Posts tagged ‘Harvard Crimson’

A Terrible Example of Potential Speech Suppression

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

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

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

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

It's Stalinists all the way down.

An Idea on Grade Inflation

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.

Can Entrepeneurship Survive at Harvard?

Its pretty clear that open academic discourse is on life support at Harvard in the wake of the recent Larry Summers vote of no confidence.  Now, there is a question about whether simple entrepreneurship can survive.   Via Cafe Hayek, several Harvard students created dormaid to provide maid services to dorm students that wanted to pay for it.  Seemed like a great idea to me, which I would have loved at school, but the Harvard student magazine has hammered the entrepreneurs:

By creating yet another differential between the haves and have-nots on
campus, Dormaid threatens our student unity.... We urge the student
body to boycott Dormaid

Socialism has been rejected by countries around the world.  It seems like it is still alive and well at Harvard.  Here is the angst coming through of a frustrated top-down Stalinist planner:

A service like Dormaid can bring many levels of awkwardness into this
picture. For example, do two people sharing a double split the cost?
What if one wants the service and the other does not? What if one
cannot afford it? Hiring someone to clean dorm rooms is a convenience,
but it is also an obvious display of wealth that would establish a
perceived, if unspoken, barrier between students of different economic

Here is the Cafe Hayek response:

This episode is too typical. An enterprising soul perceives a need
and creatively offers a product or service -- at his own financial risk
-- to satisfy that need. Everything is voluntary. No one is forced to
buy the service; no one is forced to work for it. But well-read
ignoramuses, infatuated with their own imaginary higher capacity for
caring for others, viscerally react against commercial exchange. In
this case, those opposed to Dormaid worry that because some but not all
students will find it worthwhile to buy maid service, "inequality"
among the Harvard student body will increase.

Is the typical Harvard student so immature that he suffers envy when
some of his fellow students buy maid service that he chooses not to
buy? (Bonus question for economics students: Why did I say "that he
chooses not to buy?" rather than "that he can't afford?")  Is he so
sensitive, so very, very tender, that he loses emotional stability at
the sight of a friend's dorm room freshly cleaned by maids?  Is he so
intellectually and socially inept that he can't work out an amicable
arrangement with his roommate if one wants to use Dormaid and the other
prefers not to do so?

Read the rest - Cafe Hayek has links to the original Harvard Crimson article.  I will tell you that my roommates would have been fine if I had used this service in college.  In fact, I was such a mess that they might have paid for it for me!