Death of the Dream

So, in all the hullabaloo over DADT this weekend, it was possible to overlook the sad death of the Dream act.   One of my facebook (and real) friends had a great quote on the matter in his status:

If only we could punish the children for the sins of their parents generation after generation in everything, maybe people would wake up to see it as a fallacy.

Yep.  I get really tired of all the opponents arguing that it rewards illegal behavior (so does speeding), but it is the illegal behavior of the parents.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to live in a country that punished children for their parents behavior.  Oh, wait… I do.  Anyway, also worth taking a moment to mention that despite their protestations to the contrary, there’s plenty of evidence that the anti-immigration crowd is driven largely by ethnic/cultural prejudice.

The PhD glut

Really interesting article in the Economist about the absurd over-supply of PhD’s and the incentives throughout the university system that make it so.  For anyone intending to get a PhD in the hopes of becoming a college professor, this article is very sobering, to say the least:

Indeed, the production of PhDs has far outstripped demand for university lecturers. In a recent book, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships…

In research the story is similar. PhD students and contract staff known as “postdocs”, described by one student as “the ugly underbelly of academia”, do much of the research these days. There is a glut of postdocs too. Dr Freeman concluded from pre-2000 data that if American faculty jobs in the life sciences were increasing at 5% a year, just 20% of students would land one.

Lots of reasons for this problem, but the article did not really note the one I notice most prominently.  Quite simply, university administrators have huge incentives to create PhD programs, regardless of whether they are actually any good or successfully place their graduates.  Our dean will be considered to be doing a great job if he expands the PhD programs in our college even if none of them are any good.  Even though there are two top-20 Political Science departments (who cannot place all their new PhD’s) within 20 miles (UNC and Duke) talk still comes up from time to time simply because the incentive is always there for more.   Furthermore, for NC State to be grouped among the most prestigious universities, it simply needs more PhD programs.  Again, regardless of whether these programs are any good.  Short version: university administrators are rewarded for creating PhD programs, so they do.  They are not actually rewarded for creating quality PhD programs, so there’s far too many PhD’s being produced and far too many PhD programs that are not high quality.

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