Archive for the ‘Education’ Category.

Teach for America

One of the charities my family supports is Teach for America.  Among other things, we sponsor a local teacher in the program.  A bunch of our friends were kind enough to chip in with gifts for the kids in her class and my wife and I delivered them last week at the Phoenix Collegiate Academy, a charter school in South Phoenix for 5-8 graders.

The fun of delivering the presents was reduced later on finding out that at almost that same moment, another group of kids was being killed in Connecticut.  But through a strange series of articles that seemed to have used the Sandy Hook massacre as an argument for teacher unionization and against charter schools (yeah, I don't get the connection either), I found out that teachers unions hate Teach for America.  Which means that I will likely double my contribution next year.

Postscript:  Teach for America began as a senior thesis at Princeton.  Its key idea is to make teaching a viable job option, as least for a few years, for top college grads.  The program is quite selective, and combines talented highly motivated young people with a proven teaching approach.  They then drop these teachers into the public school system, often in classrooms with a high percentage of kids who qualify for school lunch programs (ie low income).

It's clear from the article that teachers union and education establishment types hate these teachers.  Since they make a contrast by calling themselves "professionals", the presumed implication is that these young people are unprofessional.  Its amazing to me that anyone who has spent even ten minutes in a room with a group of TFA teachers could be so hostile to them.  I have met many of them, and they are a consistently amazing bunch who are both smart and genuinely love their kids.

I was skeptical, and still am a bit, of the notion of throwing great teachers into a failing public school system.  They clearly help individual kids, which is why I am still behind it, but they do nothing to help the overall system.  It's like sending great engineers into Solyndra  -- at some level, it seems like a waste (though I am impressed with this particular charter school, which seems to be doing a good job with the limited resources it has -- it gets far less money per pupil than the average public school in Phoenix but does a better job given the demographic of its students).

Administrative Bloat

Administrative bloat is a natural tendency of organizations.  I am not entirely sure why, though I understand some of the drivers.  Never-the-less, I have seen it in nearly every organization I have worked in or consulted for.

Even the best-run private companies still have this problem.  To remain competitive, then, they have to come through every few years and wield the ax on these growing staffs, almost like trimming back a hedge that keeps trying to overgrow your house.  I spent a depressing amount of time as a consultant helping them.  It is uncomfortable, sometimes heartbreaking work, and one wonders the whole time why there is not some better way to keep staff in check.  To my mind, there is a still a great academic work to be written on this topic some day.

The alternative, in organizations that can get away with it, is administrative bloat.  Like, for example, in this public institution:

via Mark Perry, now at AEI

That staff adds up to an incredible billion dollars in administrative salaries, or nearly $21,000 a year per full-time student.  And remember, if this is just salaries, the actual cost is much higher because they all need offices, supplies, travel, etc.

Sorry to Send You To Harvard With Unhappy Thoughts

I was looking at the searches that brought visitors to Coyote Blog, and in August and early September I had a surge of folks searching Peabody Terrace.   This seemed odd.  Then I realized that this must be young grad students who have been assigned Peabody Terrace as their housing and want to learn about it.  I feel bad that I have to spoil some of their anticipation, but this is what they will find on my site:

And, in case you are one who supports government "redevelopment" and mandates on aesthetics but think that it would all work out fine if architectural experts and committees of academics made the decisions, here is the hideous Peabody Terrace at Harvard University, presumably vetted by the finest architectural academic minds in the country:

Peabody

These buildings, where Harvard stuck me for a full year, were transported right out of East Berlin, right down to the elevators that only stopped on every third floor for efficiency sake (efficiency of the builder, obviously, not the occupant).  The interior walls were bare cast concrete and no amount of heat could warm them in the winter.  It was the most depressing place, bar none, I have every lived.  But the "experts" loved them, and wished that this vision could have been forced by urban planners on all of America:

Leland Cott, an adjunct professor of urban design at the [Harvard] GSD, calls Peabody Terrace 'a model of design efficiency, economy, and attention to scale.'

Fortunately, someone gets it:

The magazine Architecture Boston has focused attention on the controversial aspects of Sert's work by devoting its July/August 2003 issue to an examination of Peabody Terrace, expressing the essential disagreement about the work in the form of a stark conundrum: "Architects love Peabody Terrace. The public hates it."

In fact, the public's hostility to the structures may be in proportion to its degree of proximity, with the most intense feelings confined to those households on the front lines of the town/gown divide....

Otile McManus, in a companion essay, discusses the reactions of many Cambridge residents, who have described the complex as "monstrous," "cold," "uninviting," "overwhelming," and "hostile," and have compared it to Soviet housing.

Actually, the most intense feeling were by those who lived there, who really, really hated it  (though I will admit there were several third world students who loved it -- must have been nostalgic for them).  The article goes on to accuse detractors of being anti-modernist.  Which is a laugh, since my house is one of the most starkly modern in the area, so modern I could not sell it several years ago.  I am not anti-modern.  I am anti-bad-design.

Wow!  I am kindof amazed at the hostility I still feel fifteen years after the fact.  I had started out just to link TJIC's post, and here I am in full-blown rant mode.  Sorry.

A blogger once described the Boston City Hall as "a poured concrete Vogon love poem."  I wish I had said that about Peabody Terrace.

The other thing excited, young Harvard grad students might find at my site is an excerpt from my novel.  This portion is entirely autobiographical (except for not being a girl) and describes my year at Peabody Terrace.

Creative Destruction

On UVA from Walter Russel Mead via Glenn Reynolds

As the NYT article points out, universities all over the country are facing a world of rapid change. This is going to be hard to face. Universities are structured to adapt slowly—if at all. Typically, university presidents have only limited controls, while faculties have a lot of power to resist. Management is usually decentralized, with different schools and departments governed under different rules and accountable to different constituencies. The fiscal arrangements of most universities are both byzantine and opaque; it can be very hard for administrators to understand or properly and fairly value the true cost and contributions of different parts of the institution.

The structural problem our universities face is this: confronted with the need for sweeping, rapid changes, administrators and boards have two options — and they are both bad. One option is to press ahead to make rapid changes. This risks — and in many (perhaps most) cases will cause — enormous upheavals; star professors will flounce off. Alumni will be offended. Waves of horrible publicity will besmirch the university’s name.

Option two: you can try to make your reforms consensual — watering down, delaying, carefully respecting existing interests and pecking orders. If you do this, you will have a peaceful, happy campus . . . until the money runs out.

This kind of organizational change issue is NOT unique to public institutions.  I think if one were a fly on the wall at Sears, or RIM/Blackberry, or AOL, one could describe exactly the same dynamic: insider constituencies were and are successful under the old model, so consensus processes involving these same constituencies seldom lead to change since these changes are inherently threatening to these same constituencies.  A simpler way of saying this is that it is really hard to obsolete oneself.  Just go ask Blockbuster Video.

But there is one difference in the world of public institutions.  In the private world, new success models in the worlds of Sears and AOL and Blackberry are already out there and growing really fast, run by outsiders who have absolutely no stake in the success of the old model (in fact by folks who have a strong economic stake in killing the old models).  But there is no parallel to capital markets and entrepreneurship in the public space.  There is no venue for new-model proponents to get capital and support outside of the old-model institutions.  In fact, if anything, public institutions will rally their political clout, up to and including sponsoring new legislation, to make sure new models are strangled in the crib.

If I were in the VA legislature and really cared about education innovation in the future, I would give up on UVA driving it and instead take 20% of its funding and hand it off to a brand new parallel entity, say UVA 2.0, run by an entirely new team.

Government Spending Bait and Switch

New taxes are frequently sold as protecting police, fire, and education, though these together represent barely 25% of all US government spending.  Where does the rest go?  It's a giant bait and switch, made worse by the fact that even within these categories, new headcount is more likely to be added in administrative and overhead roles rather than in promised functions such as "teachers".  This is the subject of my Forbes column this week:

There is a way to reconcile this:   While increases in education spending are sold to the public as a way to improve results in the classroom, in reality most of the new money and headcount are going to anything but increasing the number of teachers.

Let’s start with an example from the city of Phoenix, New York.  Why this town?  Am I cherry-picking?  In fact, I was looking for data on my home town of Phoenix, Arizona.  But I have come to discover that while school districts are really good at getting tomorrow’s cafeteria menu on the web, they are a little less diligent in giving equal transparency to their budget and staffing data.  But it turns out that Phoenix, New York, which I discovered when I was looking for my home town data, publishes a lovely summary of its budget data, so I will use it as an example that helps make my point.

The city’s budget summary for 2012-2013 is here.  Overall, they are proposing a 0.4% increase in spending for next year, which initially seems lean until one understands that they are projecting a 4% decline in enrollment, such that this still represents an increase in spending per pupil faster than inflation.  But the interesting part is the mix.

What are the two things politicians are always claiming they need extra money for?  Classroom instruction and infrastructure.  As you can see in this budget, only two categories of spending go down:  classroom instruction and facility maintenance and cleaning.  Administrative expenses increase 4% (effectively 8% per pupil) and employee benefits expenses increase just under 1% despite a total decline in staffing.  Though I am not very familiar with the program, one irony here is that the fastest growing category is the 8.7% growth (nearly 13% per pupil) in spending with BOCES, a New York initiative that was supposed to reduce administrative costs in public schools.  In other words, spending increases are going to everything except the areas which politicians promise.

I don’t think these trends are isolated to this one admittedly random example.  The Arizona auditor-general recently did a study on trends in education spending in the state.  They found exactly the same tendency to reduce classroom spending to pay for increases in administrative headcounts.

Read it all, as they say.

If It's May, It Must Be Time For Another Valedictorian Fight

Yes, yet another group of school kids and their parents are battling it out over whose little darling should be valedictorian.   I like the approach taken by my son's high school.  All the seniors, on dates scattered through the year, must make a 10-15 speech to the school.  On anything.  This year there were speeches on topics ranging from the Holocaust to the banking crisis to "why I love my dog" to "why the rumors of my crying at that formal dance Freshman year when my date abandoned me are greatly exaggerated."

The speeches are a fun event.  The speaker's friends leave an offering of food and balloons on the stage.  When they are done, much of the school comes up on stage and congratulates them.  It is great experience, and (within the context of public speaking, which is stressful for many) the school works to lower the pressure on the kids -- in fact, there are no grades for the speeches that hit any transcript.

The only grading is simple -- whoever is judged to have given the best speech, both in subject matter and in presentation, gives the speech at graduation.

Of course, this could only work at a private school, where the school and teachers can actually exercise judgement without having to defend their decision in court.

PS-  My son's speech included, among other topics, one of the four subjects listed above.  If you really must know which, see the 23-minute mark here.

College Grade Inflation

Apparently the news of the week is that the letter grade "A" is now the most common.  Mark Perry has more on college grade inflation.

I am actually a fan of the grading system at Harvard Business School when I was there.   15% of the students in each course get the top grade (category I) -- no more, no less.  10% get the bottom grade (category III) -- again by rule, no more and no less.  All the rest are in the middle.  It effectively acknowledges that for most folks, the point is to demonstrate you have satisfactorily learned the course material, while still allowing folks to distinguish themselves on both ends.  Budding young executives who complain that it is unfair to automatically "fail" the bottom 10% of each course are reminded that this is exactly how many Fortune 500 companies run their HR systems, seeking to constantly weed out the bottom 10%.

Update:  The argument usually is that students need high grades to compete with other kids from grade-inflated schools in the marketplace.  I just don't think this is true.  Colleges themselves deal with this all the time in admissions.  When they get a high school transcript, attached to that transcript is a fact sheet about the high school that gives its distribution of grades.  That way the recipient can discount the GPA as appropriate.  Every company doing hiring should demand the same of colleges.

Here is a personal anecdote.  My son Nic's school grades hard.  Something like 2 kids over the last 2 decades have graduated with a 4.0.  One could argue my son's grades could have been higher at another school, but knowledgeable consumers of high school GPA's know how our school works and we have never felt he somehow was at a loss due to the school's grading policies (but Oh God can type A parents fret about this incessantly among themselves).   [edit:  took out brag about my son.  Nothing more boring than other people bragging on their kids.]

A Modest Proposal

I spend my business life taking over operations from bloated public agencies, so I suppose I should not be surprised at this picture (via Carpe Diem)

The PPACA has a provision that private insurance companies cannot spend less than 80% of premium on care (vs. administration) or money has to be rebated.  I am not a big fan of this provision, believing a free market is a better mechanism for enforcing price and cost discipline than some arbitrary metric like this.

But, since Congress and this Administration thinks this is such a good idea, here is my modest proposal:  Public universities may not spend less than 80% of tuition directly on teaching of students, or else they must rebate excess tuition back to their students.

 

A Modest Proposal

The PPACA instituted a cap on health insurance spending such that at least 80% of health insurance premiums must be spent on care. Academics like Elizabeth Warren love this idea.  So here is my modest proposal -- let's require that public universities spend at least 80% of tuition on classroom instruction.  If they spend more than 20% on administration and overhead, it gets rebated back to students.  Having nearly universally supported such a provision in the PPACA, academics surely can't oppose this, can they?

U. of Rochester Solar Table -- 3,846 Years To Break-even

Professor Rizzo was keen that I check out the $12,000 solar picnic table at University of Rochester

Most kids use this to hook up their laptops.   Here are a few assumptions

  • 3 hours of use per day (heroic, I am pretty sure it is less than this)
  • 65 watt draw from one laptop
  • 160 days with sun (Rochester is apparently in the top 10 US cities for number of heavy cloud days)
  • 10 cents per kw-hour

This means the table would produce 31,200 W-hr per year or 31.2 KW-hr per year.  This yields an annual electricity savings of $3.12, giving the table a payback time on its investment of 3,846 years.  If one assumes a cost of capital anywhere north of 0.026% per year, then the sun will go dark before this table pays itself off.

There Be Crazy People Here

Yes, our Arizona legislature keeps cranking out the hits

In what has to be the most hilariously unconstitutional piece of legislation that I've seen in quite some time, senators in the Arizona state legislature have introduced a bill that would require all educational institutions in the state -- including state universities -- to suspend or fire professors who say or do things that aren't allowed on network TV. Yes, you read that right: at the same time the Supreme Court is poised to decide if FCC-imposed limits on "indecent" content in broadcast media are an anachronism from a bygone era, Arizona state legislators want to limit what college professors say and do to only what is fit for a Disney movie (excluding, of course, the Pirates of the Caribbeanfranchise. After all, those films are PG-13!).

Amazing.  I had thought the nominal reason for the FCC standards was because non-adults might watch TV and hear a bad word that they likely hear 20 times a day at school.  But college kids are generally adults.  This is just bizarre.

The Huffpo article did not mention the bill's sponsor, but how much do you want to be its a Conservative who has in the past lamented political correctness on campus?  [update: sponsors here]

Outsourcing the HR Department

I thought this was an interesting hypothesis, that the inability of coporations to use aptitude tests on potential hires (something that has been effectively killed by civil rights suits) has led to the increased reliance on college credentials as a screening mechanism.

I think there is an element of truth to this, but I suspect this would have happened anyway as the presure to cut costs caused companies to push their candidate evaluation and screening onto other institutions.  As I wrote a while back

There is some rationality in this approach [to hiring mainly from the Ivies] – it is not all mindless snobbism.   Take Princeton.  It screens something like 25,000 already exceptional applicants down to just 1500, and then further carefully monitors their performance through intensive contact over a four year period.  This is WAY more work and resources than a private firm could ever apply to the hiring process.  In effect, by limiting their hiring to just a few top schools, they are outsourcing a lot of their performance evaluation work to those schools.

I don't know if these percentages are entirely correct - I would argue the education / skills component of my mechanical engineering degree was higher than 10%, but that may be just my personal bias - but the basic approach seems sound

Peter Thiel describes higher education as a "giant selection mechanism" and estimates that only 10% of the value of a college degree comes from actual learning, and 50% of the value comes from selection (getting into a selective university) and 40% comes from signalling (graduating from a selective college becomes known to employers).  If employers could use intelligence tests instead of college degrees as measures of aptitude, it might be a lot more efficient and more cost-effective than the current practice of using very expensive four-year college degrees that add very little in terms of educational value (at least according to Thiel).

The True Cost of the Education Bubble

I hinted at it in my last post, but have addressed it in more depth in my column this week at Forbes.  A brief excerpt:

The theme from all these failures is distorted signals and corrupted communication.  People, no matter how savvy, cannot possibly research every nook and cranny of the economy before making an investment.  They make decisions, therefore, based on signals – prices, interest rates, perceived risks, and the profit history of other similar investments.  If these signals are artificially altered or corrupted, bad decisions that destroy wealth and growth will result.

Which brings me back to education.    I will tell you something almost every business owner knows:  We business owners may whine from time to time that banks won’t lend us money, but what really is in short support are great people.  Nothing has more long-term impact on an economy than amount and types of skills that are sought by future workers.  That is why everyone accepts as a truism that education is critical to economic health.

Unfortunately, there is good evidence that our education policies have already done long-term harm.   The signals we send to kids making their higher education plans have disconnected them from reality in a number of fundamental ways, causing them to make bad decisions for themselves and the broader economy.

Examples follow.  Read it all.

Wage Stagnation in One Chart

Student Loan Bubble

Via Zero Hedge:

A key reason why a preponderance of the population is fascinated with the student loan market is that as USA Today reported in a landmark piece last year, it is now bigger than ever the credit card market. And as the monthly consumer debt update from the Fed reminds us, the primary source of funding is none other than the US government. To many, this market has become the biggest credit bubble in America. Why do we make a big deal out of this? Because as Bloomberg reported last night, we now have prima facie evidence that the student loan market is not only an epic bubble, but it is also the next subprime! To wit: "Vince Sampson, president, Education Finance Council, said during a panel at the IMN ABS East Conference in Miami Monday that lenders are no longer pushing loans to people who can’t afford them." Re-read the last sentence as many times as necessary for it to sink in. Yes: just like before lenders were "pushing loans to people who can't afford them" which became the reason for the subprime bubble which has since spread to prime, but was missing the actual confirmation from authorities of just this action, this time around we have actual confirmation that student loans are being actually peddled to people who can not afford them. And with the government a primary source of lending, we will be lucky if tears is all this ends in.

When you mess with pricing signals and resource allocation, you get bubbles.  And one could easily argue that OWS is as much about the student loan bubble bursting as about Wall Street.

I must say that I never had a ton of sympathy for home buyers who were supposedly "lured" into taking on loans they could not afford.  The ultimate cost for most of them was the loss of a home that, if the credit had not been extended, they would never have had anyway.  US law protects our other assets from home purchase failures, and while we have to sit in the credit penalty box for a while after mortgage default or bankruptcy, most people are able to recover in a few years.

Student loans are entirely different.  In large part because the government is the largest lender via Sallie Mae, student loans cannot be discharged via bankruptcy.  You can be 80 years old and still have your social security checks garnished to pay back your student loans.   You can more easily discharge credit card debt run up buying lap dances in topless bars than you can student loans. There is absolutely no way to escape a mistake, which is all the more draconian given that most folks who are borrowing are in their early twenties or even their teens.

I can see it now, the pious folks in power trying to foist this bubble off on some nameless loan originators.  Well, this is a problem we all caused.  The government, as a long-standing policy, has pushed college and student lending.  Private lenders have marketed these loans aggressively.  Colleges have jacked costs up into the stratosphere, in large part because student loans disconnected consumers from the immediate true costs.  And nearly everyone in any leadership position have pushed kids to go to college, irregardless of whether their course of study made even a lick of sense vis a vis their ability to earn back the costs later in the job market.

Public service note:  Their are, to my knowledge, five colleges that will provide up to 100% financial aid in the form of grants, such that a student can graduate debt free:  Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Amherst.  These are obviously really hard schools to get into.   I don't think a single one has a double digit percentage admissions rate.  But these are the top schools that hopefully establish trends.

I am thrilled my alma mater is on the list.  For years I have argued that they were approach severe diminishing returns from spending tens of millions of dollars to improve educational quality another 0.25%.   If an institution is really going to live by the liberal arts college philosophy -- that a liberal arts education makes one a better human being irregardless of whether the course of study is easily monetized after graduation -- then it better have a way for students who want to join the Peace Corp or run for the state legislature to graduate without a debt load than only a Wall Street job can pay off.

By the way, my other proposal for Princeton has been this:  rather than increasing the educational quality 1% more to the existing students, why not bring Ivy League education to 3x as many students.  I have always wondered why a school like Princeton doesn't buy a bunch of cheap land in Arizona and build a western campus for another 10,000 kids.

My son and I spent the last year touring colleges.  One common denominator of all the good and great private colleges:  they are all over 100 years old.  Rice was probably the newest, when a rich guy toured the great colleges of the world and thought he could do as well, and started Rice  (Stanford is older but has a sort of similar origin story).  Where are the new schools?  The number of kids with the qualifications and desire to go to a top private college have skyrocketed, and tuition have risen far more than inflation, but there is no new supply coming on the market.  Why is that?

My Highest Recommendation

I have pimped the Teaching Company (now called the Great Courses) for years on this blog.  I have done over 20 courses, and am nearly addicted to their offerings.  Nothing bums we out more than to read their catalog and find nothing new I want, except when that happens I order something random I don't think I want and usually love it.  I listen to music a lot less than I used to because I often have a Great Course on my mp3 player instead.

Via Econlog comes a great article about the Great Courses, and make me feel a bit better that I am not alone in my obsession.  Its one of those really interesting stories about an entrepreneur who sticks with his vision, right down to his last dollar.

But it is also a depressing read for someone who may soon be sending his kid to a small liberal arts college.  Some excerpts related to current college education:

the company offers a treasure trove of traditional academic content that undergraduates paying $50,000 a year may find nowhere on their Club Med–like campuses. This past academic year, for example, a Bowdoin College student interested in American history courses could have taken “Black Women in Atlantic New Orleans,” “Women in American History, 1600–1900,” or “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl: Gender and the Suburbs,” but if he wanted a course in American political history, the colonial and revolutionary periods, or the Civil War, he would have been out of luck. A Great Courses customer, by contrast, can choose from a cornucopia of American history not yet divvied up into the fiefdoms of race, gender, and sexual orientation, with multiple offerings in the American Revolution, the constitutional period, the Civil War, the Bill of Rights, and the intellectual influences on the country’s founding. There are lessons here for the academy, if it will only pay them heed....

The Great Courses’ uninhibited enthusiasm is so alien to contemporary academic discourse that several professors who have recorded for the firm became defensive when I asked them about their course descriptions, emphatically denying any part in writing the copy—as if celebrating beauty were something to be ashamed of....

So totalitarian is the contemporary university that professors have written to Rollins complaining that his courses are too canonical in content and do not include enough of the requisite “silenced” voices. It is not enough, apparently, that identity politics dominate college humanities departments; they must also rule outside the academy. Of course, outside the academy, theory encounters a little something called the marketplace, where it turns out that courses like “Queering the Alamo,” say, can’t compete with “Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition.”...

In its emphasis on teaching, the company differs radically from the academic world, where “teaching is routinely stigmatized as a lower-order pursuit, and the ‘real’ academic work is research,” notes Allen Guelzo, an American history professor at Gettysburg College. Though colleges ritually berate themselves for not putting a high enough premium on teaching, they inevitably ignore that skill in awarding tenure or extra pay. As for reaching an audience beyond the hallowed walls of academe, perhaps a regular NPR gig would gain notice in the faculty lounge, but not a Great Courses series. Jeremy McInerney, a University of Pennsylvania history professor, told The Chronicle of Higher Education in 1998 that he wouldn’t have taped “Ancient Greek Civilization” for the company if his tenure vote had been in doubt: “This doesn’t win you any further respect. If anything, there’s a danger of people looking down on it, since many people are suspicious of anything that reeks of popularism.” So much for the academy’s supposed stance against elitism....

Further, it isn’t clear that the Great Courses professors teach the same way back on their home campuses. A professor who teaches the Civil War as the “greatest slave uprising in history” to his undergraduates because that is what is expected of him, says University of Pennsylvania history professor Alan Kors, will know perfectly well how to teach a more intellectually honest course for paying adults.

While I took a fair number of liberal arts courses, being an engineer really sheltered me from this kind of BS.  But my kids interests run more towards liberal arts, and while I am working to enforce the double major approach (you can take whatever major interests you as long as you double it with economics or something useful), I still despair that they really are going to get what they think they will get at college.

College Bleg, Wesleyan (CT) Edition

My son is being recruited, at a minimum, at Bowdoin, Vassar, Wesleyan, Haverford, Kenyon and possibly Amherst and Pomona to play baseball.  We have a pretty good handle on all these schools except Wesleyan in Connecticut, which we have visited but we are having a hard time getting a read on.

In the 2011 Insider's Guide to the Colleges, Wesleyan is described as an extreme example of a college dedicated to politically correct intolerance.  The book says that the classes tend to be mainly focused on teaching kids to be radical activists rather than any traditional subject matter.  Social life is portrayed as revolving around marijuana and hallucinogens.   It is by far the most negative review we have read (well, I suppose this would not be negative to some).

We are trying to get a read on the accuracy of this.    Any of you know this school or attend it?   Is there truth to this, or does the writer have an ax to grind?   He is not naive to what he will find politically at New England liberal arts colleges. The question is not whether there is a lot of leftish political correctness - that is a baseline in all such schools.  The question is whether this school is unusually extreme.  The book makes it sound like it is Kos Kidz Academy.    Comment or send me an email.

Update:  Hmm, based on the comments, I explained myself poorly.  Nic will likely never play pro ball.  If that were his goal, we would definitely be looking to ASU or Texas.  He has decided he wants to go to a small liberal arts college.  Baseball has two synergies - one, he would like to play in college.  Two, being recruited for sports helps in the admissions process at selective schools.

There is money set aside to pay for college, from a source such that it needs to be used for college, so arguments about price-value issues with college are not immediately relevant.

The Administration's War on Due Process

Obama's Department of Education has been issuing a series of new rules to colleges that accept government funds (ie pretty much all of them) that going forward, they will be required to

  • Expand the definition of sexual harassment, forcing it to include even Constitutionally-protected speech.  Sexual harassment will essentially be redefined as "somehow offending a female."
  • Eliminate traditional protections for those accused of sexual harassment under these new definitions.  The presumption of innocence, beyond a reasonable doubt guilt standards, the ability to face and cross-examine one's accuser, and the right of appeal are among centuries old common law traditions that the DOE is seeking to eliminate in colleges.

Unfortunately, this is a really hard threat to tackle.  Most of those concerned with civil rights protections outside our small libertarian community are on the left, and these same people are often fully vested in the modern feminist belief that all men are rapists.  It also puts libertarians in the position of defending crude and boorish speech, or at least defending the right to that speech.

But at the end of the day, the DOE needs to be forced to explain why drunk and stupid frat boys chanting crude slogans outside the women's center on campus should have fewer rights as accused than does a serial murder.

Michael Barone has more today in the Washington Times:

But more often they involve alleged offenses defined in vague terms and depending often on subjective factors. Lukianoff notes that campus definitions of sexual harassment include "humor and jokes about sex in general that make someone feel uncomfortable" (University of California at Berkeley), "unwelcome sexual flirtations and inappropriate put-downs of individual persons or classes of people" (Iowa State University) or "elevator eyes" (Murray State University in Kentucky).

All of which means that just about any student can be hauled before a disciplinary committee. Jokes about sex will almost always make someone uncomfortable, after all, and usually you can't be sure if flirting will be welcome except after the fact. And how do you define "elevator eyes"?

Given the prevailing attitudes among faculty and university administrators, it's not hard to guess who will be the target of most such proceedings. You only have to remember how rapidly and readily top administrators and dozens of faculty members were ready to castigate as guilty of rape the Duke lacrosse players who, as North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper concluded, were absolutely innocent.

What the seemingly misnamed Office of Civil Rights is doing here is demanding the setting up of kangaroo courts and the dispensing of what I would call marsupial justice against students who are disfavored by campus denizens because of their gender or race or political attitude. "Alice in Wonderland's" Red Queen would approve.

As Lukianoff points out, OCR had other options. The Supreme Court in a 1999 case defined sexual harassment as conduct "so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims' educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution's resources and opportunities." In other words, more than a couple of tasteless jokes or a moment of elevator eyes.

Women'g groups all the time say things like "all men are rapists."  That's pretty hostile and degrading to men.  My guess is that somehow this kind of gender-hostile speech will not be what gets investigated by these kangaroo courts.

I wrote about related events at Yale here.

Outsourcing Hiring Decisions to Colleges

A while back I wrote this as part of a response saying that the only way to get into a top consultancy was to got to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford.  Having joined a top consulting firm from Princeton and Harvard, I thought some of their observations to be BS, but there is a certain core of truth.  As I wrote then:

There is some rationality in this approach – it is not all mindless snobbism.   Take Princeton.  It screens something like 25,000 already exceptional applicants down to just 1500, and then further carefully monitors their performance through intensive contact over a four year period.  This is WAY more work and resources than a private firm could ever apply to the hiring process.  In effect, by limiting their hiring to just a few top schools, they are outsourcing a lot of their performance evaluation work to those schools.

Matthew Shaffer, via Glen Reynolds, write something similar about all college degrees:

Those of us who question the price and value of higher education don’t disagree that people with B.A.s do much better in life, especially in employment. We disagree about the source of that advantage: The B.A. may mostlycorrelate with and signal for, rather than impart important qualities. (Really we all agree it’s some mix of the three factors — our differences are of emphasis.)...

We skeptics think this: Since employers can no longer measure job applicants’ IQs nor put them through long apprenticeships, graduating college is the way job-searchers signal an intelligence and diligence that college itself may have contributed little toward. Employers are (to use a little economic jargon) partially outsourcing their employee search to colleges. This is a good deal for employers, because college costs them nothing, and the social pressure to get a BA means they won’t miss too many good prospective recruits by limiting their search to college grads.

I think this has a lot of truth to it, but it can't entirely be true -- if it were, your degree would not matter but we know engineering and economics majors get hired more than poetry majors.  Though one could still stick with the strong skeptical position by arguing that degree choice is again merely a signal as to interests and outlook and a potentially even a proxy for other characteristics (to the latter point, what is your mental picture of an engineering major? a women's studies major? a politics major?  an econ major?)

Outrageous -- Hedge Funds Using Obama Administration to Gut Their Short-Selling Targets

Living in Phoenix I know a number of people who work for Apollo (University of Phoenix).  They have obviously been appalled by the Obama war on for-profit colleges and the egregiously-flawed report that came out last year.  Several have told me they have complained for a while that certain hedge funds were pushing this initiative in order to make money off of short positions on their stock.  I thought this was a bit paranoid, but now the accusation is coming from third parties, even those on the Left:

A proposed regulation from the Education Department threatens to devastate for-profit career or trade schools, but one thing is even more controversial than the regulation -- how it was crafted.

Education Department officials were encouraged and advised about the content of the regulation by a man who stood to make millions if it were issued.

"Wall Street investors were manipulating the regulatory process and Department of Education officials were letting them," charged Melanie Sloan of a liberal-leaning ethics watchdog called Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington....

Among others, Sloan is referring to Steven Eisman, a hedge fund manager and a figure in the book "The Big Short," who testified in the Senate against for-profit career or trade schools, attacking them as "fundamentally unsound."

At the same time, he was betting that the stocks of those companies would fall, a practice known as short selling. "Making sure that they were going to be defamed and that their value was going to be depressed," said Harry Alford, head of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, who worries about the schools because they serve many minority students.

Simultaneously, through emails and conference calls, Eisman was advising Education Department officials -- and one White House adviser -- in detail on how best to write the new regulation, which he estimated would reduce the schools' earnings by as much as 75 percent.

The proposed regulation from the administration is aimed at what are known as career or vocational schools. The rule would cut federal aid to programs where student debt levels are deemed to be too high and where students are struggling to repay their loans.

In other news, everyone seems A-OK with kids in not-for-profit universities running up $200,000 debts to get such lucrative, workplace-ready degrees as women's studies, comp. lit. and poetry.

Scenes From My Son Studying For His AP Exams

Scene 1, History AP:  My son asked me how WWII ended the Depression.  I said that the draft soaked up a lot of excess workers, which reduced unemployment, and British buying for the war helped our economy but that the war generally destroyed rather than created wealth.  He said, "Dad, you can't tell it to me that way.  The guy grading the AP is going to be a Keynesian."  So we talked multipliers and aggregate demand.

Scene 2, Spanish AP:  My son hands me a list of Spanish words he is trying to learn.  They are the Spanish words for things like "social justice,"  "poverty", "exploitation", etc.  I told him it was an odd selection of words.  He said that nearly every Spanish essay in every Spanish textbook he had ever had were about revolution and stopping the rich from exploiting the poor and fighting global warming.  So he wanted to be prepared for a similar topic on the AP.    After the test, I remembered this conversation and asked him what the essay was.  He said the topic was "show why the government of poor countries should give free bicycles to the poor to fight global warming."

OK, Can We Declare Victory in the Whole "Failing at Fairness" Thing?

Via Mark Perry

From yesterday's Census report on educational attainment, the chart above shows the college degree gap in favor of women for all levels of higher education for age group between 25-29.  More than 60% of advanced degrees are now held by women for that age group, up by more than three percentage points from the 58.2% reported by Census for 2009.  For African-Americans ages 25-29,  there are 239 women holding advanced degrees for every 100 men with graduate degrees (70.5% female vs. 29.5% male).

See his original for a good chart.

By the way, the answer to the question in the title is probably "no."  Advocacy groups never go away -- they just seek new problems.  Too much money to be gained in achieving victim status.

Lack of Imagination

One of the things I struggle with in arguing for ending the government schools monopoly is a lack of imagination.  In most people's lifetimes, there has never been a robust network of private school options to fit all needs and budgets, so folks assume that that such choices can't exist -- that there is some structural failure of capitalism that would prevent these choices from existing rather than structural government factors that have prevented them from existing.

Don Boudreaux has a nice analogy that helps make the logic of school choice clearer.

Get Over It

As much as I enjoy seeing Yale circling the drain of self-destruction, I am simply flabbergasted by the most recent discrimination suit it faces from a group of current and former female students.

The Yale group's confidential Title IX complaint to the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reportedly includes testimony about sexual assaults, but the hostile-environment charge against the university rests as well on a litany of complaints about offensive exercises of First Amendment freedoms. A December 2010 draft complaint letter, obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), focuses on these "incidents": In 2006, a group of frat boys chant "No means yes, yes means anal" outside the Yale Women's Center. In 2010, a group of fraternity pledges repeat this obnoxious chant outside a first-year women's dorm. In 2008, pledges surround the Women's Center holding signs saying, "We love Yale sluts." In 2009, Yale students publish a report listing the names and addresses of first-year women and estimating the number of beers "it would take to have sex with them."

There are few adults who would not recognize these incidents as stupid, boorish frat-boy behavior not to be emulated.  But taking Yale to court, in effect seeking to force the University to punish such speech, takes the current college trend of protection the right not to be offended to absurd extremes.

Consider for a moment that there are radical women's organizations on most college campuses that take it as an article of faith that all men are rapists and all men are complicit in violence against women.   How is this speech any less aggressive, though it is treated with complete respect by universities.  In fact, many integrate this point of view into required Freshman sensitivity training.   Women on compuses routinely engage in speech saying that every man is a guilty felon complicit in awful crimes, and I don't see any men whining and running to Uncle Sugar to protect their delicate ears from offense.  At least the frat boys were probably drunk and joking -- the women are sober and dead serious.

Don't not be mistaken -- this is not about rights or freedom, but about a bid for totalitarian control of campuses by a niche group.  From Wendy Kaminer

Sad to say, but feminism helped lead the assault on civil liberty and now seems practically subsumed by it. Decades ago, when Catherine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, and their followers began equating pornography with rape (literally) and calling it a civil-rights violation, groups of free-speech feminists fought back, in print, at conferences, and in state legislatures, with some success. We won some battles (and free speech advocates in general can take solace in the Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the right to engage in offensive speech on public property and public affairs). But all things considered (notably the generations of students unlearning liberty) we seem to be losing the war, especially among progressives.

This is not simply a loss for liberty on campus and the right to indulge in what's condemned as verbal harassment or bullying, broadly defined. It's a loss of political freedom: the theories of censoring offensive or hurtful speech that are used to prosecute alleged student harassers are used to foment opposition to the right to burn a flag or a copy of the Quran or build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero. The disregard for liberty that the Obama administration displays in its approach to sexual harassment and bullying is consistent with its disregard for  liberty, and the presumption of innocence, in the Bush/Obama war on terror. Of course, the restriction of puerile, sexist speech on campus is an inconvenience compared to the indefinite detention or show trials of people suspected of terrorism, sometimes on the basis of un-reviewed or un-reviewable evidence. But underlying trivial and tragic deprivations of liberty, the authoritarian impulse is the same.

PS-  The last part in the first quote about rating women as related to sex is ironic, as, if memory serves, Yale was the location around 1980 when a group of female students created a guide rating male students on their sexual talents.  When women do it, it is a brave act of liberation.  When men do it, it is sexual harassment.

PPS-  My son is going through the college admissions process.  All these schools stress how much they are looking for future leaders.  How can Yale be so selective that it has an admissions rate around 7% of applicants but still end up with so many people who cannot function in the world as an adult?  The women are begging to have a daddy to protect them and the men seem to need a daddy to kick their ass until they act like adults.

It's the Only Way I Found to Stop Bullying

I was struck by this article about a kid who was bullied for years finally fighting back against his tormentors, and being suspended for his efforts.   I was physically bullied for years in elementary school and it was not until middle school I woke up one day and realized I was now a lot bigger than the perpetrators and I beat the sh*t out of one of them in a library study room.  Problem over.

I am probably the most passive, least violent person in the libertarian blogosphere (half the sites I really like sound like Burt Reynolds in Deliverance).  For God sakes, I am a libertarian that does not even own a freaking gun.  But at some point there are people who only understand violence.  I figure five years of failed attempted dialog on my part constituted sufficient due diligence before I activated the ground troups.  Afterwards, I was absolutely embarrassed that that the problem turned out so easy to end.

PS-  This is NOT a plea for some stupid government anti-bullying program.  It sucks to be bullied, but it would suck worse to have the government try to aggressively administer justice among 13 year olds.