GOP against Higher Education

I’ve read a lot of good commentary on Scott Walker and other Republicans’ attacks on higher education.  This in Pacific Standard is definitely my favorite.  I like that he also hits NC’s own Pat McCrory:

Wisconsin is, of course, not the only state where executives are deriding bachelor’s degrees and the liberal arts. Shortly after taking office in 2013, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory leveled harsh words at the “educational elite,” mocking women’s and gender studies (“If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it”) and, what is more curious, the teaching of Swahili: “What are we teaching these courses for if they are not going to help get a job?”

One must suppose McCrory has little interest in the techno-minerals that the West excavates with such glee from Swahili-speaking countries. The governor’s cell phone or laptop probably contains coltan from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The job-creators at the multinationals that mine those minerals probably employed someone who spoke the local dialect. Is it elitist to mention all of this? I think not.

If McCrory and Walker wish to eliminate any college course that does not lead directly to employment, that’s one thing; but perhaps they should consider who they’re serving by cutting funding to—and openly scoffing at—the study of language, international relations, and identity questions that, like it or not, will become the purview of the next president—even a President Walker.

There is democracy, and there is democratic fantasy. The seemingly populist notion that a governor with little geopolitical education is somehow morequalified to direct America on the world stage is little more than inverse snobbery and a mess of false equivalencies…

That cognitive reversal is part of the larger bait-and-switch in conservative critiques of higher education. The script: College is overrated; let us therefore cut funds; colleges thereby become worse, proving that they were terrible to begin with. The slash-and-burn won’t mean the death of the American university so much as its reversion to a domain for the rich.


Quick hits (part II)

Hmmm, this version is not so mega.  I apologize for the lack of numerical balance in this weekend’s quick hits.

1) There’s a new strongest material in the world (besting spider silk)– the microscopic teeth of bottom-dwelling sea snails.  Cool!

2) Oklahoma legislators– we don’t need no stinkin’ AP History!  And Steve Benen places it into a broader context of GOP assaults on public education.

3) Yes, unions go too far at times, but their decline has surely been a big part of our growth in inequality.  Nice column from Kristof.

“All the focus on labor’s flaws can distract us from the bigger picture,” Rosenfeld writes. “For generations now the labor movement has stood as the most prominent and effective voice for economic justice.”

I’m as appalled as anyone by silly work rules and $400,000 stagehands, or teachers’ unions shielding the incompetent. But unions also lobby for programs like universal prekindergarten that help create broad-based prosperity. They are pushing for a higher national minimum wage, even though that would directly benefit mostly nonunionized workers.

I’ve also changed my mind because, in recent years, the worst abuses by far haven’t been in the union shop but in the corporate suite. One of the things you learn as a journalist is that when there’s no accountability, we humans are capable of tremendous avarice and venality. That’s true of union bosses — and of corporate tycoons. Unions, even flawed ones, can provide checks and balances for flawed corporations.

Many Americans think unions drag down the economy over all, but scholars disagree. American auto unions are often mentioned, but Germany’s car workers have a strong union, and so do Toyota’s in Japan and Kia’s in South Korea.

4) Government by consent of the governed?  Maybe not so much in Greensboro, NC.

5) A really interesting take on how decriminalization of drugs can be a bad thing.  Really eye-opening.  Of course, if we could end this totally evil modern debtor’s prison thing we’ve got going, decriminalization wouldn’t’ be a bad thing.

6) Ideology and the closing of centers in the UNC system.  Yes, of course it’s political no matter how much the Board of Governors protests otherwise.  A response from Gene Nichol, one of the key figures in all this.

7) Love this collection of humorous flyers.

8) Given that Marilyn Vos Savant supposedly has the world’s highest IQ, it’s really kind of sad that she’s best known for solving logic problems in the Sunday Parade supplement (I know her as the person who married my dad’s first cousin’s ex-husband).  That said, the sexist vitriol she received on the Monty Hall problem is really kind of amazing.  Oh, and no matter what, I just cannot entirely wrap my head around this problem.

9) I remember reading something about this wrongful police shooting in Fairfax, VA (where I was born and raised) a while back, but the lack of news coverage is really pretty amazing.  On the bright side, it’s not just non-white guys who are victims of overzealous police who are then not held accountable.

10) Love Adam Gopnik on Republican candidate evasions on whether they believe in evolution.  It’s pretty short, you should read it all.  But since you won’t:

What the question means, and why it matters, is plain: Do you have the courage to embrace an inarguable and obvious truth when it might cost you something to do so? A politician who fails this test is not high-minded or neutral; he or she is just craven, and shouldn’t be trusted with power. This catechism’s purpose—perhaps unfair in its form, but essential in its signal—is to ask, Do you stand with reason and evidence sufficiently to anger people among your allies who don’t?

11) This Jamelle Bouie piece about the Republican attempts to appeal Obamacare and what it means has sat in my queue for its own post for too long. So here’s my favorite part:

The consequences of the proposal are straightforward: By ending Obamacare in its entirety and placing limits on Medicaid, it would eliminate insurance for millions of Americans and make it harder for middle- and working-class people to purchase coverage. And while it’s described as a plan to save money, the truth is that it accomplishes this by reducing care for the poor and raising costs on everyone else.

In other words, this isn’t a plan to achieve universal coverage. That’s simply not a Republican goal, and it’s part of the reason it has proven politically difficult to craft an alternative. We don’t think everyone should have health insurance just isn’t an appealing message.

The amazing cluelessness of the pro-gun crowd

In the bid to have guns everywhere they possibly can, the pro-gun crowd has long been pushing to pass laws to ensure guns are allowed on college campuses.  They’ve had only limited success, but now they think they’ve hit on the key– combine it with concern about sexual violence on campus.  Seriously.  The cluelessness speaks for itself, nowhere better than this:

The sponsor of a bill in Nevada, Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, said in a telephone interview: “If these young, hot little girls on campus have a firearm, I wonder how many men will want to assault them. The sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.” [emphasis mine]

Seriously?!  And that’s a Republican woman making this argument.  Of course, you need pay only the most passing attention to the issue to know how out-of-touch this approach is.  Not news to you, but, here it is:

“It reflects a misunderstanding of sexual assaults in general,” said John D. Foubert, an Oklahoma State University professor and national president ofOne in Four, which provides educational programs on sexual assault to college campuses. “If you have a rape situation, usually it starts with some sort of consensual behavior, and by the time it switches to nonconsensual, it would be nearly impossible to run for a gun. Maybe if it’s someone who raped you before and is coming back, it theoretically could help them feel more secure.”

I’m, of course, no fans of these laws, but I suspect that they probably end up making little difference.  That said, the fact that the supporters see this as a solution to campus rape truly shows how ignorant they are on this important issue.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The justification for stripping this professor from tenure over a blog posting (scary!!) is pretty pathetic.

2) It would be nice if Supreme Court Justices actually had some real world experience.  Somehow, John Roberts has never even been pulled over while driving!

3) Jon Chait with a handy reminder that Mitt Romney predicted we would face economic doom if Obama were re-elected.

4) The NYT headline, “Jails Have Become Warehouses for the Poor, Ill and Addicted, a Report Says.”  Only problem is the need to qualify with “report says.”  Sadly, this is just reality.  And the modern debtors prison part is especially distressing.

5) New Yorker’s Sarah Larson with one of the better takes on Jon Stewart stepping down.

6) Are you “gluten sensitive”?  Chances are pretty good it’s in your head.  Emily Oster in 538:

If you don’t have celiac disease or a wheat allergy and are experiencing distressing gastrointestinal symptoms after eating gluten — lack of satisfaction with your stool consistency, for example — there is something like a 1 in 30 chance that the gluten is potentially responsible. If you cut out gluten and it makes you feel better, great. Although it may all be in your head.

If you are cutting out gluten for any other reason, all that will happen is you’ll feel the same, but without the pleasure of bread that tastes like bread.

7) Frank Bruni on the value of a liberal arts education.  Personally, I’m still not sold on Shakespeare.

8) I’ve always been blaming my genes for the extreme picky eating of my kids.  In truth, it’s also clearly some pretty sub-optimal parenting in this regard.

9) Really  enjoyed Will Saletan’s takedown of those who argue Christianity never does any wrong.

10) Wow– the twitter police are just nuts!  Scariest part– the tweet that basically ruined Justine Sacco’s life was so obviously meant ironically, but the twitter police are apparently willfully obtuse.

11) Parents stop reading to their kids too soon.  David is 15 and we’re still going strong.  Often my favorite time with my kids each day– why end this before it’s absolutely necessary.

12) Fall and rise of US inequality in two charts.

13) Michael Tomasky on the need for raising the gas tax, and the greater need for actually leveling with the American people:

The second, broader point is this. Someday, some Democrat who wishes to take the reins of this great nation is going to have to level with the people and say look, you say in poll after poll that you want certain things—the preservation of Social Security without benefit cuts, more assistance for higher education, better day care, paid family leave. Fine. I want to give you those things. But they aren’t free. And the rich, even though they’re rich, only have so much to contribute. The top marginal tax rate just isn’t going to get much higher, and the corporate tax rate if anything should be lowered (although as loopholes are simultaneously closed). So you’re going to have to pay a little.

14) Meaningful tax reform just isn’t going anywhere in today’s Congress.

15) Investing in energy efficiency really pays off.  We should do more of it.

16) John Judis on the Republicans’ emerging advantage with white, middle class voters.  Well worth reading, here’s the conclusion:

In the wake of the dramatic gains Republicans have made during Obama’s presidency, I now read the history of the last 80 years much differently. The period of New Deal Democratic ascendancy from 1933 to about 1968 may well prove to have been what historians Jefferson Cowie and Nick Salvatore have called the “long exception” in American politics. It was a period when Americans, panicked about the Depression, put on hold their historic aversion to aggressive government economic intervention, when the middle and bottom of the American economic pyramid united against the top, and when labor unions could claim the loyalty of a third of American workers. That era suffered fatal fissures in 1968 and finally came to a close with Reagan’s landslide in 1980.

It now appears that, in some form, the Republican era which began in 1980 is still with us. Reagan Republicanism—rooted in the long-standing American distrust of government, but perhaps with its roughest theocratic and insurrectionary edges sanded off for a national audience—is still the default position of many of those Americans who regularly go to the polls. It can be effectively challenged when Republicans become identified with economic mismanagement or with military defeat. But after the memory of such disasters has faded, the GOP coalition has reemerged—surprisingly intact and ready for battle.

Quick hits (part I)

1) Are liberals just as anti-science as conservatives, just on different issues?  Thanks to motivated reasoning, anybody will be anti-anything they are not disposed to agree with, regardless of what science says.  So, yes.  But degree matters:

However, the negative reaction of conservatives when they read about climate change and evolution was four times greater than that of liberals who read about nuclear power and fracking. Both liberals and conservatives showed evidence of motivated resistance against the facts related to the science topics that challenged their political beliefs.

But again, conservatives reacted more strongly than liberals, probably because the issues were hot buttons for conservatives.

Explain it away all you want (as the article) does, but this difference matters.

2) Great satire of anti-vaxxers– I’m an anti-braker.

3) It really bothers me that in a very wealthy county, many think it is the job of parents, not the state/county, to pay for full-day Kindergarten.

4) Very thoughtful piece from Amanda Hess on the incredibly blurry line of where drunk sex becomes sexual assault.

5)  Fred Hiatt on the anti-science beliefs of believing that GM foods are bad for you.

6) Seth Masket on the long-term strategic (and successful!) campaign of the Federalist Society to turn the federal judiciary substantially more conservative.

7) Regardless of how wrong Brian Williams may have been (and I’m pretty forgiving given what we know of how human memory works), I think Jon Stewart nails it on the media obsession.

8) Cannot say I’m surprised to learn that Wall Street firms secretly pay their employees to work in government.

9) How Louisiana’s refusal to expand Medicaid is leading to very real harm in the form of closed ER’s.

10) North Carolina’s Innocence Commission is awesome.  I really wish more states would do something similar (and I’m grateful that the current powers in Raleigh have not tried to eliminate it).

11) Pretty amazing how bad the vaccination rates are for the kids of America’s most famous Silicon Valley tech companies.

12) Obviously, I’m no expert on foreign affairs, but I found both these pieces really compelling.  They both argue that the solution is not military, but doing what we can to help improve Ukrainian society and government.

What Putin fears most in this whole confrontation isn’t the introduction of some Western tanks or rockets; it’s a thriving, prosperous Ukraine—it’s an example to the rest of the former Soviet republics (and to the people of eastern Ukraine, and for that matter Russia) that a better, richer life can be had under Western styles of governance and economics than under Putin’s dream of a resuscitated USSR…

Ukraine needs a massive infusion of aid and, even more, investment, along with expansive political ties with the West.

13) Is Scott Walker too far right to win the Republican nomination?  I don’t think so, because I think he’s really good at coming across as far less extreme than he actually is.

14) Love this Aaron Carroll piece on the best way to prioritize young lives (more focus on suicide reduction, for example, would be great).  It’s a great argument that we ignore the opportunity costs when we focus on some approaches (for very rare, but scary, causes of death) and ignore other, far more common, causes.

15) Jon Chait on how Democrats have become the child care party.

16) I found this totally fascinating (and I think my wife will too if she makes it this far into quick hits) on how brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage are all actually the same plant.  Really!  (Thanks, Vox!)

17) It really is crazy how communities are expected to massively subsidize the sports stadiums that enrich millionaires and billionaires.

I’m a knowledgeable professor, but I’m not caring

Some really fascinating (and distressing) research on how college students evaluate their professors based on gender.  Here’s the summary in the Upshot:

Male professors are brilliant, awesome and knowledgeable. Women are bossy and annoying, and beautiful or ugly.

These are a few of the results from a new interactive chart that was gaining notice on social media Friday. Benjamin Schmidt, a Northeastern University history professor, says he built the chart using data from 14 million student reviews on the Rate My Professors site. It allows you to search for any word to see how often it appeared in reviews and how it broke down by gender and department.

The chart makes vivid unconscious biases. The implications go well beyond professors and college students, to anyone who gives or receives feedback or performance reviews.

It suggests that people tend to think more highly of men than women in professional settings, praise men for the same things they criticize women for, and are more likely to focus on a woman’s appearance or personality and on a man’s skills and intelligence…

Men are more likely to be described as a star, knowledgeable, awesome or the best professor. Women are more likely to be described as bossy, disorganized, helpful, annoying or as playing favorites. Nice or rude are also more often used to describe women than men.

Men and women seemed equally likely to be thought of as tough or easy, lazy, distracted or inspiring.

Interestingly, women were more

And here’s the link to the site so you can play around with the data yourself.  Really pretty amazing.  You can also find interesting difference (you’ve got to look harder) among academic departments.

And damn, all this time I thought I was brilliant and funny, but I’m just a man.  I guess I’ll be happy about being “caring” and “nice” as those are more terms for women.  Actually, I’ll mostly strive to actually help my students learn (what’s the word for that?) and, admittedly, to make them laugh (wow– huge gender gap in favor of males on “funny” and “hilarious”).

Universities as luxury goods

So, how do improve the reputation of your university?  Spend, spend, spend.  Even more so, increase the cost of tuition.  Really interesting essay on this– using GW as a case study– in the NYT:

I talked to a half-dozen of Hugh Moren’s fellow students. A highly indebted senior who was terrified of the weak job market described George Washington, where he had invested considerable time getting and doing internships, as “the world’s most expensive trade school.” Another mentioned the abundance of rich students whose parents were giving them a fancy-sounding diploma the way they might a new car. There are serious students here, he acknowledged, but: “You can go to G.W. and essentially buy a degree.”

I went on the university’s website to look for some kind of data or study indicating how much students at George Washington were actually learning. There was none. This is not unusual, it turns out. Colleges and universities rarely, if ever, gather and publish information about how much undergraduates learn during their academic careers…

Instead of focusing on undergraduate learning, numerous colleges have been engaged in the kind of building spree I saw at George Washington. Recreation centers with world-class workout facilities and lazy rivers rise out of construction pits even as students and parents are handed staggeringly large tuition bills. Colleges compete to hire famous professors even as undergraduates wander through academic programs that often lack rigor or coherence. Campuses vie to become the next Harvard — or at least the next George Washington — while ignoring the growing cost and suspect quality of undergraduate education.

And this following part is what really struck me:

Mr. Trachtenberg [former GW president], however, understood something crucial about the modern university. It had come to inhabit a market for luxury goods. People don’t buy Gucci bags merely for their beauty and functionality. They buy them because other people will know they can afford the price of purchase. The great virtue of a luxury good, from the manufacturer’s standpoint, isn’t just that people will pay extra money for the feeling associated with a name brand. It’s that the high price is, in and of itself, a crucial part of what people are buying.

Mr. Trachtenberg convinced people that George Washington was worth a lot more money by charging a lot more money. Unlike most college presidents, he was surprisingly candid about his strategy. College is like vodka, he liked to explain. Vodka is by definition a flavorless beverage. It all tastes the same. But people will spend $30 for a bottle of Absolut because of the brand. A Timex watch costs $20, a Rolex $10,000. They both tell the same time.

The Absolut Rolex plan worked. The number of applicants surged from some 6,000 to 20,000, the average SAT score of students rose by nearly 200 points, and the endowment jumped from $200 million to almost $1 billion.

Now here’s the thing… In my experience at various universities I have to say that the overall quality of the undergraduates has a very significant impact on the quality of the education, regardless of the quality of the faculty.  (Faculty can be much more rigorous when you know that the majority of your students can/will handle it than when it is just 2 or 3 in a class.  And in my experience, given the option, faculty will be much more rigorous.)    In that sense, GW has almost surely improved as a university by improving the quality of its students.  But what just kills me is that parents and prospective students simply use the price tag as a marker of quality.  It’s not!  Among other things, there are a number of top-notch public universities that I guarantee you are way better than GW.

Anyway, it’s a really interesting look at how the incentives at modern universities are not about increasing the quality of the education, but on spending money on fancy new things.


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