Liberal arts degrees– useful if you are a young Republican

I mentioned in an earlier post the heft salary increases a couple of young NC political operatives recently received.  Considering that Governor McCrory has publicly called into question whether there’s any value to a liberal arts degree and whether state universities should even have liberal arts majors, I just love this take from Rob Schofield:

n recent days, however, the Governor has, happily, been singing a distinctly different tune. Just last week, the Governor publicly defended the decision of his Health Human Services Secretary, Aldona Wos, to place two recent college graduates in the liberal arts near the very pinnacle of her multi-billion dollar, multi-thousand employee department and pay them handsome salaries.

As was first reported by N.C. Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska last Wednesday, Matthew McKillip – a 2011 graduate in English from Georgetown University – now makes $87,500 as Wos’ Chief Policy Advisor. Meanwhile, Ricky Diaz, who received a 2011 B.A. in economics at Vanderbilt, makes $85,000 as Wos’ Director of Communications.

When quizzed about these decisions, however, McCrory – the former critic of liberal arts – was adamant that the two were the best qualified people for the jobs. He told WNCN TV:

“They got promotions. They were actually moved over to areas that frankly a lot of older people applied for, too. But frankly, these two young people are very well qualified and they are being paid for jobs at which that’s the pay rate for that job.”

Got that? No more liberal arts bashing from the Governor. According to McCrory, a college liberal arts degree is actually quite valuable – so valuable that it can qualify people with essentially zero professional experience for some of the most prestigious and desirable jobs in government, even jobs that pay more than is earned by hundreds of state employees with advanced degrees (and even years of experience) in “hard” sciences.

Who said politicians couldn’t learn and evolve?

Apparently liberal arts degrees are only a waste if you are a Democrat.

Not just an accident

Slate’s Crime blogger Justin Peters has been on a crusade to highlight the “accidental” deaths of children where adult gun owners’ irresponsible actions lead to the death of a child, but no one is ever prosecuted because it was “just an accident.”  Of course, if you drive the wrong way on a street and you hit somebody, it’s “an accident.”  And, yes, you are criminally liable.  Leave a loaded gun where young children have easy access, and, yes, you should be criminally liable then, too.  Here’s a case where the police get it right:

Several readers have written in to share the story of Damon Holbrook, a 3-year-old Michigan boy who, on Sunday, died after unintentionally shooting himself in the head with a loaded handgun he found in a bedroom closet. The handgun belonged to a family friend who had been staying with the Holbrooks; the friend was arrested, and will be arraigned today. According to the Monroe News, he may be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The speed with which the family friend was arrested is worth noting and applauding as an example of how authorities ought to handle cases like these. Usually, the investigating officers first deem the shooting a tragic “accident,” and then charges are only brought later, if at all. But the Dundee, Mich., police wasted no time arresting the family friend. And that’s how it ought to be done.

It’s very tempting for the police to characterize these sorts of incidents as no-fault accidents. After all, what purpose does it really serve to compound a family’s trauma by packing the relevant adults off to jail? Well, the purpose, of course, is to deter other adult gun owners from making the same mistakes, and to make clear that the right to bear arms carries with it the requirement to bear them responsibly. [emphasis mine]  Damon Holbrook did not die out of happenstance, or some unforeseeable act of God. He died because a careless adult abdicated responsibility, and left his handgun loaded, accessible, and unsecured in a house where an inquisitive 3-year-old was running around. That’s no accident. It’s criminal negligence.

Book recommendation

So, I’ll be busy all afternoon being a discussion leader for the NCSU first-year common reading program so this is the only blog post you’ll get.  The book is The Alchemy of Air by Thomas Haber.  It’s about the Haber-Bosch process for converting Nitrogen gas in the air into a usable form of ammonia, which is the basis of fertilizer.  Without Haber-Bosch, the earth could only support about 2/3 as many people.   Not to mention, getting all that nitrogen out of the air is also key for all the gunpowder, bombs, etc., in the modern world.

Anyway, the book is a pretty amazing tale of the importance of a single element– nitrogen– to the world as we know it.  A story of amazing technological innovation.  And a personal story of what it is like to be a scientist-hero, but also a jew in the Third Reich.  Really good stuff.  I allotted myself 7 days to read it before today, but finished in 5 because I was so enjoying it.

Anyway, easily one of the most important discoveries/inventions of the modern world, yet one most people know almost nothing about.

This youtube video features annoying music (and the middle is more science-heavy than you want), but is a great 5 minute education.

Photo of the day

Something about images of flooding I always find particularly compelling (never seen a flood in real life).  And those poor Philippines seem to suffer from images like this every year.  Naturally, I could not resist the flooding image with a dog.  Via the Telegraph:

Torrential rain paralysed large parts of the Philippine capital on August 19 as neck-deep water swept through homes, while floods in northern farming areas claimed at least one life
Flooding has become more frequent in Manila because of deforestation in the mountains, clogged waterways and canals where large squatter communities live and poor urban planningPicture: AP Photo/Aaron Favila

The power of a professor

Had a most-of-the-day über-department meeting (i.e., School of Public and International Affairs) yesterday.  Not much fun.  We talked about all the “creative” ways to deal with budget cuts.  Mostly, by offering less to our students.  A huge portion of the budget is committed to salaries of tenure-track professors–that just leaves cutting funding for graduate students and classes taught by NTT (non tenure-track) faculty.

One other cost-saving idea that came up was moving more of our Introduction to American Government classes to distance ed.  I really don’t like this idea, in large part because, based on lots of anecdotes, it is quite clear we draw majors to the department through the quality of our teaching in this class.   In fact, this discussion led me to bring up some interesting research I read about last week that suggests all these anecdotes really do hint at something larger:

Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field. And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.

Those are the findings of a paper presented here during a session at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association by Christopher G. Takacs, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Chicago, and Daniel F. Chambliss, a professor of sociology at Hamilton College. The paper is one part of How College Works, their forthcoming book from Harvard University Press.

In their study, they tracked the educational choices of about 100 students at a college that isn’t named but that sounds like Hamilton College. Students were interviewed about their original educational plans and why they either followed through on those plans or changed them, and they were tracked over their college careers and after graduation as well.

What they found challenges the views of many experts that choice of major is “fixed” by such factors as a desire for a lucrative career. And their findings also suggest that those policy makers who want to attract more students to science and technology fields need to focus on teaching quality in those fields, not just financial benefits.

The study didn’t cover this, but I’m fairly sure that students are not going to find a faculty member “inspiring and caring” of that interaction takes place on-line only.  Starting tomorrow, I’ll be doing my best to bring more students over to the PS fold as I am their first encounter with the department via Intro to American Government.

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