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.

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.

 

Quick hits (part I)

1) I’ve been using Flickr for a while and really like it.  David Pogue writes about 7 great new features.

1) Interesting story of the 1 juror holding out in the Etan Patz trial.

The defendant, Pedro Hernandez, 54, had confessed to killing Etan almost 33 years after he disappeared, but there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime. Defense lawyers argued that the confession, which he repeated later to a prosecutor, was a fiction made up under police pressure by a man with a low I.Q. and a personality disorder clouding his ability to tell fact from fantasy.

Given what I know of coerced confessions, if there’s no physical evidence and the chief evidence is a recanted confession, that’s sure reasonable doubt for me (it does sound somewhat more complicated than that, but the story got a little confusing).

3) Nice NYT Editorial on how racism doomed Baltimore.

4) Seth Masket makes a good point– should we really have primaries to choose candidates anyway?

5) Nice Op-Ed on how NC needs to invest in teachers.

6) Whether you want to call it a “war on science” or not, Republicans sadly don’t believe that government should be supporting science (or that legislators should be listening to what scientists have to say).  John Cassidy:

Cutting NASA and the N.S.F.’s climate-science budgets isn’t going to alter the basic realities of climate change. No one needs an advanced degree to understand this. Indeed, the idea that ignoring a problem isn’t going to make it go away is one that kids should grasp by the time they’re six or seven. But ignoring a problem does often make it more difficult to solve. And that, you have to assume, in a perverse way, is the goal here. What we don’t know, we can’t act on.

“It’s hard to believe that in order to serve an ideological agenda, the majority is willing to slash the science that helps us have a better understanding of our home planet,” Representative Johnson wrote. Hard to believe, but, unfortunately, true.

7) Meanwhile the state of Wyoming (that is, the Republicans in government) seems to have outlawed citizen science.

8) On the bright side, Vox presents an interesting interview with a Republican (of the liberatarian stripe) who has been convinced of climate change and why he has been (and it is a good argument):

So [Litterman] came in to talk to me and my then-colleague, Peter Van Dorn, and laid out what I thought a very powerful argument. In brief it went like this: the issues associated with climate change are not that different from the risk issues we deal with in the financial markets every day. We know there’s a risk — we don’t know how big the risk is, we’re not entirely sure about all of the parameters, but we know it’s there. And we know it’s a low-probability, high-impact risk. So what do we do about that in our financial markets? Well, if it’s a nondiversifiable risk, we know that people pay plenty of money to avoid it.

[Litterman’s] point was that if this sort of risk were to arise in any other context in the private markets, people would pay real money to hedge against it. He did it every day for his clients. Even if Pat Michaels and Dick Lindzen and the rest [of the climate-skeptic scientists] are absolutely correct about the modest impacts of climate change as the most likely outcome, it’s not the most likely outcome that counts here. Nobody would manage risk based on the most likely outcome in a world of great uncertainty. If that were the case, we’d have all our money in equities. No one would spend money on anything else. But we don’t act that way.

9) Assigned this “Bad Feminist” essay by Roxane Gay to my Gender & Politics class.  I really like it.

10) Among the consensus conclusions from my Criminal Justice policy class this past semester was that we need to invest more in better police training.  In Indiana and Arkansas you don’t necessarily need any training.

11) An interesting feature of the Dutch economy is that a lot of people work part-time.  The Economist explains why.

12) Thanks to Mika for sharing this link on a “moneyball” approach with a Danish soccer team.  Fascinating!

13) The story of a doctor who believed in “alternative medicine”– it’s oh-so-compelling when you are looking for any hope in a struggle against autism in a child– and his journey back to science.

14) Dylan Matthews on how giving money to your wealthy alma mater is about the least beneficial thing you can do with your money.  Of course, I was convinced by this logic long ago, which is why Give Directly gets my money and Duke doesn’t.

15) Great Richard Thaler piece on how irrelevant things matter a ton in our economic decision making and classical economists (as opposed to behavioral economists) do their best to pretend this isn’t true:

There is a version of this magic market argument that I call the invisible hand wave. It goes something like this. “Yes, it is true that my spouse and my students and members of Congress don’t understand anything about economics, but when they have to interact with markets. …” It is at this point that the hand waving comes in. Words and phrases such as high stakes, learning and arbitrage are thrown around to suggest some of the ways that markets can do their magic, but it is my claim that no one has ever finished making the argument with both hands remaining still.

Hand waving is required because there is nothing in the workings of markets that turns otherwise normal human beings into Econs. For example, if you choose the wrong career, select the wrong mortgage or fail to save for retirement, markets do not correct those failings. In fact, quite the opposite often happens. It is much easier to make money by catering to consumers’ biases than by trying to correct them.

16) And, lastly, we’ll finish with another long excerpt.  Finally got around to reading this really long essay from a former Lost writer on whether they were just making stuff up as they went along.  (Apparently, much less so than I assumed they were guilty of).  If you were a fan of the show (and you should be) definitely worth reading the whole thing.

First we built a world. Then we filled it with an ensemble of flawed but interesting characters — people who were real to us, people with enough depth in their respective psyches to withstand years of careful dramatic analysis. Then we created a thrilling and undeniable set of circumstances in which these characters had to bond together and solve problems in interesting ways.

Soon thereafter, we created a way for you to witness their pasts and compare the people they once were with the people they were in the process of becoming. While that was going on, we also created an entire 747s worth of ideas, notions, fragments, complications, and concepts that would — if properly and thoughtfully mined — yield enough narrative fiction to last as long as our corporate overlords would demand to feed their need for profit and prestige, and then, just to be sure, teams of exceptionally talented people worked nonstop to make sure the 747 never emptied out.

And then we made it all up as we went.

 

Quick hits (Part II)

1) TNR’s Danny Vinik on how the Republican party is out of ideas.

2) My kids love Phineas and Ferb and alas no new episodes.  This Slate article explains what makes it so good.

3) Nice editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal on how NC Republicans need to value education.  I don’t think they are listening.

4) More and more people seem to be figuring out that the “war on drugs” isn’t just a colossal failure here in America, but around the world.

Many of the harms associated with drug use — the violence, the criminal activity, the loss of life — have been shown to be direct consequences of the way we wage the drug war, rather than of drug use itself. More countries are beginning to acknowledge this troubled history, but the U.N. treaties governing drug policy haven’t been significantly updated since the 1960s.

5) So why is it that college keeps getting so much more expensive?

During the 2001 to 2011 time period, state funding per student fell $3,081 at research universities and $2,067 at nonresearch universities, a decline that was “in near lockstep with tuition increases,” according to the report. The result is a “dramatic shift” in who is paying for the cost of a public education.

6) Among those people who actually research guns, there is a clear consensus that more guns means more dead people.

7) You may have seen a study saying that beards are full of fecal bacteria.  Turns out that study (and the reporting on it) were full of crap.

8)Why most diets don’t actually work.

9) Nice column from Ross Douthat on liberal vs. conservative views on poverty and culture.

10) The Economist looks at the data to answer just how many people out there are gay.

11) Chait argues that HRC has set a trap for Republicans on the issue of immigration.

12) I don’t know that I would call something that happened without any human involvement GMO, but if you want to consider it the non-sexual combination of genes from very different species, nature beat us to it with sweet potatoes thousands of years ago.

13) Tina Fey’s awesomeness knows no bounds.

14) I saw there was a new poll showing 57% of Republicans would like Christianity to be our national religion “we don’t need any stinkin’ separation of church and state!” and I just knew it had to come from PPP.

15) Our bail policies are too punitive towards poor people (oh come on, everything in our criminal justice system is too punitive towards poor people).

16) So all those tax cuts in Kansas— now they can’t even afford to keep their schools open.  Good thing to know we’re trying to follow a similar model here.

17) It’s two years old, but John F just shared on FB.  The love you get from your parents has life-long benefits.  Love may not be all you need, but it sure helps.

18) It’s great to be exonerated for a crime you didn’t commit rather than keep rotting in prison, but there’s still plenty of hardship afterwards.

19) Nice essay from Dahlia Lithwick on how being laid up with a bad back and on pain meds affected her parenting and relationship with her children.

20) Loved this episode of 99% Invisible on “perfect security,” nice to see that Slate did too and added some key visuals.

Quick hits

1) David Goldberg, the husband of Sheryl “lean in” Sandberg, suffered an untimely death last week.  Nice article on his life and how he made it possible for Sandberg to lean in.

2) Private prisons are so wrong.  Among other things, they are incentivized to allow more human suffering to earn greater profits.  They can also sue states if they don’t stay full.

3) The Cleveland Indians have an awesome recycling program that runs on massive garbage disposals.

4) These photography tips are pretty cool; I’m going to have to try some.

5) This point doesn’t get old– inequality is a policy choice.  Nice column on the matter from Kristof.

6) Really enjoyed Ross Douthat’s essay on Pope Francis.

7) The head of the Federal Elections Commission has to sadly admit the FEC will be largely unable to prevent widespread campaign finance abuse in 2016.  Why?  The Republicans on the commission basically believe in widespread campaign finance abuse.

8) John Cassidy on the Republican field for president:

If your head is spinning, join the club. Nobody should be expected, or forced, to keep up with every detail of the G.O.P. primary, especially when, Lord help us, we still have more than eight months to go until the Iowa caucuses. At this stage, the important thing to remember is that there are really two spectacles taking place: a high-stakes horse race for the Republican nomination, and a circus held on the infield of the track. Although the events run concurrently, and are ostensibly geared toward the same end, they shouldn’t be confused with one another. One is a serious political contest. The other is a sideshow, designed to amuse the spectators, give the media something to cover, and further the ambitions, varied as they are, of the participants.

9) This article about an Ebola survivor who discovered later he had tons of the virus in his eyeball was fascinating.  Among other things, I had not known about “immune privilege” of that your eyeball benefits from being immune privileged.

10) It’s really kind of amazing that a local television station– local news generally being the province of fires, crime, and 15 minute weather reports– does a terrific job covering state and local politics.  Fortunately for me, it’s my very own local station.  The great work of Raleigh’s WRAL is recognized in CJR.

11) A future without chocolate?  Perish the thought.  But we’ll have to work at it and that’s what the International Cocoa Quarantine Centre is doing.

12) On the taboo of sharing how much money you make and why we should break it.  I won’t share mine, but it is public record if you really want to know.

13) Mitt Romney literally does not even understand what “mass incarceration” is.  Scary to think he could’ve been president.  And this is so pathetic.  Chait’s on it, so you know it’s a good read.

14) Cut the cord to your cable and think you are done with unwanted bundles?  Not so fast; bundling is coming to internet TV.

15) Congressional Republicans are no fans of making it easier for people to afford a college education.

16) Based on my experience, it always struck me that people would blame their infant’s fussiness on “teething” when there was really no particular reason to think that was the case (among other things, you never feel it all when your permanent teeth come in).  Looks like I’ve got science on my side.

17) Loved the new documentary on Kurt Cobain.  Damn if Kurt Cobain isn’t just the prototype of the tortured artist.  And I remember quite distinctly where I was when I found out he died (I was on a pre grad school visit to Ohio State and there were some guys driving around in a car yelling “Kurt Cobain is dead!”)  I’ve been listening to Nirvana a ton this week as a result (In Utero is playing as a type this post).  Also enjoyed showing my oldest the Smells Like Teen Spirit video which he had never seen.

18) I’ll leave you with this awesome, awesome Amy Schumer video on birth control.  It’s short and brilliant, so watch it already.

Photo of the day

We had a pretty awesome double rainbow in Raleigh last week.

Following a line of thunderstorms that brought pea-sized hail as it moved through the Triangle on Thursday, April 30, 2015, a double rainbow appeared over downtown Raleigh, drawing crowds to the Boylan Street bridge to get a glimpse.

Following a line of thunderstorms that brought pea-sized hail as it moved through the Triangle on Thursday, April 30, 2015, a double rainbow appeared over downtown Raleigh, drawing crowds to the Boylan Street bridge to get a glimpse.  John Hansen.  jhansen@newsobserver.com

Guns for everyone!

Apparently we are not safe enough here in NC.  Clearly we need more guns.  Guns for everyone!  Among the more interesting/disturbing provisions in what the NC Republicans are offering us:

House Bill 562 would require schools to allow gun owners with concealed weapons permits to bring their guns onto school property as long as they leave the gun locked in their vehicle. It would allow citizens to sue local governments that try to restrict the right to carry concealed weapons.

It also would require property and business owners who don’t allow weapons to place a large sign to that effect in a prominent location. A violation of such a notice would no longer be a misdemeanor, just an infraction.

The bill would ban doctors or psychiatrists from asking patients in writing whether they own or have access to guns. They would be banned from passing that information along to anyone, even law enforcement, even if a patient were to express a desire to harm himself or others.

Glad to know that the “2nd amendment rights” of those intent on harming others trump any reasonable concern of public safety.  And what’s with this ban on asking “in writing”?  So there’s– heaven forbid– no written record someone own’s a gun?!  Can’t have the one-world government knowing that information and swooping in with black helicopters to take the guns away.

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