We've been pretty happy with the education and experience at Amherst College but it is scary as hell to think anyone at school can ruin your kid's life by basically just pointing a finger at them. Amherst's version of Kafka's 'The Trial".
Archive for the ‘Education’ Category.
In response to a Jon Stewart (uninformed) dig about Baltimore schools being crappy because they are poorly funded, we get this:
The National Center for Education Statistics reports the following data on Baltimore City Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools, the latter considered among the best school districts in the entire country:
So what about the teachers? Maybe the schools waste a lot of this money and skimp on teachers' salaries? Yes on the first part, but no on the second.
To my eye, Baltimore teachers are quite well paid, starting at over $47,000 base salary (plus substantial benefits, likely better than what you have) and ramping up to over $80,000 a year for "professional" teachers which I presume means they have a post-graduate degree of some sort. I am not sure if these salaries are for 9, 10, or 12 months of work, but if I read page 25 of their union contact correctly, teachers can work no more than 190 days a year vs. about 250 for the typical professional job. This would make their starting salary equivalent to $61,842 for a full-year job. Add to that tens of thousands in pension and health benefits, 21 different types of allowed leave time, and a virtual inability to be fired, and that's pretty damn good pay.
Postscript: I will add that I was fortunate enough to be able to send my kids to top private schools in Phoenix K-12. We obviously paid less in elementary school and more in high school, but the average private tuition we paid in those 13 years of school, even adjusted for inflation, is well below the $17,196 per pupil spent in Baltimore public schools. I am simply exhausted with people saying this is about money. It is about a senescent government monopoly with no accountability and no incentive to improve because it faces no competition.
Saying that such a dialogue was essential to the college’s academic mission, Trescott University president Kevin Abrams confirmed Monday that the school encourages a lively exchange of one idea. “As an institution of higher learning, we recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion,” said Abrams, adding that no matter the subject, anyone on campus is always welcome to add their support to the accepted consensus.
Universities are, if anything, institutions based on ideas and thought. So it has always been amazing to me that university diversity programs focus not on having a diversity of ideas, but on have a diversity of skin pigment and reproductive plumbing. In fact, if anything, most universities seem to be aspiring towards creating an intellectual monoculture.
Via Reason, a college rugby team has been banned because, gasp, they sang boorish songs when drunk:
The University of Mary Washington permanently cancelled its student rugby team after evidence surfaced that team members had engaged in sexist chanting at an off-campus house party. All members of the team were also required to attend sexual assault training.
But while UMW's rugby team has 46 players, only 8 of them were even in attendance at the party—meaning that not only did a public university punish a few students for engaging in inappropriate (though constitutionally-protected) speech, it also punished other students who had nothing to do with said (again, constitutionally-protected!) speech.
The microaggression unfolded last November at a house party near the Fredericksburg, Virginia, campus, according to Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan. Some students, likely drunk, sang a demeaning song about raping corpses and "wiggling it" inside whores—inappropriate stuff, to be sure, though not really targeted at a specific entity in a threatening way. The chant apparently has its origins in rowdy "pub" songs. It's a curious tradition, though not one intended to inspire actual malice, it seems.
I played rugby for several years (for Harvard Business School, of all places) and never encountered a rugby club that did not have a repertoire of raunchy pub songs. It was a tradition, which I presume was copied from the mother country, that teams would share in singing of these songs over many drinks after a match. While often crude and offensive, they were known to all to be so. I can't remember anyone being somehow confused between what was in those songs and what was a correct way to comport oneself in society. We sang crude songs for a few hours, and then went back to crafting strategies for water meter manufacturers.
Leaving aside the first amendment issues and whether there is really any harmful behavior here, think for a moment about the nature of crime and punishment here. College rugby teams have comported themselves as such for literally scores of years without any blowback except for occasional disdain from the blue bloods (the inciting of which is probably half the reason for the exercise in the first place). No laws or written rules were broken and the team was comporting themselves in a way that had been at least implicitly tolerated for generations. Then all of a sudden the team is disbanded. No advance warning, no discussion in advance that such behavior would now be treated in the future as illegal.
“Choice is inherently inequitable”
Because some people make choices that their betters, like Ms. Fewer, do not agree with, government needs the power to override individual decision-making. We will come back to this, but it turns out the problem here may not be too much choice, but too little.
The entire article is about school choice (defined VERY narrowly as the ability to pick what monopoly government school you want to attend, not the ability to take a voucher and pick any school) leading to a greater racial sorting, rather than mixing, in San Francisco schools.
I have no idea why that would be. And I still have no idea, because the article presented absolutely no facts. Oddly, my first guess -- that racial sorting of schools might match racial sorting of neighborhoods since people want to send their kids to a school that is close with kids and parents they know -- is not even mentioned until, in passing, it comes up around the 35th paragraph.
One of the issues that seems to be confusing the author is that people sometimes express preferences they don't act on. You see that in the very examples in the article. All the parents interviewed say they want a multi-cultural school, perhaps because they are really passionate about that or perhaps because they know they are supposed to say that, but it is not hard to see that these folks care more about having a school nearby with kids and parents with whom they are culturally comfortable. I find it a little weird that the city with possibly the most famous ethnic neighborhood in the country (ie Chinatown) has trouble understanding that there are totally non-racist reasons why ethnic groups, particularly those who speak other languages, might voluntarily sort.
One funny thing in the article that I have pointed out in other contexts: in the absence of facts people like to explain bad trends (and it is not even established that this is necessarily a bad trend, just a trend that planners don't like) with whatever they were against before the trend revealed itself. Teachers don't like the school choice system, so school choice is to blame. Social activists are concerned with income inequality, so they blame the problem on income inequality.
In fact, a lot of the article pursues the inequality thesis, but the interesting lede, in my mind, was buried way way down in the article:
Though the number of racially isolated schools jumped by 22 percent over three years, according to a district study, to date none are more than 60 percent white. Yet in a broader sense, white children are the most isolated in the city.
Whites are 42 percent of the city’s overall population, 33 percent of the children but only 12 percent of public school students. Why aren’t more white children in public school? Again, money appears to be the key factor: The average white San Franciscan makes three times more money than the average black resident. Whites on average also make 66 percent more money than Latinos, and 44 percent more than Asians. Possibly as a result of this wealth, white children are much more likely to be enrolled in private schools than other racial groups.
So the reason public schools are sorting into minority-majority schools is that whites have mostly bailed from the school system altogether. My response to this is not that "choice" has created inequality but that choice hasn't gone far enough. Don't just give public school kids a choice of which crappy public school they want to attend, but hand them the public money the system was going to spend on their education and let them go anywhere for school, just like rich kids.
...Probably Nick Saban, coach of the University of Alabama football team at around $7 million a year. But Jim Harbaugh, recently hired by the University of Michigan for a $5 million base salary, apparently has incentives that can take that up to $9 million a year.
Apologists will argue that this is all OK and shouldn't worry taxpayers at all because these guys are paid out of the college athletic budget which is generated from sports revenue rather than taxes. Hmm. Any state parks agency probably generates millions or tens of millions each year in user fees. Should we be OK with the state employee who runs those agencies making $5 million because it comes out of user fees rather than taxes? Money is fungible. $5 million more spent on a football coach is $5 million less that can fund other University services.
(PS - in the US Today ranking of college football coach salaries, 19 of 20 are at public institutions).
I wrote Dean Nohria in response to this story
Last week, Edelman ordered what he thought was $53.35 worth of Chinese food from Sichuan Garden’s Brookline Village location.
Edelman soon came to the horrifying realization that he had been overcharged. By a total of $4.
If you’ve ever wondered what happens when a Harvard Business School professor thinks a family-run Chinese restaurant screwed him out of $4, you’re about to find out.
(Hint: It involves invocation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute and multiple threats of legal action.)
Here was the letter I sent, which was significantly more mature in tone for having waited 24 hours before writing it
My wife and I are both HBS '89 grads. We own and actively manage a small to medium size service business. I was encouraged at our last reunion to hear a lot of the effort HBS seems to be placing on small business and entrepreneurship.
However, I was horrified to see an HBS professor (prof Edelman) in the news harassing a small business over a small mistake on its web site. I don't typically get worked up about Harvard grads acting out, but in this particular case his actions are absolutely at the core of what is making the operation of a small business increasingly impossible in this country.
Small businesses face huge and growing compliance risks from almost every direction -- labor law, safety rules, environmental rules, consumer protection laws, bounty programs like California prop 65, etc. What all these have in common is that they impose huge penalties for tiny mistakes, mistakes that can be avoided only by the application of enormous numbers of labor hours in compliance activities. These compliance costs are relatively easy for large companies to bear, but back-breaking for small companies.
So it is infuriating to see an HBS professor attempting to impose yet another large cost on a small business for a tiny mistake, particularly when the proprietor's response was handled so well. Seriously, as an aside, I took service management from Ben Shapiro back in the day and I could easily see the restaurateur involved being featured positively in a case study. He does all the same things I learned at HBS -- reading every customer comment personally, responding personally to complaints, bending over backwards to offer more than needed in order to save the relationship with the customer.
As for the restaurateur's web site mistake -- even in a larger, multi-site company, I as owner do all my own web work. Just as I do a million other things to keep things running. And it is hard, in fact virtually impossible, to keep all of our web sites up to date. Which is why Professor Edelman's response just demonstrates to me that for all HBS talks about entrepreneurship, the faculty at HBS is still more attuned to large corporations and how they operate with their enormous staff resources rather than to small businesses.
Large corporations are crushing smaller ones in industry after industry because of the economy of scale they have in managing such compliance issues. If the HBS faculty were truly committed to entrepreneurship, it should be thinking about how technology and process can be harnessed by smaller businesses to reduce the relative costs of these activities. How, for example, can I keep up with 150+ locations that each need a web presence when my sales per site are so much less than that of a larger corporation? This is not impossible -- I have learned some tools and techniques over time -- and we should be teaching and expanding these, rather than spending time raising the cost of compliance for small business.
Kevin Drum has some sensible thoughts on Ray Rice, discipline and the NFL -- "Sensible" defined in this case as largely mirroring my own:
Ray Rice committed a crime. We have a system for dealing with crimes: the criminal justice system. Employers are not good candidates to be extrajudicial arms for punishing criminal offenders, and I would be very, very careful about thinking that they should be.
Now, I'll grant up front that the NFL is a special case. It operates on a far, far more public level than most employers. It's a testosterone-filled institution, and stricter rules are often appropriate in environments like that. Kids take cues from what they see their favorite players doing. TV networks and sponsors understandably demand a higher level of good behavior than they do from most employers.
Nevertheless, do we really want employers—even the NFL—reacting in a panic to transient public outrage by essentially barring someone for life from ever practicing their craft? Should FedEx do that? Should IBM do that? Google? Mother Jones? Perhaps for the most serious offenses they should, and it's certainly common to refuse to hire job candidates with felony records of any kind. (Though I'll note that a good many liberals think this is a misguided and unfair policy.) But for what Ray Rice did?
I just don't know about that. Generally speaking, I think we're better off handling crimes through the criminal justice system, not through the capricious judgments of employers—most of whom don't have unions to worry about and can fire employees at a whim. I might be overreacting, but that seems like it could become a dangerous precedent that hurts a lot more people than it helps.
I agree 100%. The NFL was simply insane to venture into the role as a shadow legal system to apply punishments based on their investigation and judgement in parallel with those of the legal system. They would have been much better off simply establishing a schedule of internal penalties that were based on the outcomes of the legal system.
That being said, I wish other writers on the Left would read Drum's column and ask themselves why this same logic wouldn't apply to colleges as well. It is unbelievable to me that Liberals of all people -- who have largely defended due process rights in the legal system for years against Conservative attempts to trim them -- would suddenly wage a campaign to substitute kangaroo courts run by university administrators in the place of normal police and judicial procedures for crimes as serious as rape. I am historically skeptical of the legal system and the people in it, but all of these problems would only be worse trying to have a bunch of amateurs at universities setting up a parallel system.
There is certainly a problem to be solved -- though the 1 in 5 statistic is completely bogus and exaggerated -- but the diagnosis of the problem has been all wrong. The problem is that Universities have historically created internal police forces and disciplinary processes for the express purpose of protecting their students from the normal legal system. This is a practice and tradition that goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. And it worked fine, at least as far as I am concerned, when the University was protecting students from marijuana or underage drinking busts by town police.
But institutions develop a culture, and the culture of university disciplinary processes has been to 1. keep the student out of the legal system and 2. get the student to graduation. I have friends who have been kicked out of top universities a few times, but the University in the end bent over backwards to take them back and get them over the finish line.
So it is disappointing, but not surprising, that universities approached more heinous crimes with this same culture and mindset. And some egregious sexual assaults got swept under the rug. Again, I think some folks are exaggerating these numbers by assuming there are tens or hundreds of these cases for every one we hear about. But we can agree on the core fact, I think, that the typical college disciplinary culture of protecting students from the legal system has failed some victims of sexual assault.
But this is where everyone seems to be going off track. The Obama Administration solution for this problem is to demand that universities develop more robust fact-finding and disciplinary processes for such felonies, and remove procedural protections for the accused as a way to offset the historic university culture to go to far in protecting wrongdoers.
This is nuts. Seriously. Given the set of facts, a far simpler solution, fairer to both accused and victims, would have been for the Obama Administration simply to demand that Universities hand over evidence of crimes to police and prosecutors trained to know what to do with it. If the University wants to take special steps to get victims help coping with their recovery using University resources, or help victims and the accused who are University students cope with the rough edges of the legal process, great.
Postscript: Another problem is that punishments meted out by universities are going to always be wrong, by definition. Let's say a student is accused of rape and kicked out. Two possibilities. If he is innocent of the charge, then he was punished way too much. If he was guilty, if he really raped someone, he was punished way too little -- and by the University screwing around with it and messing up the chain of evidence and taking statements without following the correct process, they may have killed any chance of a conviction in the legal system. The current process the Obama Administration is forcing punishes the innocent and protects the truly guilty.
In the continuing battle to give males in college roughly the same due process rights as possessed by a black man in 1930's Alabama, my alma mater was one of the last holdouts fighting the trend. No longer:
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education wrapped up its investigation of Princeton University's sexual harassment and assault policies. The findings were unsurprising, though still striking: the government essentially accused the university of violating federal anti-discrimination law by extending too much due process to accused students.
Princeton had been one of the last hold-outs on the standard of proof in college rape trials. The university required adjudicators to obtain "clear and convincing" proof that a student was guilty of sexual assault before convicting him. That's too tough, said DOE. As part of its settlement, Princeton is required to lower its evidence standard to "a preponderance of the evidence," which means adjudicators must convict if they are 50.1 percent persuaded by the accuser.
Princeton's old policy was also criticized by DOE for allowing accused students to appeal decisions, but not accusers. Both this practice and the evidence standard were revised under Princeton's new, DOE-compliant policy.
Note that Princeton's former policies on burden of proof and restrictions on double jeopardy roughly mirror the due process rights Americans have in every other context except when they are males accused of sexual assault on a college campus.
I wish Princeton had held out and forced the Administration to test this in court. I certainly would have donated to support the legal fund.
I am not even going to excerpt it. You need to read Ken Whites satirical take on Miles Sisk demanding that bloggers who made animated GIF's critical of student government be thrown into concentration camps, or something.
How are people like this going to actually survive in the real world? They are going to leave college and just sort of explode, like deep sea creatures brought up to the surface. Someone please tell me that Miles Sisk is actually a clever performance artist.
Update: OK, one little excerpt:
Sisk has not provided any evidence that the mean bloggers have made threats of harm as opposed to trite gifs and memes about banal student politics. "If a privileged kid who is a student leader at a good university feels he has to demand that the state protect him from criticism, what possible hope do most Americans have of governing themselves?" asked Yale historian Margaret Scott. "Freedom is hard. Self-governance is hard. Living together without resorting to tyranny is hard. Our founders pledged to each other 'our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor' to achieve those goals. This kid won't pledge to put up with someone mocking student government with a Parks & Recreation screencap."
Scientists agreed that Sisk's lack of fortitude — which was described as "pusillanimous," "snivellingly serfish," "contemptibly spineless," and "typical for a sophomore" — marked the rise of an American citizen unable to carry the burdens of representative government, individual rights, or unregulated daily interactions with other humans. "It's not just his craven thirst for totalitarian rule," agreed Duke professor Wil Trent. "It's also the abject ignorance. Running a society together requires a baseline of civic literacy. When even a student leader at a good university is ignorant of the most basic rights of other citizens — game over, man. Game over."
One of the traditions of college football is that rabid student fans will paint their face, and sometimes whole body, in school colors. So when some ASU students painted their face black (the school's uniform color for the last several years) for a college football game, one would expect that people would take this as an entirely normal event, an expression of school loyalty. One would NOT expect that people would immediately assume the face-painting was some sort of racist statement. I mean, really, you wouldn't expect the rules to be different just because the school's uniform color happened to be black, right?
Well, you would be wrong. In this hyper-sensitive world of people SEEKING to be offended, people got offended.
PS - when our Coyote's hockey team makes the playoffs, they have a thing called a "white out" where everyone dresses in white, face paints in white, etc. Next time they make the playoffs (which may be a while), I think I am going to be offended.
For that reason, the law is only worth the paper it’s written on if some of the critics’ fears come true. Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases—particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons—that will convince men that they better Be Pretty Damn Sure.
Good God, I have had many differences with liberals on a variety of issues but I have always made common cause with them on civil rights and criminal justice issues. I can't believe he wrote this. What is the difference from what Klein writes and and having a 1960's southern sheriff argue that it is OK to hang a few black men because it has the benefit of making the rest of the African-American population more docile? Last week I asked:
It is the exact same kind of rules of criminal procedure that Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey would have applauded. Unacknowledged is the inevitable growth of Type I errors (punishing the innocent) that are sure to result. Do the proponents not understand this tradeoff? Or, just like the archetypal southern sheriff believed vis a vis blacks, do women's groups assume that the convicted male "must be guilty of something".
I guess we have our answer.
This is from the Wesleyan (CT) student center. They had a men's and women's room plus this single stall multi-gender bathroom
Please don't mistake me for a cultural conservative here. I am not complaining about this or posting it as a sign of the apocalypse. I actually think the one stall multi-gender bathroom (which a lot of public buildings already have but they are simply called "family" bathrooms) is a reasonable accommodation for those who struggle with the typical two gender classifications. I did find the third gender symbol sort of funny, and only on a modern college campus would a restroom sign need 14 words of gender explanation in the (probably futile) hope of not offending anyone.
In the 1970's, Hollywood produced a number of movies that drew from a frustration that the criminal justice system was broken. Specifically, a surprisingly large number of people felt that due process protections of accused criminals had gone too far, and were causing police and prosecutors to lose the war on crime. In the Dirty Harry movies, Clint Eastwood is constantly fighting against what are portrayed as soft-hearted Liberal protections of criminals. In the Death Wish movies, Charles Bronson's character goes further, acting as a private vigilante meeting out well-deserved justice on criminals the system can't seem to catch.
There are always folks who do not understand and accept the design of our criminal justice system. Every system that makes judgments has type I and type II errors. In the justice system, type I errors are those that decide an innocent person is guilty and type II errors are those that decide a guilty person is not guilty. While there are reforms that reduce both types of errors, at the margin improvements that reduce type I errors tend to increase type II errors and vice versa.
Given this tradeoff, a system designer has to choose which type of error he or she is willing to live with. And in criminal justice the rule has always been to reduce type I errors (conviction of the innocent) even if this increases type II errors (letting the guilty go free).
And this leads to the historic friction -- people see the type II errors, the guilty going free, and want to do something about it. But they forget, or perhaps don't care, that for each change that puts more of the guilty in jail, more innocent people will go to jail too. Movies cheat on this, by showing you the criminal committing the crimes, so you know without a doubt they are guilty. But in the real world, no one has this certainty. Even with supposed witnesses. A lot of men, most of them black, in the south have been put to death with witness testimony and then later exonerated when it was too late.
This 1970's style desire for private justice to substitute for a justice system that was seen as too soft on crime was mainly a feature of the Right. Today, however, calls for private justice seem to most often come from the Left.
It is amazing how much women's groups and the Left today remind me of the Dirty Harry Right of the 1970's. They fear an epidemic of crime against women, egged on by a few prominent folks who exaggerate crime statistics to instill fear for political purposes. In this environment of fear, they see the criminal justice system as failing women, doing little to bring rapist men to justice or change their behavior (though today the supposed reason for this injustice is Right-wing patriarchy rather than Left-wing bleeding heartism).
Observe the controversies around prosecution of campus sexual assaults and the bruhaha around the video of Ray Rice hitting a woman in an elevator. In both cases, these crimes are typically the purview of the criminal justice system. However, it is clear that the Left has given up on the criminal justice system with all its "protections" of the accused. Look at the Ray Rice case -- when outrage flared for not having a strong enough punishment, it was all aimed at the NFL. There was a New Jersey state prosecutor that had allowed Rice into a pre-trial diversion program based on his lack of a criminal record, but no one on the Left even bothered with him. They knew the prosecutor had to follow the law. When it comes to campus sexual assault, no one on the Left seems to be calling for more police action. They are demanding that college administrators with no background in criminal investigation or law create shadow judiciary systems instead.
The goal is to get out of the legally constrained criminal justice system and into a more lawless private environment. This allows:
- A complete rewrite in the rules of evidence and of guilt and innocence. At the behest of Women's groups, the Department of Justice and the state of California have re-written criminal procedure and required preponderance of the evidence (rather than beyond a reasonable doubt) conviction standards for sexual assault on campus. Defendants in sexual assault cases on campus are stripped of their traditional legal rights to a lawyer, to see all evidence in advance, to face their accuser, to cross-examine witnesses, etc. etc. It is the exact same kind of rules of criminal procedure that Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey would have applauded. Unacknowledged is the inevitable growth of Type I errors (punishing the innocent) that are sure to result. Do the proponents not understand this tradeoff? Or, just like the archetypal southern sheriff believed vis a vis blacks, do women's groups assume that the convicted male "must be guilty of something".
- Much harsher punishments. As a first offender, even without pre-trial diversion, Ray Rice was unlikely to get much more than some probation and perhaps a few months of jail time. But the NFL, as his employer (and a monopoly to boot) has a far higher ability to punish him. By banning Ray Rice from the league, effectively for life, they have put a harsh life sentence on the man (and ironically on the victim, his wife). They have imposed a fine on him of tens of millions of dollars.
Postscript: For those who are younger and may not have experienced these movies, here is the IMDB summary of Death Wish
Open-minded architect Paul Kersey returns to New York City from vacationing with his wife, feeling on top of the world. At the office, his cynical coworker gives him the welcome-back with a warning on the rising crime rate. But Paul, a bleeding-heart liberal, thinks of crime as being caused by poverty. However his coworker's ranting proves to be more than true when Paul's wife is killed and his daughter is raped in his own apartment. The police have no reliable leads and his overly sensitive son-in-law only exacerbates Paul's feeling of hopelessness. He is now facing the reality that the police can't be everywhere at once. Out of sympathy his boss gives him an assignment in sunny Arizona where Paul gets a taste of the Old West ideals. He returns to New York with a compromised view on muggers...
I guess I was premature in portraying these movies as mainly a product of the 1970s, since this movie just came out.
Inevitably necessary note on private property rights: The NFL and private colleges have every right to hire and fire and eject students for any reasons they want as long as those rules and conditions were clear when players and students joined those organizations. Of course, they are subject to mockery if we think the rules or their execution deserve it. Public colleges are a different matter, and mandates by Federal and State governments even more so. Government institutions are supposed to follow the Constitution and the law, offering equal protection and due process.
How do I know that average people do not believe the one in five women raped on campus meme? Because parents still are sending their daughters to college, that's why. In increasing numbers that threaten to overwhelm males on campus. What is more, I sat recently through new parent orientations at a famous college and parents asked zillions of stupid, trivial questions and not one of them inquired into the safety of their daughters on campus or the protections afforded them. Everyone knows that some women are raped and badly taken advantage of on campus, but everyone also knows the one in five number is overblown BS.
Imagine that there is a country with a one in 20 chance of an American woman visiting getting raped. How many parents would yank their daughters from any school trip headed for that country -- a lot of them, I would imagine. If there were a one in five chance? No one would allow their little girls to go. I promise. I am a dad, I know.
Even if the average person can't articulate their source of skepticism, most people understand in their gut that we live in a post-modern world when it comes to media "data". Political discourse, and much of the media, is ruled by the "fake but accurate" fact. That is, the number everyone knows has no valid source or basis in fact or that everyone knows fails every smell test, but they use anyway because it is in a good cause. They will say, "well one in five is probably high but it's an important issue anyway".
The first time I ever encountered this effect was on an NPR radio show years ago. The hosts were discussing a well-accepted media statistic at the time that there were a million homeless people (these homeless people only seem to exist, at least in the media, during Republican presidencies so I suppose this dates all the way back to the Reagan or Bush years). Someone actually tracked down this million person stat and traced it back to a leading homeless advocate, who admitted he just made it up for an interview, and was kind of amazed everyone just accepted it. But the interesting part was a discussion with several people in the media who still used the statistic even after they knew it to be outsourced BS, made up out of thin air. Their logic: homelessness was a critical issue and the stat may be wrong, but it was OK to essentially lie (they did not use the word "lie") about the facts in a good cause. The statistic was fake, but accurately reflected a real problem. Later, the actual phrase "fake but accurate" would be coined in association with the George W. Bush faked air force national guard papers. Opponents of Bush argued after the forgery became clear to everyone but Dan Rather that the letters may have been fake but they accurately reflected character flaws in the President.
And for those on the Left who want to get bent out of shape that this is just aimed at them, militarists love these post-modern non-facts to stir up fear in the war on terror, the war on crime, the war on drugs, and the war on just about everyone in the middle east.
PS- Neil deGrasse Tyson has been criticized of late for the same failing, the use of fake quotes that supposedly accurately reflect the mind of the quoted person. It is one thing for politicians to play this game. It is worse for scientists. It is the absolute worst for a scientist to play this anti-science game in the name of defending science.
Well it has been a busy 10 days for travel. Last weekend my wife and I were at Harvard for our 25th anniversary of graduating from the business school there. The way the b-school taught at the time, they basically locked 90 people together (a "section") in the same room for a year and threw teachers and course material at them. I may have spent more time in a room with those 90 people than I spent in the same room with my dad growing up. So you get to know them pretty well. It was fun seeing everybody, though intimidating given all the folks my age running Fortune 50 companies or cashing out billion dollar startups.
After that, I went to Bozeman early this week and discussed free-market options for reforming the National Park Service at an event hosted by PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center. On Tuesday we went into Yellowstone and met with the Superintendent there, who had also run the whole agency for about a year. A lot of the discussion was about sustainability - financially. The NPS raises less than 10% of its revenue from visitors, and so must constantly fight with Congress for cash. One problem is that Yellowstone (perhaps their premier park) charges just $25 per vehicle for a one week admission. This is insane. We have tiny state parks in Arizona with one millionth of the appeal that fill the park despite a $20 a day entrance fee. And the NPS (or really Congress) takes every opportunity to discount this already absurdly low rate even further. You can get into all the parks for the rest of your life for a single $10 payment with the Senior pass. This essentially gives free entry to their largest visitor demographic.
Today I am in Houston for a sort of climate skeptics' conference. If you are in the area and the agenda looks interesting, they are still selling admissions (I think) for $75 for the two day event at the Hyatt downtown. Rick Perry is speaking tonight, and that is supposed to be a draw I guess but I am actually skipping that and focusing on the scientists they have through the day. Hopefully it is interesting, but I am also a conference skeptic so we will see.
I hear Conservatives lamenting all the time that their kids can't get a good college education because academia is dominated by Liberals and liberal assumptions. I think just the opposite is true. Leftist parents should be asking for their money back.
I have spoken on campus a few times about topics such as climate and regulation. One thing I have found is that students have often not heard the libertarian point of view from a libertarian. I have done any number of campus radio station interviews as a climate skeptic, and I have similarly found is that the students I talk to have a very muddled understanding of what skeptics believe. In most cases, I was the first skeptic they had ever talked to or read - everything they knew previously about skeptics had come from our opposition (e.g. what Bill McKibbon says skeptics believe). This is roughly equivalent to someone only "knowing" why liberals believe what they do from Rush Limbaugh. My son encountered a college woman last week who despised the Koch brothers, but actually knew almost nothing about them and had never actually seen their work or read their views. Harry Reid and others she considered authorities said the Kochs sucked so suck they do.
This is just incredibly unhealthy. Living in an echo chamber and only encountering opposing or uncomfortable positions as straw men versions propped up to be knocked down. What a crappy education, but that is what most liberal kids get.
Not so my son the libertarian. He is forced to encounter and argue against authoritarian ideas with which he disagrees in every class and in every social interaction. Not just in economics and domestic policy -- there is still a lot of interventionism and authoritarianism taught in foreign policy and even in history. Name one US president from academic lists of great presidents who did not get us in a war?
Yesterday, Yale did not cave to pressure from certain parts of the student body and Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke on campus. As with many controversial speakers, mostly consisting of folks not on the political Left, a number of campus groups tried to force Yale to cancel her speech because they expressed themselves offended by her. Among politically correct colleges, there has been a growing trend towards enforcing a right not to be offended, though this enforcement tends to be asymmetric -- Muslims apparently have a right not to be offended, but Christians do not. Women have it but men do not. Greenpeace has it but Exxon does not.
People of prominence who offend us or with whom we violently disagree should not be the least but the most welcome speakers on campus. I will demonstrate this by using the most extreme of all possible examples: An imaginary speaking tour by Adolph Hitler, say in December of 1938. Could there be a more distasteful person, the leader of Nazi Germany just weeks after the Reichskristallnacht? But I think he would have been the most valuable speaker I could possibly imagine.
If he were honest, which Hitler likely couldn't have stopped himself from being, what valuable insights we could have gained. The West made numerous mistakes in the late thirties and even into the forties because it just could not believe the full extent of Hitler's objectives and hatreds**. Perhaps we would have understood sooner and better exactly what we were dealing with.
Even if he were dishonest, and tried to "convert" the office without discussing specific plans, that would still be fascinating. What arguments did he use? Could we get insights into why he struck a chord among the German people? Would his rhetoric be compelling to American audiences? I despise the guy and almost everything he stood for but I would have loved to have him on campus as a speaker.
I will tell one of my favorite stories about the rise of Hitler. You have heard the story of Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics. Supposedly this was a slap in the face to Hitler, to have a black man winning medals. But one of the last events of the games was a four man relay race. The US was certainly going to win. But one of the US runners was Jewish and the US pulled the runner from the race and substituted Owens. The US didn't want to embarrass Hitler by making him hand a medal to a Jew. This sounds odd to put it this way, but one of the problems we had in really taking the worst of the Holocaust seriously as it was happening is that we were not able to see that Hitler's anti-semitism was so much more dangerous than the ubiquitous and run-of-the-mill anti-semitism that obtained all over Britain and America. We should always have a policy of letting even the most extreme people talk as much as they like. We might learn that they have a point and adjust our thinking on something, or we might learn that they are even batshit crazier than we thought. Either outcome is useful.
I have just been flabbergasted at the feminist reaction against efforts to teach women to be more difficult targets for sexual predators (e.g. communicating the dangers of binge drinking, nail polish that detects date rape drugs, etc). Nobody thinks that encouraging people to buy burglar alarms or lock their doors is somehow shifting blame for robbery to the victim. But that is exactly the argument feminists are making vis a vis sexual assault on campus. They argue that any effort to teach victims to be a tougher target is an insult to women and must be avoided.
This is just stupid. So stupid that I wonder if there is an ulterior motive. There is no way you ever are going to get rid of bad people doing bad things. Our historic messaging on things like date rape may have been confused or insufficiently pointed, but we have always been clear on, say, murder and there is still plenty of that which goes on. I almost wonder if feminists want women to continue to be victims so they can continue to be relevant and have influence. It's a sick thought but what other explanation can there be for purposely disarming victims?
So I was jogging the other night through a university (Vanderbilt) and saw all those little blue light emergency phones that are so prevalent on campus. In most cases, the ubiquity of those emergency phones is a result of the growing female population on campus and are there primarily to make women (and perhaps more importantly, their parents who write the checks) be safer feel more comfortable. Women's groups were big supporters of these investments. But why? Isn't that inconsistent? Shouldn't we consider investment in such emergency devices as wrong-headed attempts to avoid fixing the root cause, which is some inherent flaw in males?
If you say no, that it would be dumb to rip out the emergency phones, then why is it dumb to teach Freshman women some basic safety skills that may prevent them from being victims? I have taken numerous campus tours with my kids and in almost every one they point out the blue light phones and in almost every case say, "I have never heard of these being used, but they are there." I guarantee 30 minutes helping women understand how to avoid particularly risky situations would have a higher return than the phones.
I say this with some experience. I was in a business for a while that required international travel and in which there was some history of executives getting attacked or kidnapped in foreign cities. The company gave us a one-day risk-identification as well as beginner escape and evasion course. It was some of the most useful training I have ever had. And not for a single second did I think anyone was trying to blame me for street crime in foreign cities.
It will continue to become more dangerous for men to have sex in college as politicians continue to shift the venue for sexual assault investigations from trained police forces to untrained college administrators, and work to strip away due process rights for males in these university investigations. The danger that a sex partner will come to regret an otherwise consensual sex act and turn it into a case that ruins a man's life has grown exponentially.
The solution? As they say in Animal House: Road Trip!
The most dangerous sex for men is with another student at the same university, because such sex acts are covered not by normal law and police procedure but by these new kangaroo presumption of guilt university hearings. So to the extent guys need to hook up, do it outside of the school. Go on a road trip to the college down the road. Because in that case, the women are better protected (by police who know how to investigate sexual assault professionally) and the men are better protected (by due process rights the rest of us enjoy in every other venue except college).
Postscript 1: Don't you dare read this and accuse me of somehow being a rape apologist. I take rape far more seriously than the folks who are promoting these rules. Rape should be handled by police with rape counselors and professional evidence collection and courts and prison terms. Not by university clerks and school expulsions.
Postscript 2: My son goes to Amherst College, which is right in the heart of all the Leftist new age academic groupthink. I was comfortable sending him there because he treats the whole Marxist academic community like an anthropologist might study a strange new isolated tribe found in the Amazon. It is interesting to study an isolated community whose assumptions and behaviors and worldview are so different from the rest of the civilized world.
There are a lot of things out there that generate tons of outrage that do about zero to work me up. A good example is the recent kerfuffle over a school district assigning kids a debating assignment to argue both sides of the question "Was there actually a Holocaust?"
Certainly this was a fairly boneheaded topic to choose for such an assignment out of the universe of potential topics. But I will say that this assignment is the type of thing that should be done a LOT more in schools, both in primary schools and in higher education. Too often we let students make the case for a particular side of an argument without their even adequately understanding the arguments for the other side. In some sense this brings us back to the topic of Caplan's intellectual Turing test.
I did cross-x debate all the way from 6th grade to 12th. There is a lot to be said for the skill of defending one side of a proposition, and then an hour later defending the other (that is, if cross-x debate had not degenerated into a contest simply to see who can talk faster).
I remember a few months ago when a student-producer called me for a radio show that is produced at the Annenberg School at
UCLA USC. She was obviously smart and the nature of her job producing a political talk show demanded she be moderately well-informed. She had called me as a climate skeptic for balance in a climate story (kudos there, by the way, since that seldom happens any more). Talking to her, it was clear that she was pretty involved in the climate topic but had never heard the skeptic's argument from an actual skeptic. Everything she knew about skeptics and their positions she knew from people on the other side of the debate. The equivalent here are people who only understand the logic behind Democrat positions insofar as they have been explained by Rush Limbaugh -- which happens a lot. We have created a whole political discourse based on straw men, where the majority of people, to the extent they understand an issue at all, only have heard one side talking about it.
I think the idea of kids debating both sides of key issues, with an emphasis on nudging them into trying to defend positions that oppose their own, is a great process. It is what I do when I teach economics, giving cases to the class and randomly assigning roles (ie you are the guy with the broken window, he is the glazier, and she is the shoe salesman). The problem, of course, is that we have a public discourse dominated by the outrage of the minority. It would take just one religious student asked to defend abortion rights or one feminist asked to defend due process rights for accused rapists to freak out, and the school would probably fold and shut down the program.
Which is too bad. Such discourse, along with Caplan's intellectual Turing test, would be centerpieces of any university I were to found. When we debated back in the 1970's, there was never a sense that we were somehow being violated by being asked to defend positions with which we didn't believe. It was just an excersise, a game. In fact, it was incredibly healthy for me. There is about no topic I can defend better than free trade because I spent half a year making protectionist arguments to win tournaments. I got good at it, reading the judge and amping up populism and stories of the sad American steel workers in my discourse as appropriate. Knowing the opposing arguments backwards and forwards, I am a better defender of free trade today.
Grade inflation is back in the news, as the Harvard Crimson reports that the median grade at Harvard is an A-. This is clearly absurd. It reminds me of some of the old Olympics judging where they had a 10 point scale but everyone scored between 9.7 and 9.9. The problem is not necessarily that the mean is skewed, but that there is almost no room left to discriminate between high and low performance.
There is one potential way to combat this, and it was invented by colleges themselves. Consider grading in high school. My kids go to a very tough-grading private school where A's are actually hard to get. The school sends (for Arizona) a fairly high percentage of its students to Ivy and Ivy-level schools, but the school produces someone with a perfect 4.0 only once every four or five years. Compare that to our local public school, that seems to produce dozens of perfect 4.0's every year -- in fact since it adds a point for honors classes, it produces a bunch of 5.0's.
Colleges understand that a 3.7 from Tough-grading High may be better than a 5.0 from We-have-a-great-football-team High. They solve this by demanding that when high schools provide them with a transcript, it also provide them with data on things like the distribution of grades.
Employers should demand something similar from colleges. This is a little harder for employers, since colleges seem to be allowed to legally collude on such issues while employers can get sued over it. But it seems perfectly reasonable that an employer should demand, say, not only the student's grade for each class but also the median and 90th percentile grades given in that same class. This will allow an employer to see how the school performed relative to the rest of the class, which is really what the employer cares about. And schools that have too many situations where the student got an A, the median was an A, and the 90th percentile was an A may get punished over time with less interest from the hiring community.
One way to get this going is for an influential institution to start printing transcripts this way. The right place to start would be a great institution that feels it has held the line more on grade inflation. My alma mater Princeton claims to be in this camp, and I would love to see them take leadership on this (the campus joke at Princeton during the Hepatitis C outbreak there was that at Harvard it would have been Hepatitis A).
Postcript - An alternate grading system from Harvard Business School: When I was at HBS, they did not give A's and B's. We had three grades called category I, II, and III. By rule, the professor gave the top 15% of the class category I, the bottom 10% category III, and everyone else got a category II. I actually thought this was a hell of a system. It discriminated at the top, and provided just enough fear of failure to keep people from slacking.
One of the great joys of being in Princeton's class of 1984 is having master cartoonist (and libertarian, though I don't know what he would call himself) Henry Payne in our class. For the last 30 years, Henry has made a custom birthday card for the class, which are mailed to each of us on the appropriate day. This is mine from 2014
I started saving these a while back but I wish I had saved all 30. I also have a caricature of me drawn in college by Henry, but it does not get a prized place on our wall at home because it includes my college girlfriend as well, which substantially reduces its value as perceived by my wife. (In speaker-building there is a common term of art called "wife acceptance factor" or WAF. Pictures of ex-girlfriends have low WAF).
Here is an example of some of Henry's great political work:
Since perhaps the 1970s, I believe that most campus police forces have had one primary mission: Keep students out of the hands of local police, particularly on drug offenses. Sure, they need to keep order and prevent property damage and break up fights and such, but underlying all of this has been a desire to keep any resulting discipline internal, to shield students from the local police force and criminal justice system that likely would be much harsher (particularly in some towns where there is substantial tension between town and gown).
By the way, none of this is particularly new. You can read accounts from the middle ages about townies complaining that universities were sheltering their students from local justice (in those days students often carried some sort of clerical status in order to make them inviolate from local resident reprisal and to keep them out of the local justice system).
So given a mission to protect students from their own stupidity and from the harsher justice outside of campus, many campus police forces are entirely unprepared to handle true felonies with victims, such as forcible sexual assault. The fact that campuses have been accused of burying these charges and covering them up is not surprising -- this is what campus police forces have been trained to do.
Unfortunately, the emerging solution of stripping male campus members of equal protection and due process rights is a horrible solution to this problem. The right solution was to put these crimes in the hands of professionals outside of campus who are trained to deal with them.
Arnold Kling argues that the root cause of mortgage and student debt problems is not the structure of mortgage and student debt contracts
What these forms of bad debt have in common, in my view, is that they reflect clumsy social engineering. Public policy was based on the idea that getting as many people into home “ownership” with as little money down as possible was a great idea. It was based on the idea of getting as many people into college with student loans as possible.
The problem, therefore, is not that debt contracts are too rigid. The problem is that the social engineers are trying to make too many people into home “owners” and to send too many people to college. Home ownership is meaningful only when people put equity into the homes that they purchase. College is meaningful only if students graduate and do so having learned something (or a least enjoyed the party, but not with taxpayers footing the bill).