Posts tagged ‘UC’

An Honest Question to Progressives: When Does the Proportion of Tax Money Claimed By Government Workers Get Too Large?

I have sent the following question to a number of Progressives. I have yet to hear anything back.

I have been following the story about UC possibly hiding funds as a sort of rainy day fund in accounts because several years ago I worked with a lot of folks (e.g. Ruth Coleman) at California State Parks who lost their jobs when accused of the same thing.  But looking at the story, the part that really appalled me was this from the auditor's report:

​The last few years UC has been begging and pleading for $50 or $100 million extra so they could enroll more in-state students, when the office of the president, if this is presented correctly, seems to be bloated by perhaps $400 million.  God knows what the administrative staffs of the individual universities look like.It appears what we have here is a conflict between more output of government services to the public, which I might call an ideological imperative of the Progressive left, with protection of government workers and their pay and benefits, which I might call a political imperative.

I am wondering if the Left's near absolute political support for government workers is undermining what I might call the good government impulses on the Left.  My involvement with CA politics is mostly in parks, but I know that there are a number of fundamental reforms that could allow the parks agency to do a lot more with their current budget, in fact perhaps even start getting at working down deferred maintenance logs, but these were torpedoed as non-starters because they would involve job losses and changes in work rules.  I am not saying they were discussed and defeated, I am saying they were stopped immediately as pointless to even discuss.

I don't agree with Progressives on the size and scope of government, but leave that aside.  Taking the government's current size and tax base as a given, is there a segment of the progressive community that gets uncomfortable with the proportion of these resources that are channeled into government employee hands rather than into actual services for the public?  Or is there a progressive argument for larger-than-needed government staff and higher-than-necessary pay and benefits (e.g. a city on the hill argument where the government is setting a higher standard that perhaps the benighted private employers will someday more closely emulate)?

The Union Problem

I have always defended private unions on the ground that workers have a freedom of association just as much as anyone else.  I think the government has tilted the playing field in the union's favor too much, but I will leave that aside for today.  I will also leave aside the problem of public unions, where there is no one really representing the taxpayer on the other side of the table in negotiations (many politicians in union states owe their jobs to union support).

Leave all of that aside.  The economic problem with unions tends to be that they are such a conservative (little c) force in an economy that needs dynamism to grow and expand wealth.  Here is a great example:

The University of California last week tentatively agreed to a deal with UC-AFT that included a new provision barring the system and its campuses from creating online courses or programs that would result in “a change to a term or condition of employment” of any lecturer without first dealing with the union.

Bob Samuels, the president of the union, says this effectively gives the union veto power over any online initiative that might endangers the jobs or work lives of its members. “We feel that we could stop almost any online program through this contract,” Samuels told Inside Higher Ed.

I have said for a long time that negotiations for pay and benefits (in private unions) tend to be the least problematic union activity (different story in public unions, where the relationship to management is not adversarial).  Longer term, union imposed work rules and restrictions tend to be much more costly.  The reason I think is that corporate executives can easily value the difference between various pay and benefits packages, but have a hard time valuing flexibility and dynamism.  If union rules cut off potential future as-yet-unknown growth and cost reduction efforts, the cost of these rules can be huge but equally they can be almost impossible to value (more like options pricing than straight cost-benefit).

But I Am Sure This Would Never Happen in Climate

Wow, suddenly skepticism, and even outright harsh criticism, of peer-reviewed work is OK, as long as it is not in climate I suppose.

On Thursday, Dec. 2, Rosie Redfield sat down to read a new paper called "A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus." Despite its innocuous title, the paper had great ambitions. Every living thing that scientists have ever studied uses phosphorus to build the backbone of its DNA. In the new paper, NASA-funded scientists described a microbe that could use arsenic instead. If the authors of the paper were right, we would have to expand our....

As soon Redfield started to read the paper, she was shocked. "I was outraged at how bad the science was," she told me.

Redfield blogged a scathing attack on Saturday. Over the weekend, a few other scientists took to the Internet as well. Was this merely a case of a few isolated cranks? To find out, I reached out to a dozen experts on Monday. Almost unanimously, they think the NASA scientists have failed to make their case. "It would be really cool if such a bug existed," said San Diego State University's Forest Rohwer, a microbiologist who looks for new species of bacteria and viruses in coral reefs. But, he added, "none of the arguments are very convincing on their own." That was about as positive as the critics could get. "This paper should not have been published," said Shelley Copley of the University of Colorado.

The article goes on to describe many potential failures in the methodology.  None of this should be surprising -- I have written for years that peer-review is by no means proof against bad science or incorrect findings.  It is more of an  extended editorial process.  The real test of published science comes later, when the broader community attempts to replicate results.

The problem in climate science has been that its proponents want to claim that having research performed by a small group of scientists that is peer-reviewed by the same small group is sufficient to making the results "settled science."  Once published, they argue, no one (certainly not laymen on blogs) has the right to criticize it, and the researchers don't (as revealed in the Climategate emails) have any obligations to release their data or code to allow replication.   This is just fresh proof that this position is nuts.

The broken climate science process is especially troubling given the budgetary and reputational incentives to come out with the most dramatic possible results, something NASA's James Hansen has been accused of doing by many climate skeptics.  To this end, consider this from the bacteria brouhaha.  First, we see the same resistance to criticism, trying to deflect any critiques outside of peer-reviewed journals

"Any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated," wrote Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. "The items you are presenting do not represent the proper way to engage in a scientific discourse and we will not respond in this manner."

WTF?  How, then, did we ever have scientific process before peer-reviewed journals appeared on the scene?

But Jonathan Eisen of UC-Davis doesn't let the scientists off so easily. "If they say they will not address the responses except in journals, that is absurd," he said. "They carried out science by press release and press conference. Whether they were right or not in their claims, they are now hypocritical if they say that the only response should be in the scientific literature."

Wow, that could be verbatim from a climate skeptic in the climate debate.

And finally, this on incentives and scientific process:

Some scientists are left wondering why NASA made such a big deal over a paper with so many flaws. "I suspect that NASA may be so desperate for a positive story that they didn't look for any serious advice from DNA or even microbiology people," says John Rothof UC-Davis.

Reminder: Colorado Climate Presentation Next Monday

I will be making a presentation on the science of the climate skeptic's position on April 12 from 5-7PM at the University of Colorado "“ Colorado Springs (UCCS) in the UC 302 theater  (campus map).  I hope folks who are interested in the Denver / Colorado Springs area will attend.

Climate Presentation in Colorado

I will be making a presentation on the science of the climate skeptic's position on April 12 from 5-7PM at the University of Colorado "“ Colorado Springs (UCCS) in the UC 302 theater  (campus map).  I hope folks who are interested in the Denver / Colorado Springs area will attend.

Government and Cost-Cutting

Government officials have mastered the cost-cutting game, or should I say the cost-non-cutting game.  The trick they have learned is that whenever budget or tax cuts are proposed, they threaten to cut the most critical expenditures.

Now, as I have pointed out, such behavior in a private company would result in one's termination.

When I was in the corporate world, if I wanted extra funds for my projects, I would have to go in and say "Here are all my projects.  I have ranked them from 1-30 from the most to least valuable.  Right now I have enough money for the first 12.  I would like funding for number 13.  Here is my case."

But the government works differently.  When your local government is out of money, and wants a tax increase, what do they threaten to cut?  In Seattle, it was always emergency services.  "Sorry, we are out of money, we have to shut down the fire department and ambulances."  I kid you not "” the city probably has a thirty person massage therapist licensing organization and they cut ambulances first.   In California it is the parks.   "Sorry, we are out of money.  To meet our budget, we are going to have to close down our 10 most popular parks that get the most visitation."  The essence of government budgeting brinkmanship is not to cut project 13 when you only have money for 12 projects, but to cut project #1.

I can just see me going to Chuck Knight at Emerson Electric and saying "Chuck, I don't have enough money.  If you don't give me more, we are going to have to cut the funds for the government-mandated frequency modification on our transmitters, which means we won't have any product to sell next month."  I would be out on my ass in five minutes.  It just floors me that this seems to keep working in the government.  Part of it is that the media is just so credulous when it comes to this kind of thing, in part because scare stories of cut services fit so well into their business model.

Matt Welch has a great 8-point takedown of similar scare story on the current California budget crisis.  You should definitely read it, but I wanted to add a #9 -- this idea that the core, rather than the marginal, expense is always the first to be cut.  From the LA Times:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed slashing state spending on education by $3 billion to help close the budget gap, and the state would pay dearly for canceling classes, firing instructors, cutting class days and shortening the school year, experts said.

Promising students would go to other states, taking their future skills, earnings and, possibly, Nobel Prizes elsewhere. California companies would then find it harder to attract high-value employees who might be dubious about moving to a state with sub-par schools. [...]

John Sedgwick, co-founder of Santa Clara solar-energy company Solaicx, agreed.

"When you think about the genesis of Silicon Valley, it really started from its superior educational base" at Stanford and UC Berkeley, said Sedgwick, whose company makes the building blocks for photovoltaic cells. "That indicates that you don't want to kill the goose that's laying the golden eggs." [...]

The only way the most "promising" students would be affected is if, when the schools cut back, the best professors (rather than the worst) are fired and the most promising students (rather than the most marginal) are denied admission for limited spots.  Really?  If Berkeley has 10 fewer spots, it's going to start cutting admissions with the Physics wiz kid who had a 2400 on her SAT?

Further, is it really true that California only attracts people to its work force who went to school in California?  A top Michigan or Harvard grad won't do just as well?  I went to college in New Jersey yet have never held a job in that state.

Now, I understand that part of the argument is that workers may not come if the local primary schools for their kids are bad.  And that is true.  But California has had poor performing schools despite years of high and increasing spending.  Matt has much more on this in his piece.

Postscript: Of course, as crazy as it seems, there may be some reality to this threat.  I could easily see the University of California system, when faced with the choice of cutting back on some post-modernist social science program or a physics program that has produced 7 Nobel Laureates, choosing the latter to cut in a fit of outrageous political correctness.

At the primary level, it is very possible that the bloated school administrations filled with rafts of useless assistant principals will choose to fire teachers rather than themselves.  So unfortunately the plans to cut the most useful spending in a crisis and keep the most useless is not just a threat, it is a reality.

These Are Trained Professionals: Don't Try This In Your Own Home

Three Duke professors, two of whom were members of the infamous group of 88 who advocated a presumption of guilt for the lacrosse players in the Duke non-rape case, have written their own self-serving version of history in an "academic" magazine.  The funniest part is where they claim that only trained experts like themselves are qualified to discuss any subject once the race card has been played:

"the most extreme marginalization was reserved for the faculty
whose professional expertise made them most competent to engage the
discourses on race and gender unleashed by the inaugurating incident
"” scholars of African American and women's studies. Instead, administrators,
like the bloggers themselves, operated under the assumption that
everyone was an expert on matters of race and gender, while actually existing academic expertise was recast as either bias or a commitment to preconceived notions about the legal case.
Some
faculty thus found themselves in the unenviable position of being the
targets of public discourse (and disparaged for their expertise on race
and gender) without being legitimate participants in it."

Beyond the hilarity of such a claim on its face, how does such a self-serving discussion meet the editorial standards of any academic publication?  For though they claim to have "professional expertise,"  all they really accomplish is to reinforce my impression that the social sciences in general, and racial/gender studies departments in particular, have the lowest academic standards of any group on modern campuses.  KC Johnson goes on to sample some of the outright mistakes, outrageous (and unproven) claims, and general lack of sourcing and footnoting that would likely have gotten them laughed out of most any university department with actual standards.  As I wrote about the Ward Churchill affair:

And, in fact, in the rush to build ethnic studies programs, a lot of
people of very dubious qualifications were given tenure, often based
more on ethnic credibility and political activism than any academic
qualifications.  Hell, Cal State Long Beach hired a paranoid schizophrenic
who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the
head of their Black Studies department.  And universities like UC
patted themselves on their politically correct backs for these hirings.

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of
ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic
credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly what it expected when it tenured him.

The Silicon Valley of Begging

Stephen Dubner's roundtable on the Economics of Street Charity got me thinking about a recent experience visiting Boulder, Colorado, an odd but lovely town in which I used to live.

Here in Phoenix, most of our panhandlers show little or no innovation.  They are still using the "will work for food" or "Vietnam vet" cardboard signs that were an innovation years ago, but now are tired and hard to believe.  All the signs were generic.  None of them seemed tailored to the local audience. 

So where is the innovation in begging occurring?  Someone must have first thought of the "will work for food" come-on which I presume was so initially successful, since everyone copied it, just as they copy any successful innovation in the marketplace?

My vote for the Silicon Valley of Begging is Boulder, Colorado, and specifically on the Pearl Street Mall.  I have recently visited homeless capital Santa Monica, and San Francisco, as well as New York and Boston, and none of their beggers hold a candle to those in Boulder.  Here is why:

  • Their come-ons were unique -- I never saw the same one twice
  • Their come-ons were well tailored to the local audience.  "Need Money for Pot" is not going to get one anywhere in Oklahoma, but it is very likely to elicit a chuckle and a buck from a UC college student or sixties-survivor Boulder resident.  Given that President Bush has about a 0.01% approval rating in Boulder, many of the come-ons led one to believe that giving the beggar a buck would show one's disdain for GWB.

Tautology (and Thoughts on Ward Churchill)

Todd Zywicki notes that Congress "has been on a binge diet of junk social science."  Is there another kind of social science?  Particularly in the media, I really think the main influence of social science has been to substantially lower the bar for scientific inquiry and skepticism thereof.

Update: On a related note, these really low academic standards in the social "sciences" are the reason I think firing Ward Churchill is bogus, as I wrote here.  Academic standards for things like ethnic or gender studies are incredibly low, particularly for the "research" done in these departments.  As I pointed out before, Cal State Long Beach, for example, hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.  It is almost impossible to imagine Ward Churchill fired for violating the academic standards of his discipline because his discipline tends to have none, and everyone knows it.  The University of Colorado fully knew what it was getting with Ward Churchill, but they hired him to check a politically correct racial/gender/ethnic box.  Everything UC supposedly fired him for were known to them or should have been known to them with the most minimal of due diligence when they tenured the guy.  Nothing has changed, except that he is no longer a PR asset for the university.  As I wrote previously:

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of
ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic
credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly
what it expected when it tenured him.  This is about an attempt to fire
a tenured professor for the content of his speech, speech that has
embarrassed and put pressure on the university, and I can't support
that.

Even More:  Background from KC Johnson:

Churchill was hired through a "special opportunity" position, designed
by the university to help "recruit and hire a more diverse faculty." He
had an M.A. from little-known Sangamon State University and no Ph.D at
all. As documents from the time noted, his qualifications included only two items: strong lobbying from Evelyn Hu-DeHart,
the chair of the Ethnic Studies program, and the now-disputed fact that
"Ward is a Native American," meaning his hire would contribute "to
increasing the cultural diversity on campus."...

How, then, could his fellow academics have originally found Churchill's
scholarship acceptable? The outcome, alas, suggests that in politicized
fields such as African-American Studies, Women's Studies, and Ethnic
Studies, the message too often trumps quality. In this case, it appears
that Churchill's extremist arguments that the U.S. government engaged
in genocide against Native Americans blinded his academic reviewers to
the poor quality of his scholarship. Indeed, some Churchill
sympathizers, led by Cornell professor Eric Cheyfitz,
have continued to maintain that the former professor's writings
constitute appropriate scholarship for the field of Ethnic Studies.

I contend that Churchill was and is still exactly what UC thought he was, and his scholarship was and still does exactly conform to the (miserably low) standards of his discipline.

A Thought on Ward Churchill

I suppose this is going to be one of those nutty libertarian rants that help explain why libertarians do so poorly at the polls, but I am not really very comfortable with Ward Churchill's potential firing from University of Colorado.  I can't think of very many things Mr. Churchill has said that I agree with, but I still have this crazy idea about defending speech regardless of the content of the speech.

And it is hard for me to escape the sense that Mr. Churchill may lose his tenured position at a state-run institution over the content of his speech.  Yeah, I know, its nominally about his academic credentials.  But don't you think everyone is winking at each other about this?  Yes, Mr. Churchill is an academic fraud, but he was a fraud when UC hired him and tenured him as well, and they should have known it.

Over a couple of decades, every major university in the country rushed to build, practically from scratch, racial and ethnic and gender studies programs and departments.  Had every university raced at the same time to build any discipline, talent would run short and in the hiring race, some under-qualified people would be hired.  Let's suppose that every university decided at the same time they needed a climate department, there just would not be enough qualified climate scientists to fill out every position.  The rush to build ethnic studies programs was similar but in fact a bit worse.  Because while some people actually do have climate-related degrees, no one until recently had an ethnic studies degree.  What professional qualifications should a school look for?  And, in fact, in the rush to build ethnic studies programs, a lot of people of very dubious qualifications were given tenure, often based more on ethnic credibility and political activism than any academic qualifications.  Hell, Cal State Long Beach hired a paranoid schizophrenic who had served prison time for beating and torturing two women as the head of their Black Studies department.  And universities like UC patted themselves on their politically correct backs for these hirings.

I could go out tomorrow and find twenty tenured professors of ethnic/racial/gender studies in state universities whose academic credentials are at least as bad as Churchill's and whom no one would dare fire.  This has nothing to do with Churchill's academic work or its quality.  UC is getting exactly what it expected when it tenured him.  This is about an attempt to fire a tenured professor for the content of his speech, speech that has embarrassed and put pressure on the university, and I can't support that.

Interesting Data on Immigration

Via Kevin Drum, the results from a couple of studies in California:

A study released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute
of California found that immigrants who arrived in the state between
1990 and 2004 increased wages for native workers by an average 4%.

UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri, who conducted the study, said the
benefits were shared by all native-born workers, from high school
dropouts to college graduates....

Another study released Monday by the Washington-based Immigration
Policy Center showed that immigrant men ages 18 to 39 had an
incarceration rate five times lower than native-born citizens in every
ethnic group examined. Among men of Mexican descent, for instance, 0.7%
of those foreign-born were incarcerated compared to 5.9% of
native-born, according to the study, co-written by UC Irvine
sociologist Ruben G. Rumbaut.

This is great stuff, I hope we see more of it, because it takes on two of the more common arguments against immigration.  In particular, its good to see someone taking on the crime angle, an issue I have suspected all along of being more about racial prejudices than true statistics.  This is a particularly telling table:

Blog_immigration_studies

I previously took on the the meme that immigration causes crime here.  My case for open immigration is here and here.  My proposed plan is here.  Note that I really try to stay away from arguing immigration within the "who is going to pick the lettuce" framework.  I think free movement across borders of people, goods, and services is a basic human right, irrespective of the effect it has on wages or lettuce.

Oddly enough, Drum didn't focus much on the positive results on wages, as he has way too much invested in the whole "erosion of the middle class" thing to acknowledge that immigration might not hurt wages (since if immigration does not hurt wages, neither does free trade or outsourcing).  Mr. Drum says he wants to think about the study.  My prediction is that he will decide the crime study is a good one but the wage study was flawed.

Away at Camp

Posting will be kind of light this week because I am away at camp.  My wife signed us up for a family camp that they have run for years at UC-Santa Barbara.  One good sign already:  most of the guests have been coming for years.  One lady I had dinner with is here for the 28th year.

Basically all the family stay in the dorms here, and there are activities arranged by age group all day for the kids and optional activities for the adults.  Meals are in the cafeteria, where the food has been pretty decent.  The whole family has had a good time so far, though it had a bit of a rough start for me.  We drove here from Phoenix, and I am usually fine with long-distance drives.  However, the last 4 solid hours were spent basically inside LA fighting traffic.  I was ready to blow my brains out when I got here.  Unfortunately, our car was met at the gate by a group of camp counselors who were channeling "Up with People" or maybe the Mousketeers, but they were way to jolly for my mood at the time.

By the way, how does anyone study at a University that sits on a beach?  Well, at least the high speed LAN in the rooms works really well.

A Bit More on Academia

I have tried to resist the temptation to blog much on the whole Ward Churchill situation.  In part this is because it has been kicked around so thoroughly in other venues, and in part because I just knew I would get emails purposefully misunderstanding my point.  I have instead tried to focus some positive attention on emerging examples of scholarship where none existed before.  That said, I would like to try to add my own postscript on the whole Churchill fiasco.

First, while he has made some truly egregious statements that point to his moral bankruptcy,such as those he made about the 9/11 attacks and victims, I don't think that UC has grounds to fire him for these comments, at least based on the accepted rules and purpose of tenure.  One of the reasons for tenure is to give academics the freedom to pursue scholarship in any direction, without threat of political retribution.

However, Churchill should be fired for his complete lack of quality scholarship or principled academic research.  Churchill, through his poor scholarship, plagiarism, and outright fabrications have helped to set back historic studies about Native Americans and their tragic interaction with Western Civilization.  Churchill has become the poster boy for one of the leading problems in academia today, that is the ability of certain individuals to substitute vocal leftist politics and minority status for intellectual rigor and true scholarship in getting tenure at major universities.   A non-protected group white male of moderate politics with the same body of academic work as Churchill couldn't get a job teaching at any self-respecting university, but put the same work under the banner of radical leftist native American, and suddenly he has tenure at the University of Colorado.

Anyway, Victor David Hanson has a great piece in NRO summarizing why Ward Churchill represents what is wrong in academia today.