I know about history, art, music and even about the sciences comes from the Teaching Company.  And that is available to all of you, no SAT required.

I just checked my account and I have taken 71 courses from them, including 54 history courses**.  I think I have taken, for example, pretty much all the courses on this list in a Tyler Cowen post.  I began my journey taking courses on things that had always interested me but I knew a fair amount about already, such as the history of Ancient Rome or the Civil War or WWII.  But the most fun I have had has been taking courses on periods I knew little about -- such as Daileader's great histories of the Middle Ages or the History of China.  And I have had the most fun taking courses on things I knew NOTHING about, such as the history of India, of pre-Columbian American civilization, and of nomadic civilizations of Asia.

The key thing to remember is:  never pay rack rate.  Everything goes on sale from time to time.  Today until midnight, for example, they are having a 70% off sale on a subset of their stuff.  You can still get cd's and dvd's if you want but I used to get the digital download for my iPod and increasingly just stream the audio from an android app and stream the video from their Roku app.

 

** My family thinks I am weird because I listen to these courses as I run and work out (instead of music).  But it turns out this was not nearly as weird as when I have done Pimmsleur language courses while I am running.  If you want to really take your mind off your running, try to diagram a sentence in your head to figure out which of freaking German article you should be using.  Also, it creates a nice reputation around the neighborhood for eccentricity if you babble in foreign languages as you run.

The Diversity Paradox

I thought this was an interesting observation by University of New Mexico evolutionary psychology professor Geoffrey Miller, as quoted by Mark Perry:

Here, I just want to take a step back from the [Google] memo controversy, to highlight a paradox at the heart of the ‘equality and diversity’ dogma that dominates American corporate life. The memo didn’t address this paradox directly, but I think it’s implicit in the author’s critique of Google’s diversity programs. This dogma relies on two core assumptions:

  • The human sexes and races have exactly the same minds, with precisely identical distributions of traits, aptitudes, interests, and motivations; therefore, any inequalities of outcome in hiring and promotion must be due to systemic sexism and racism;
  • The human sexes and races have such radically different minds, backgrounds, perspectives, and insights, that companies must increase their demographic diversity in order to be competitive; any lack of demographic diversity must be due to short-sighted management that favors groupthink.

The obvious problem is that these two core assumptions are diametrically opposed. Let me explain. If different groups have minds that are precisely equivalent in every respect, then those minds are functionally interchangeable, and diversity would be irrelevant to corporate competitiveness. On the other hand, if demographic diversity gives a company any competitive advantages, it must be because there are important sex differences and race differences in how human minds work and interact.

Bottom Line: So, psychological interchangeability makes diversity meaningless. But psychological differences make equal outcomes impossible. Equality or diversity. You can’t have both. Weirdly, the same people who advocate for equality of outcome in every aspect of corporate life, also tend to advocate for diversity in every aspect of corporate life. They don’t even see the fundamentally irreconcilable assumptions behind this ‘equality and diversity’ dogma. American businesses also have to face the fact that the demographic differences that make diversity useful will not lead to equality of outcome in every hire or promotion. Equality or diversity: choose one.

Perry illustrates this with one of his ubiquitous Venn diagrams, which I am always happy to see because it just increases my royalties.

Hmm. You Might Not Want To Fly In An Airplane Built By A Current Purdue Graduate

I used to think some of the stuff in Atlas Shrugged was absurd satire.  This from Q&O:

The recently appointed dean of Purdue’s school, Dr. Donna Riley, has an ambitious agenda.

In her words (bold mine): “I seek to revise engineering curricula to be relevant to a fuller range of student experiences and career destinations, integrating concerns related to public policy, professional ethics, and social responsibilityde-centering Western civilization; and uncovering contributions of women and other underrepresented groups…. We examine how technology influences and is influenced by globalizationcapitalism, and colonialism…. Gender is a key…[theme]…[throughout] the course…. We…[examine]… racist and colonialist projects in science….”

More NCAA Discrimination Against Athletes With Stupid Amateurism Rules

When I was a senior at Princeton, Brooke Shields was a freshman.  At the time of her matriculation, she was already a highly paid professional model and actress (Blue Lagoon).  No one ever suggested that she not be allowed to participate in the amateur Princeton Triangle Club shows because she was already a professional.

When I was a sophomore at Princeton, I used to sit in my small dining hall (the now-defunct Madison Society) and listen to a guy named Stanley Jordan play guitar in a really odd way.  Jordan was already a professional musician (a few years after he graduated he would release an album that was #1 on the jazz charts for nearly a year).  Despite the fact that Jordan was a professional and already earned a lot of money from his music, no one ever suggested that he not be allowed to participate in a number of amateur Princeton music groups and shows.

My daughter is an art major at a school called Art Center in Pasadena (where she upsets my preconceived notions of art school by working way harder than I did in college).  She and many, if not most of her fellow students have sold their art for money already, but no one as ever suggested that they not be allowed to participate in school art shows and competitions.

And then there are athletics.

 A football player for the University of Central Florida has lost his place in the team, and hence his scholarship, due to his YouTube channel. UCF kicker Donald De La Haye runs "Deestroying," which has over 90,000 subscribers and has amassed 5 million views, thus far. It's not the channel itself that cost him his scholarship, though -- it's the fact that he has athletics-related videos on a monetized account.

The NCAA saw his videos as a direct violation to its rule that prohibits student athletes from using their status to earn money. UCF's athletics department negotiated with the association, since De La Haye sends the money he earns from YouTube to his family in Costa Rica. The association gave him two choices: he can keep the account monetized, but he has to stop referencing his status as a student athlete and move the videos wherein he does. Or, he has to stop monetizing his account altogether. Since De La Haye chose not to accept either option, he has been declared inelegible to play in any NCAA-sanctioned competition, effectively ending his college football career.

When I was a sophomore at Princeton, my sister was a Freshman. We were sitting in my dorm the first week of school, watching US Open tennis as we were big tennis fans at the time.  My sister told me that she still had not heard from her fourth roommate yet, which was sort of odd.  About that time, the semifinals of the US Open were just beginning and would feature an upstart named Andrea Leand. My sister says, hey -- that's the name of my roommate.  And so it was.  Andrea was a professional tennis player, just like Brook Shields was already a professional actress and Stanley Jordan was already a professional musician.  But unlike these others, Andrea was not allowed to pursue her talent at Princeton.

I don't know if student athletes should be paid by the school or not. We can leave that aside as a separate question.  People of great talent attend universities and almost all of them -- with the exception of athletes -- are allowed to monetize that talent at the same time they are using it on campus.  Athletes should have the same ability.

Postscript:  I wrote about this years ago in Forbes.    As I wrote there:

The whole amateur ideal is just a tired holdover from the British aristocracy, the blue-blooded notion that a true "gentleman" did not actually work for a living but sponged off the local [populace] while perfecting his golf or polo game.  These ideas permeated British universities like Oxford and Cambridge, which in turn served as the model for many US colleges.  Even the Olympics, though,  finally gave up the stupid distinction of amateur status years ago, allowing the best athletes to compete whether or not someone has ever paid them for anything.

In fact, were we to try to impose this same notion of "amateurism" in any other part of society, or even any other corner of University life, it would be considered absurd.  Do we make an amateur distinction with engineers?  Economists?  Poets?...

In fact, of all the activities on campus, the only one a student cannot pursue while simultaneously getting paid is athletics.  I am sure that it is just coincidence that athletics happens to be, by orders of magnitude, far more lucrative to universities than all the other student activities combined.

Well, It's Good Princeton Is Against Gender Stereotyping, Because Otherwise This Would Be Pretty Obvious Gender Stereotyping

From the College Fix (my empahasis added):

Are young men at Princeton University violent, aggressive, hyper-masculine, stalkers, or rapists?

A new position at the Ivy League institution indicates campus officials apparently think enough of its male students grapple with such problems that it warrants hiring a certified clinician dedicated to combating them.

The university is in the process of hiring an “Interpersonal Violence Clinician and Men’s Engagement Manager” who will work with a campus office called SHARE that’s dedicated to “survivors” of sexual harassment, assault, dating violence and stalking.

According to SHARE, one in four female undergrads experienced such misconduct during the 2015-16 school year.

The men’s manager will also launch initiatives to challenge “gender stereotypes,” and expand the school’s Men’s Allied Voices for a Respectful and Inclusive Community, a self-described “violence prevention program” at Princeton that often bemoans “toxic masculinity” on its Facebook page.

According to the job description, the men’s manager will develop educational programs targeting the apparent “high-risk campus-based populations for primary prevention of interpersonal violence, including sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic/dating violence, and stalking.”

The job posting implicitly refers to men as perpetrators and women as victims.

 

Fortunately, stereotyping does not count if done about men, whites, or heterosexuals so this is all OK.

By the way, apparently since the one in five statistic was not absurd enough, SJW's have upped the ante with a new one in four stat.  I am all for aggressive responses to actual violence, and would be more harsh in its punishment than most universities (I would throw the perpetrator into the legal system, rather than merely some administrative punishment and expulsion regime.)  The problem is that I do not know the actual rate of violence.  The one in five, and now one in four stat is almost certainly bullsh*t.  If this were really true, college campuses would be more dangerous than Syria and people would not be competing so hard and paying so much to send their daughters there.

The problem with these stats is that they hoover up all sorts of complaints by women that range from true violence down to things like boorish comments by males and post-sex regret.  By rhetorical slight of hand, all these complaints are morphed into violence and every complaint, no matter how trivial, is essentially counted as a rape.  Perhaps sexual assault on campus is indeed more common than in the broader community, but if so I would like to see real statistics.  When advocates purposely inflate and obfuscate their core statistic, it makes me suspicious that the actual number is not really that bad and therefore a fake one needs to be provided instead for the activist to get my attention. But for me, this has the opposite effect, turning me off on an issue I perhaps should be energized about because I can't see past the fakery.

One Argument for Old Age Is That I Won't Live Long Enough to See These Morons Do Their Full Measure of Damage

It it were just Evergreen College, which was always a sort of Antioch / Hampshire College nuthouse anyway, I could write it off.  But this is going on at Yale and Wesleyan and Amherst and Middlebury and the Claremont colleges.  The list goes on and on.  Ken White, who has been on the front lines of free speech defense for years, has recently said there are many reasons to be optimistic.  In particular, the Supreme Court has been virtually absolutist in its defense of free speech over the past decades.  But someone said something to me that I have never forgotten -- the Supreme Court tends to reflect the values of college kids two generations earlier.  Without massive new medical interventions (which are unlikely under the coming Sanders-Warren socialized medicine regime) I don't expect to be around to see it.

Too bad Dante is not around because he might have written a nice circle of hell for Evergreen President George Sumner Bridges.  I can't tell if this guy is a complete idiot or if everything we hear from him is some sort of hostage video with him speaking under duress, perhaps with SJW's hiding in his office closet to enforce conformity.

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.