Capitalism and higher ed

So, after first seeing this link about canceled programs within the UNC system, I was prepared to outraged.  Then I read the story and I wasn’t (though, I open to the possibility that I should be).

Thursday morning, the Board of Governors educational planning committee voted to discontinue 46 degree programs across the UNC-System, including one at UNC-Chapel Hill: human biology. The entire Board voted Friday to adopt the recommendations voted on by the committee Thursday.

Other schools lost more programs than UNC-CH. East Carolina University and UNC-Greensboro saw eight programs eliminated each.

Junius Gonzales, senior vice president for academic affairs for the UNC-System, led the review of program productivity, which refers to the number of degrees granted in programs annually.

Gonzales said the process was inexact and that it was essential to listen to the thoughts of campus-level officials. He said the frequency of education programs being classified as low productivity due to few majors was an example of a situation where the processes of the UNC system and the interests of the state did not always align.

The share of the link I first saw referenced an end to majors that don’t lead to jobs.  But, no, what seems to be happening is an end to majors with very low enrollments at particular campuses.  That, I can live with.  Especially when I realized that two of these majors were in my own college at NCSU where we had actually discussed this:

Warwick Arden, the provost of N.C. State University, which will see four programs eliminated, said some programs that don’t give out a large quantity of degrees are still valuable, including the women and gender studies and Africana studies programs at the school, both of which will be eliminated and consolidated into less specific programs.

“While they’re not popular majors at N.C. State, they produce huge quantities of credit hours to non-majors,” Arden said.

I don’t know about this “huge number of credit hours” but I do know that these departments have incredibly few majors.  Regardless of the intellectual value, it seems pretty reasonable to me (and, from what I can tell, my liberal colleagues throughout our college) to eliminate the overhead/administration that goes with a department for an area that has only a handful of majors each year.  Especially when you consider we are part of a UNC system and students who really want that specific, unpopular major can seek it somewhere else.

So, UNC Board of Governors not so bad, but then the final line really threw me:

Board member Steven Long, who is the vice chairman of the academic planning committee, expressed concern about the labels applied to the actions, saying that words like “discontinuation” could confuse the public.

“They think you’re eliminating a lot of the cost, but we’re really only eliminating a little bit of the cost,” Long said. “We’re really not discontinuing the whole program; we’re just scaling it back.”

Long said he didn’t think the programs addressed by the report necessarily needed more scrutiny.

“We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.”

Ugh.  Seriously?  Hey, I love capitalism.  It’s so good for so many things.  Running a system of higher education is not one of them.  We’re not exactly churning out widgets here.  Yes, of course there should be free market principles in higher education, but when free market principles are what’s driving higher ed– as implied in that quote– we’ve got a huge problem.

Getting police body cameras right

You don’t have to think for very long to recognize that police body cameras are not a panacea for our criminal justice system (though I strongly suspect benefits outweigh costs), but this is a really useful, thoughtful article examining the difficulties and unconsidered costs involved in implementing such a system:

The temptation of technology as an accountability tool is not new, but accountability is not done by technology. Accountability is achieved by people and systems using tools like technology as part of their bureaucratic processes.There is effectively a global consensus that body cameras are a good thing to have because everyone has a different idea of what they’re agreeing to, a different model of appropriate bureaucracy. The bureaucratic and political battles over policies of use, access, and retention are not yet resolved, and they are significant. Who gets to see the footage, and in what circumstances, will matter. The features and capabilities of the technology matter. What happens when the camera reveals more about what was in the officer’s scope than what they could physically see at the time, especially at night? Or when cameras get additional features, like heat sensors? Even on basic practical questions, such as whether and when officers or the public should see the footage, there is no consensus.

Everyone is imagining what should be done when a citizen is shot dead by a member of the police, but few are focused on how footage might impact accountability or shift power dynamics in more routine encounters. [emphasis mine] For example, prosecutors might rely on the existence of footage, and a suspect’s ignorance of exactly what is captured, to obtain plea bargains more efficiently. Already,countless people agree to a plea bargain for crimes they didn’t commit because they don’t feel confident that they can prove their innocence, regardless of how much our system is supposedly about proving guilt. What happens when they are threatened with video footage or facing video footage that may be cropped, presented out of context, or otherwise manipulated to make them look more culpable than they really are? Who is empowered or disempowered by body cameras and their footage depends very much on the bureaucratic goals of the people making decisions about their use.

And plenty more.  Though I would not say I’m convinced we shouldn’t use them, I do think a go-slow approach definitely makes sense so we can work out how to best implement such systems.

Photo of the day

I’ve never actually seen hot air balloons in person before, so I was super-excited that a hot air balloon festival came to Raleigh yesterday.  Here’s one of my favorites:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Steven Greene

 

 

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) This was a terrific Fresh Air interview on how the government was instrumental in creating Black ghettos.  Our racial residential patterns are no historical accident or Black people choosing to live in their own places, but the result of intentional government policies designed to keep Blacks out of white neighborhoods.

2) Loved this interactive feature to find the equivalent in popularity for you name from various decades (e.g., in 1900’s I would have been “Joe.”)

3) Jason Furman on the importance and success of government programs that invest in families.

4) We need to let our young kids learn through play!

TWENTY years ago, kids in preschool, kindergarten and even first and second grade spent much of their time playing: building with blocks, drawing or creating imaginary worlds, in their own heads or with classmates. But increasingly, these activities are being abandoned for the teacher-led, didactic instruction typically used in higher grades. In many schools, formal education now starts at age 4 or 5. Without this early start, the thinking goes, kids risk falling behind in crucial subjects such as reading and math, and may never catch up.

The idea seems obvious: Starting sooner means learning more; the early bird catches the worm.

But a growing group of scientists, education researchers and educators say there is little evidence that this approach improves long-term achievement; in fact, it may have the opposite effect, potentially slowing emotional and cognitive development, causing unnecessary stress and perhaps even souring kids’ desire to learn…

Over the past 20 years, scientists have come to understand much more about how children learn. Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego, has spent his career studying how the human brain develops from birth through adolescence; he says most kids younger than 7 or 8 are better suited for active exploration than didactic explanation. “The trouble with over-structuring is that it discourages exploration,” he says.

5) Fascinating Slate piece on the origins of race-based slavery (had never really thought about the fact that slavery existed long before, but was not necessarily based on race).

6) How some men (but not women) fake an 80 hour work-week.

7) Speaking of which, one of the reasons I so loved Mad Men was because it was such a great exploration of the role of gender in the workplace.

8) Let’s keep the gender theme rolling… a couple good links from a commenter about rape, nudity, etc., on Game of Thrones.

9) USA Today editorial on the wrongness of Chipotle’s anti-GMO policy.

10) Surprise, surprise, the Patriot Act is not actually helping the FBI catch terrorists.

11) When it comes to social issues, liberals have caught up with conservatives.

12) Not only do we need better train infrastructure, we need the War on Drugs to not blatantly and horribly violate people’s rights while they are riding trains.  Seriously, the War on Drugs just has so much more harm than good that I think only those truly ignorant of what is going on can support it.  Or fascists.

13) Yes, there was huge fraud in political science, but because of how the scientific method works, it was actually caught out pretty quickly.  And a handy chart on how to spot bad science.

14) Okay, so this Slate piece freaked me out about ticks pretty good.  Actually think I am going to spray my kids’ shoes and socks as a result.

Chart of the day

The demographics of smartphone ownership.  Via Pew.  I just find this interesting, especially the race and age components:

Smartphone Ownership Highest Among Young Adults, Those With High Income/Education Levels

Photo of the day

Oooohhh, a whole Telegraph gallery of great shots of waves.  Love this.

A cool and refreshing wave folds back into the water in New South Wales

Ray Collins captures breathtaking seascapes that capture the power of waves, as they rise up and crash back into the ocean

Picture: Ray Collins/Barcroft Media

Quick hits (part I)

This was supposed to be quick hits part II last Sunday, so this is just an indication of how behind I am.  I promise better blogging for you when I’m done my Maymester class.

1) In the interests of “promoting jobs” and ending those pesky regulations, NC is trying to do away with streamside buffers against water pollution.  I’m sure that nothing bad can come of that.

2) If you were not aware of how evil and antithetical to democracy (including here in NC) ALEC is, this news report (from a local Atlanta TV station of all places!) pretty well captures it.

3) Yes, Republicans are a lot of old white people, but that doesn’t mean the party will die off.  Here’s how Jamelle Bouie expects them to adapt.

4) Apparently being stabbed by a giant sword leads to a much slower death than is portrayed on Game of Thrones.

5) Honestly, I can never post enough on how evil civil asset forfeiture is.

6) Yglesias on Gallup poll showing Americans want to redistribute wealth by taxing the rich.

7) John Oliver on standardized testing.  Of course it’s great.  My youngest son had his first ever experience with them the past week.  Beforehand, they managed to worry a kid who was in absolutely no danger of failing that it was a real worry for him.  Also, no backpacks in school because somehow… ?

8) I’ve followed this guy’s Instagram feed for a while.  Enjoyed the story behind it.

9) Good story on the Obamacare hating man in SC who was disappointed to find out he couldn’t game the system when his eyesight depended upon it.

10) I was surprised at all the cynical takes on conclusion of Mad Men.  It was clear to me these people just did not understand Matt Weiner’s vision (and therefore should not have been writing as authorities on the show) and in this interview with Weiner, that’s pretty clear.  On the lighter side, here’s what Don Draper was thinking in his final moments.

11) A small piece of good news in the battle to protect individual liberties– the government cannot search the contents of your laptop or phone without a warrant.

12) We so totally know that 18-year olds are not really ready for the adult-world in many ways.  Yet, we typically just let foster kids (who are surely even less prepared) loose at age 18 with no more support.  That’s a horrible idea.  Kudos to Tennessee for figuring this out and creating a program that helps increase the adult success of these kids.

13) Vox’s health reporters on their 8 big take-aways from years as health reporters.

14) Great National Journal article on Amtrak and our problems with high-speed rail:

The Gulf situation is a miniature version of the chicken-and-egg question that bedevils Amtrak as a whole: Is it a waste of money because there isn’t sufficient demand for trains? Or is there insufficient demand for trains because we haven’t spent the money to create a great rail system? Outside of the Northeast Corridor, the tracks Amtrak uses are almost all owned by freight railroads. CSX, Union Pacific, and a handful of other behemoths naturally hog them, which contributes to Amtrak’s chronic tardiness, which in turn dissuades passengers from taking Amtrak. As a result, Congress cites Amtrak’s low-ridership numbers as a reason not to grant it larger subsidies, which of course are exactly what Amtrak would need in order to purchase its own train tracks. Commenting on the vicious cycle, John Robert Smith says: “You can’t disinvest in something and then beat it to death because it doesn’t perform.”

And a nice defense of Amtrak from Tim Wu.

15) I love reading about the Beanie Baby bubble and remembering fondly how my stepmother and little sisters were spending $80 on these things on Ebay and thinking it was a good investment.  There’s a new book on the matter.  And here’s an interview with the author.

16) Just a wee bit of hypocrisy in Republicans asking the Pope to say out of politics (somehow only seems to happen when he mentions poverty or climate change).

17) Oh, how I love School House Rock.  And, yes, I still show “I’m Just a Bill” every semester.  Here’s a nice bit from Mental Floss on 15 things you didn’t know about it.

18) Fox News personalities claim that they don’t actually say bad things about poor people.  Talk about a target-rich environment for Jon Stewart.  Oh my this is good.

 

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