28.4.05

SO MUCH WORK TO DO, SO LITTLE TIME. The National Council on Economic Education's latest survey of economic literacy(*) among high schoolers and adults is available. I want to revisit that survey again, after having given it a bit more careful reading. The New York Times has an article on the survey, which, by mixing interpretation with reporting, draws the ire of King at SCSU Scholars, William Polley, and Don at Cafe Hayek.

Here's a thought for advocates of paternalism on the grounds that some agents will make the wrong decision, from Cafe Hayek:
A person kept from ever swimming in the deepest part of the pool ought not be judged to be an inherently poor swimmer because he cannot today do more than dog paddle in shallow water.
(*)At the March meeting of the Illinois Council on Economic Education, a colleague let me know that there is a quest within the council to find a replacement for the term "literacy" in economic literacy and financial literacy, account the perceived pejorative of the corollary "illiteracy." I'd like to find a different word in order to save "literacy" for describing the state of being able to read and write.
COLLEGE FOR THE AIMLESS. Blogs for Industry has linked to my comments on the New York Times visit to Arizona, as well as to a J. D. Velleman post at Left2Right with additional observations, and a lively bull-session in progress. Professor Velleman's summation notes that there is plenty of blame for the troubles to go around.
By and large, professors are given adequate resources for their research, and their success or failure at research lies largely within their own hands. But they are often asked to teach oversized classes filled with under-prepared and unmotivated students. The Times article mentions lecture courses with 500 students and discussion sections with 60. Engaging an audience of 500 people two or three times a week requires a combination of gifts that is very rare in any walk of life. It's even harder when one-fifth of the audience falls into the category of the "disengaged" -- especially if their disengagement takes the form of a hangover. Faced with this challenge, even the most dedicated teacher will have trouble feeling successful or finding satisfaction in his work. If the lecturer wishes that he were back in the lab or the library, the reason may not be that he doesn't want to teach; it may simply be that he doesn't want to teach like this. I know plenty of people who chose an academic career because they had an aspiration to teach, but I don't know anyone whose dream was to lecture 500 students.
True enough. That sort of performance is more akin to acting, with great ad-libbing ability. "Adequate resources to do research" varies as well: watch for new variants on "productivity rules" that envision greater reliance on external funding for research, with less successful proposal-writers doing additional teaching.

The Times article rightly points out that students would be more engaged if more were demanded of them. But here is where matters get complicated. Sensitive to complaints about the quality of teaching, universities require professors to be evaluated by their students at the end of every course, and these evaluations now play a role in tenure, promotion, and merit pay. But the evaluations are just consumer-satisfaction questionnaires, which generally reveal how much the students liked the course but not how much they learned. And professors suspect, with some justification, that giving low grades harms their evaluations.

Now, I am not making excuses for teachers who expect too little or grade too leniently. There is plenty of the blame to go around here, as they say, and some of it surely belongs with the professors. My point is that measures designed to bring accountability to education can sometimes backfire. If consumer-satisfaction questionnaires encourage professors to be lenient, and leniency encourages students to be disengaged, and disengaged students discourage professors from investing time and effort in their teaching, then "accountability" hasn't benefited anyone. (If universities really want to improve teaching, they will have to develop better methods of evaluating instruction. But that's a topic for another day.)

I wonder how much of that "consumer satisfaction" language is in the eyes of the professor. My usual spiel before turning the class over to the student who will supervise the evaluation is that the scores and comments will have little or no effect on my pay; and if people wish to grouse, it helps to offer concrete suggestions that I will consider rather than simply to vent. I would note also that there is more to improving teaching than better evaluation methods. The cattle-call class at Grant Seeking U is part of a poor climate for teaching and learning. A professor quoted in Profscam (a book that might have been the Uncle Tom's Cabin for higher education in light of the pursuit of academic abuses that has ensued) criticized the practice of distinguished teaching awards as akin to creating a desert, then giving an award for Druid of the Year, rather than growing forests.

Here is a more general point. All of the actors in this story -- students, professors, administrators, state legislators -- are operating within a dysfunctional system. If professors seem to be less interested in teaching than they once were, we might consider why they feel that way, and how institutional structures might be contributing to the problem. We might ask the same question about students who are less interested in learning than university students once were. Of course, it's easier to conclude that the students are drunken fools and the professors are self-seeking hypocrites. But that's not where the solution lies.

I know one thing for sure: continuing to cut state appropriations for higher education is not going to make that 500-student class any smaller.

It might. I expect to see trustees, somewhere, saying Enough to legislative micromanagement, then defying legislative mandates in order to bring production in line with capacity, perhaps by restricting enrollment and raising tuitions. The dysfunction has been a long time in coming.
PATIENCE, FORTITUDE, SUNLIGHT. I sent a less incendiary version of my description of the administration's space-grab to the Northern Star, which ran the letter on Tuesday. The Faculty Senate met on Wednesday. Apparently I am not the only unhappy camper in Liberal Arts, although I remain one of the more vocal.

In Thursday morning's electronic mail is a message from the chairman of the University's Resources, Space, and Budget Committee, which has asked Associate Dean William Minor, who may not be the real villain of this story, to explain what the plan entails and raise the questions I brought up in my letter, as well as questions that came up in Faculty Senate.

The space-grab may still be implemented, but if it is, it will be done by the book.

27.4.05

BUNDLING AND UNBUNDLING. The Chicago Tribune takes another look at Jacuzzi U.
David Kalsbeek, vice president for enrollment at DePaul, said a college culture is beginning in which students expect and demand a level of service.

"The general public is increasingly inclined to see tuition as an investment," he said. "What institutions are drawn to do is guided by student expectations."

As in the business world, where branding and company recognition are paramount, schools have adopted a business mentality and are striving to differentiate themselves.

"The puzzling thing is that as these kinds of [amenities] are increasing in their frequency on the national level. We all have mounting concerns about the affordability of higher education," Kalsbeek said.

"This will end when the public balks at the price of institutions. It will reach a threshold where parents and students will be unwilling to pay the tuition."

But students are paying, and schools are finding a number of ways to build new recreation centers and increase comforts. Some schools rely on hefty endowments, alumni donations or student fees. Others, especially state schools, search for grants or state funds.
Economists say "investment in human capital" for a reason. Higher tuitions are not a bad thing per se; in fact, the higher tuitions might elicit more effort from the students who enroll. If there is to be a rebellion, it will be as parents and students discover that there is no premium to a degree from a name university with lots of amenities, compared with a less famous university offering more austere surroundings. (I wonder what Wisconsin has done with Tripp and Adams Halls, the 1929 fortresses I called home for three years.)

The story continues with an exploration of the modified Demsetz auction universities use to pay for some of these amenities. (In a traditional Demsetz auction, the company that offers to provide a monopoly service such as electricity for the lowest price gets the right to operate the Power Company; what universities do is sell the monopoly rights for a lump-sum fee.)

The buildings often house businesses, such as salons, fast-food restaurants and bookstores, that pay top dollar to rent space, [Tony] Pals [of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities] said. Because these conveniences attract students and prompt them to spend money and stay on campus, more student money is put back into the school."

In the long run, it will more than pay for itself," Pals said.

That is, if it doesn't run afoul of the law. Illinois, seeking to end the sale of pouring rights to pop companies in the common schools, may be outlawing Northern Illinois University's sale of monopoly rights to Pepsi.
The relationship between NIU and Pepsi has always resulted in guaranteed lucrative benefits for both sides. The 10-year contract Pepsi and NIU signed in 1998 assured a yearly minimum of $400,000 from Pepsi in exchange for "exclusive pouring rights" on campus.

NIU annually allocates $50,000 to $200,000 of its guaranteed Pepsi money to different school programs and scholarships, Albanese said. Athletic scholarships, student life initiatives and the Undergraduate Special Opportunities in Artistry and Research program have each received $50,000 per year from the Pepsi contract. The Centennial Scholarship has regularly received $200,000 of yearly Pepsi money, and the school has regularly distributed $50,000 of its Pepsi money to improve undergraduate teaching, Albanese said.
Public policy question: is the contract a division of gains from trade, or a division of monopoly rents?

SECOND SECTION: The Cincinnati Post examines the amenities at the local universities, including Catholic institutions where the faculty might have to take vows of poverty, but the students live like the Medici. Kimberly uses a red No. 2 pencil to comment.
A note to all those Millennials who demand the same private bathrooms and vegetarian meals that they got at home: College dorms are supposed to be yucky for the same reason that your parents aren't supposed to wait on you hand and foot when you're a teen - it's so that you eventually want to grow up and move out and take care of your own precious self. College is something you leave for something better. And unlike at home, you won't get to hang around for years for free if you get hooked on those comfy dorm rooms.
The comments are worth your perusal; apparently there are others as disgruntled with the expense-preference behavior and misdirected focus on retention as am I.

26.4.05

PUTTING ALL THE PIECES TOGETHER. There's a spirited bull session going on at Joanne Jacobs's place parsing a lengthy New York Times article on developments at the University of Arizona. Long-time readers will recall that Arizona took some stick on these pages for letting Nobelist Vernon Smith get away to George Mason. Perhaps that should have been a harbinger ... economics departments elsewhere also get treated like the broom closet. A followup to that Nobel post noted some ideas being considered at Arizona that have not yet been put into practice. Herewith some excerpts from the Times, with observations.

First, some context.
Also like most of the country's colleges and universities, it is not particularly selective. Arizona admits 83 percent of its applicants, although most graduated in the top half of their high school class. They sit in numbing lecture halls with 500 classmates; the only instructor they may know is a teaching assistant, and they are, for all intents and purposes, anonymous.

This is not exactly the popular image of ivy-covered higher education, but it's the truth of it. Most students do not go to an Amherst or a Williams. They go to enormous public institutions like the Universities of Arizona, Iowa, Connecticut, Minnesota: more than five million undergraduates attend an institution with at least 15,000 students. The freshman class alone exceeds the population of a small town, and the course catalog is the size of a phone book. Mike Morefield, a junior at Arizona, remembers his first year: "It's like somebody comes along with a pin right after high school, pops your bubble, picks you up, throws you naked into some college, and you've got to figure it out."
That's not all bad. All the baggage somebody brings from high school, with its cliques and its pecking order, gone. Four to six years in college is insufficient time for the status structures that emerged in kindergarten to harden. But it is not the size of the university that is the problem, it is the attrition rate. Validation in The Newspaper Of Record, forsooth!
Arizona is typical. The State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of Kentucky lost 22 percent of their freshmen last year. Three of the four University of Massachusetts campuses lost at least 24 percent. Eastern Michigan University lost 28 percent. And six years after entering Arizona, only 55 percent of freshmen will have earned degrees - slightly better than the national average of 54 percent.

Those numbers have roiled state and federal officials from President Bush on down. In a recent survey, education policy makers in 27 states said that financial support for higher education should be tied in some way to a university's ability to keep and graduate its freshmen.
First the idealism.
Educators subscribe to the idea that students need a sense of belonging and commitment. To nurture it, campuses try to create pockets of intimacy - say, residences for students of similar interests, like women in science and engineering. Arizona also provides special orientation and counseling for Hispanic and American Indian students. And the university's new Integrated Learning Center, built underground at the heart of the campus, is promoted as a "home base" for freshmen and sophomores. Open 24 hours, it offers academic advising, access to tutors and computers and 14 classrooms, from auditoriums to seminar rooms, where faculty are supported with multimedia technology.

"WE put vastly more money into advising today," says Peter H. Likins, the university's president. "With the Integrated Learning Center, we've made a massive commitment in terms of physical facilities and the advising that goes with it." But, he adds, "it is a more Darwinian environment, a public university of this character." Of foundering students, he says: "We always have the feeling that if we had the resources to recognize them as they fall through, to pick them up, in the way that a liberal arts college does, we could keep them from falling. But we don't have those resources."
Next, the reality.
Even though a university opens the door, it can't make an adolescent walk through it. However lost they may be, college students may never seek out an adviser. Intimidated, shy or alienated, they don't drop in during faculty office hours. Parents out of sight, they struggle with their newfound independence, starting with the freedom not to wake up before midday or to eat pizza any hour of the night - and again for breakfast - or to put off reading assignments until cram time at finals.

The latest results from the National Survey of Student Engagement - of 160,000 freshmen and seniors from 470 institutions - show that one-fifth of undergraduates are "disengaged." To the survey's director, George D. Kuh, that means they do not take part in campus cultural events, do not sample the wide choice of available courses or put much energy into their studies. Nor, he says, do they have to.
Some time ago, the Northern Illinois University Office of Faculty Development (that title and their programming are material for another day's rant) brought in a speaker to address "Motivating the Unmotivated Student." One would think that the opportunity to land a much more remunerative and often much more rewarding job, not to mention the opportunity to play with ideas (including the ones some would denounce as political correctness run amok) without suffering irreversible consequences as motivation enough. What, then, to keep the unmotivated from poisoning the experience for everybody? Certainly not the Nash Equilibrium the Times reporter uncovers.
Richard H. Hersh, former president of Trinity College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, refers to this situation as a "mutual nonaggression pact." Professors see teaching as a requirement they have to fulfill to do the research they prefer, he says, "so the professor goes into class and doesn't ask much of students, who in return don't ask much of the professor. The professor gives out reasonably high grades as a way of camouflaging that this bargain has been struck, his evaluations will be satisfactory, and students don't complain about grades or about whether they've learned much."
Advantage, Cold Spring Shops!
In the view of Dr. Hersh, a proponent of accountability in higher education, students have to be held responsible for their own initiative, but low standards allow them to coast through their college years with minimal involvement. "That's the real disgrace," he says.
Perhaps it is time to change the incentives. Hispanic Pundit points to a game-theoretic analysis, with some hypothesis testing (as .pdf) of tuition subsidies. Lower tuitions encourage more enrollment, by both high-ability and low-ability students.
This follows from the fact that a high-subsidy, low-tuition policy causes an increase in the percentage of less able and less highly motivated college graduates. Additionally—and potentially more important—all students, even the more highly motivated ones, respond to lower tuition levels by decreasing their effort levels. This study adds to the literature on the enrollment effects of low-tuition policies by demonstrating how high-subsidy, low-tuition policies have both disincentive effects on students’ study time and adverse effects on human capital accumulation.
That means tuition subsidies elicit less effort, from both low- and high-ability students. The paper does not offer an estimate of the welfare losses from the subsidies (the additional human capital acquired by low ability students might offset the shirking by high ability students, it's a non-trivial question) although it suggests that the access fiction has costs.

Back to the Times article, which follows five current or former students. Ms. Jacobs suggests that "Boozeday" will get the most attention. I suggest that readers first visit Villainous Company's tribute to the young men and women who earn the right to be called Marine. Then consider Boozeday Boy, who has since graduated.
About the purpose of college, he says: "You go so you can get a job and make money when you're older. But at the same time you get life experiences that are priceless, like networking." He expects that to pay off: "I've made so many connections I never would have been able to make without it, and these are all my friends and people that I know from the bars and from classes and, you know, people that I've hung out with that later in life I'm going to be able to call on and be like: 'I know you have a job with this company. Do you know if they're hiring, or can you get me an application? Can I use you as a reference?' "
Dude, like, is there a fry-cook job open? Life after college is the revenge of the nerds. Arizona officials offer only hand-wringing.
Is it really possible to get through a major university with so little effort? "As much as I would like to say, 'Absolutely not!,' yes, it is possible," says Melissa Vito, dean of students at Arizona. "We have a lot of students whose motivation for coming here is to get a good job. They think, 'How do I get the grades?' instead of trying to learn."
Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it. For years, youngsters have heard the message, "To get a good job, get a good education." Does it come as any surprise if that message registers with some people?

A junior college transfer gets mugged by reality.
Ms. Martinez had wanted to attend the university since she was in kindergarten. "It was instilled in me early, the U is prestigious; it's the place where I need to be," she says. But in her senior year of high school, with the distraction of the student council and cheerleading, she took "a less stressful schedule," she says, and wound up lacking some admission requirements. Students in the top half of their class are automatically admitted to the university if they have taken three years of math, three years of science and two years of a foreign language. To earn a high school diploma, they need only two years of math, two years of science and no foreign language. Her less stressful schedule had kept her out of the university, so she went to Pima Community College with her high school friends.
Arizona seems to be learning a lesson here.
Beginning next fall, the university will be more selective, limiting automatic acceptance to the top 25 percent of a high school class. The hope is to increase graduation rates by, Mr. Likins says, "admitting into our freshman class students who may have a better prospect of success."
Is that the first crack in the "access" myth? The student seems to be learning as well.
"I had to be my own drill sergeant, because nobody else was going to discipline me. No report card to Mom, and nobody to check on whether I went to class."
That, perversely, is true of the next case, an Arizona dropout with hopes of owning his own bar someday. He left Arizona for the junior college, displeased with the anonymity of freshman year.
Mr. Likins, the president, calls the large lecture class "an unfortunate economic necessity" at a time when the state Legislature has cut funds by more than $50 million over the past several years. The student-teacher ratio at Arizona is high - 19.4 to 1 - but not unusual. It's 18 to 1 at Penn State, 17.3 to 1 at the University of Kansas and 22 to 1 at Texas A&M. By contrast, Amherst has one professor for every nine students. Economic realities dictate that universities rely on T.A.'s to reduce instructional costs and to allow professors to concentrate on their research. Arizona requires T.A.'s to attend weekly training seminars in their first semester of teaching, and Mr. Likins says he encourages senior faculty to teach the general education lecture courses that undergraduates are required to take.
Oh, come. The current budget woes are simply the latest rationale for the lecturer-and-quiz-section approach to college, which was a source of discontent for World War II vets on the G.I. bill and Baby Boomers on draft deferments. I think the buzzwords in those days were "anomie" and "alienation." The implicit slighting of real research is annoying. Do we really want lecturers or section leaders or facilitators or what have you working off of somebody else's thinking, without adding anything to it? There are ways, dear readers, of bringing the latest developments from your legal pad, or your colleague's experiment, without distorting the course content into your research and your research alone.

The reporter spends some time with a basketball player on an excursion into unreality.
Among athletes' privileges is an academic adviser to see that they stay on track to graduate (and eligible to compete). An assistant head basketball coach, Jim Rosborough, drives around campus in a golf cart monitoring class attendance. One professor says he is asked twice a semester for updates on the academic performance and attendance of athletes in his class.
Deja vu. Mr Rosborough is a protege of Arizona's Lute Olson; he was dismissed as head men's basketball coach at Northern Illinois in the late 1980s. The five- and ten-week updates are a part of teaching general education courses here as well.
An assistant coach and the adviser helped Mr. Frye select classes. They told him which professors to avoid. "To be honest," he says, "I think it's better both for the athlete and for the professor, if the professor doesn't want to adjust the rules or, you know, be a little more lenient toward the athlete and his schedule." During the season, players may miss classes and tests two or three days a week because of road trips.
But this is all amateur athletics. It has nothing to do with money. Those Tuesday and Wednesday night football games in the mid-majors don't, either. On the other hand, this retention officer, who has clearly bought into the "access" fiction, descends from simple spinning into the sublimely ridiculous.
Lynne M. Tronsdal, the university's assistant vice president for student retention, wishes regular students could enjoy the hand-holding extended to athletes. "If we could do for the non student-athlete what we do for the student athlete, we would have a retention rate that is incredible," she says. Asked to describe the athlete's path, Ms. Tronsdal smiles. "They are wooed, from the time they can shoot a basket or play with a ball, whatever it is they do," she says. "They're told, 'You're valuable; we want you to come.' Once they're here, they have academic advisers who work with them on a one-to-one basis, looking at their schedules, arranging tutoring, making sure their classes don't conflict with practice. And if they have an athlete who can't write very well, they have a writing tutor come in to help. They work with professors on the athlete's grades, and if the grade isn't good enough, they'll help petition the grade. They help with deadlines, give career advice, even teach them how to speak with the media."
Let's start with the spin. I recall a rather grim John Hersey novel, The Child Buyer, about just such wooing of an academically talented boy. That book might bear re-reading, with the current channeling of ever-younger children into one and only one sport kept in mind. Then, let's look at that incredible retention rate.

Arizona's record with student athletes, despite the hand-holding, is not good. Since 1995, only two basketball players on scholarship have graduated; nine have left early to play in the N.B.A. The most recent is Andre Iguodala, who dropped out at season's end last year and signed for $9 million with the Philadelphia 76ers. The Arizona team's overall graduation rate is 25 percent; only 14 colleges in the 65-team N.C.A.A. basketball tournament this year had a worse record.

"I've often thought what we need to have are athletes who play for a municipality," Ms. Tronsdal says. "Call them the Tucson Wildcats and let them get paid. And then we can all just stop fooling ourselves."

Look in the mirror, ma'am. Evaluate your own recruitment initiatives in the same way.

The article ends on an encouraging note. One student discovers that distribution requirements are there for a reason.
She appreciates the university's general-education requirement, she says, although "everyone complains about it." It is important for two reasons: "Students who may have found what they want to do are forced to get a deeper understanding, so they get more context to explain things to others. And students who don't know what they want to do can experiment and study lots of subjects."
Precisely. Sometimes it's in the playing with ideas without adverse consequences that the real learning takes place. How many times have I subjected readers to another riff on miserable adults doing what others thought was the right thing, rather than discovering their own talents.

One lecturer discovers that "teaching" is not equivalent to "staying on schedule."

Tom Fleming, a senior lecturer in astronomy on a yearly appointment with the university, is another professor who sees value in trying to shake up the reluctant underclassmen in a required course. "I can't sit here and rant and rave and complain that, 'Oh, our standards are low and the students don't learn in high school what they used to.' The fact of the matter is I have 135 students here now, and I can't go back and change history as to what sort of high school education they received. If I publish a paper in the Astrophysical Journal and 12 people in the entire world read it from cover to cover, that's a high readership. On the other hand, every semester I can affect the lives of 100 to 150 people, and it's much more gratifying."

In Mr. Fleming's classes, there is no hiding in the back. He is just as likely to call on those in the last row as in the front as he moves about the auditorium. If students are reading The Daily Wildcat, sleeping or text-messaging on their cellphones, "I ask them to leave the room," he says. In his lectures, he poses problems that students answer with hand-held transponders supplied by the university: if students understand the concept, he moves on; if not, they discuss it in small groups and then revisit the problem. Understanding is the goal, he says, not "coverage" of a topic.

Where can I get some of those transponders? Or David Friedman's foot pedal? (That's his solution to the blank looks and the non-response to "any questions?" Anyone who is confused can depress the pedal and a light comes on in the back of the room, but nobody has to fear being singled out.) But it is not correct to suggest that involved teaching does not preclude publishing in Astrophysical Journal; Mr Fleming might consider investing the research time he does budget that way, so as to be able to do teaching and scholarship well. What he must resist, alas, is getting involved in the curriculum committee. That way lies madness.

Read the whole article. It covers, in microcosm, the themes that have structured much of the posting here over the past 2.5 years.
THIS SOUNDS ABOUT RIGHT. But the quiz itself commits a major error, equating "beach" with "ocean." There are these five Great Lakes nearby, and Babe-the-blue-ox's tracks a little further north. Correct that question, and Austin or Denver won't come close to Chicago.

American Cities That Best Fit You:

55% Austin
55% Chicago
55% Denver
50% Atlanta
50% Philadelphia

(Via Accidental Verbosity.)

24.4.05

WIN A BOWL, BUILD AN INDOOR PRACTICE FIELD. NIU plans $9.5 million center at stadium. Why do the vertical columns of light bother me?



Rendering of Academic and Athletic Performance Center

Once the development office finishes raising $7 million from donors, the university will kick in another $2.5 million, which officials assure us will not use student fee moneys or state funds. Of course not. Watch for further recisions in the budgets of the academic units. (As I understand it, Liberal Arts generates about $43 million in tuition revenues but receives a $41 million operating budget.) But something had to be done about the so-called revenue sports falling below average on the NCAA Academic Progress Rate charts.

According to the updated floor plan, the building will be positioned on a three-foot grass berm and located adjacent to the north end zone of Huskie Stadium. The building will be connected by a hallway to the West Grandstand infrastructure and the centerpiece of the main floor will be the Academic Support Center, which features a fully equipped technology lab with Internet access. The Academic Support Center will have four areas for private study, group study, one-on-one tutoring and guest lectures, plus additional office space for Student-Athlete Support Services personnel.
Scholarship athletes will have access to computers close to the practice field, but liberal arts graduate students will have their computer labs moved away from their home departments.
"When prospective student-athletes and their parents tour our new facilities, the Academic Support Center will make an awesome first impression," [athletics director Jim] Phillips said. "It will clearly emphasize our programmatic and institutional obligation to the 'student' in the phrase 'student-athlete.'"
Just make sure the recruits don't tour the classrooms or the faculty offices, if in fact there will be any faculty offices. The institutional obligation stops at Stadium Drive, I guess. It's nice to know that some people's wish lists get read.

Phillips said the project almost doubled in size and increased in price from $5.4 million to $9.5 million when NIU asked its 17 coaches and their athletes for input in what they needed in the new building.

Several MAC schools recently built -- or are in the process of building -- similar centers.

"Those folks have a jump start on us," Phillips said. "that's OK. We have a chance to catch up quickly."

NIU's football players can't wait.

"It was one of the reasons I came here," said freshman running back Montell Clanton of Rockford Guilford.

"Think of people seeing it on TV," Novak said. "Jim (Phillips) has talked about athletics being the front porch of the university. Our facilities are our front porch of our athletics program."

I don't recall the football team's troubles hampering the discovery of the top quark, or the ineptitude of the basketball team cramping the steel band's style. What is the economics department, the broom closet?
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU SAY D'OH! The price of gasoline goes up and ... people buy cheaper grades ... and some of them put their purchases on the never-never. Gas retailers say high prices bad for business.
It sounds hard to believe, but gasoline retailers' profit margins are at a 20-year low.

Even more surprising, their troubles are being exacerbated by high pump prices. That has prompted motorists to avoid premium-grade gasoline and pay more often with credit cards -- both of which reduce earnings that already were just a few pennies a gallon.
There's something perplexing about the vertical disintegration within the awl bidness, but I'm a bit tired to parse it tonight. Perhaps once classes end, as this is interesting.
With more than 70 percent of profit on the sale of gasoline going to oil companies and refiners, more gas stations are owned by the John Griffins of the world. Of all the places to buy gasoline, fewer than 10 percent are owned by oil companies and refiners, according to the Department of Energy. That is down from about 15 percent in 1998, reflecting the industry's efforts to shed these less profitable assets and to focus instead on production and refining.
The strategy of using gasoline as a retail loss leader, with the snacks and lottery tickets carrying the business (and the beer, outside DeKalb), appears to be running afoul of the Principle of Complements.
But lately, with a bigger chunk of consumers' budgets going toward fuel, some gasoline retailers say they are beginning to see a drop-off in spending inside their convenience stores.

"They think retailers are villains. And retailers, to be quite frank, are trying to survive. It's tough out there. Everybody is fighting for business," Griffin said. "We appreciate that they buy stuff.

"I hope they buy a Twinkie."
There's some rather technical stuff out there, from years ago, about stand-alone costs and subsidy-free prices. Might be worth another look.
WEEKEND VISITORS. Reflections in d minor suggested readers pay the Shops a visit. Regulars, by all means, head over there: it's much more cheerful than the title and web address suggest. Thanks for the shout out!

22.4.05

THIS WILL NOT BE THEIR LAST TERRITORIAL DEMAND. At Northern Illinois University, several students have objected to the administration's priorities, particularly with the provision of ever more lavish quarters for upper administrators, while the courses they'd like to take to finish their degrees on time are closed before it's their turn to register.

The College of Liberal Arts has an interesting response to this problem: hire more advisors, and provide them with additional space. Oh, and at the same time, move the deans and ranking functionaries to a different floor, so they need not be disturbed by the spectacle of students seeking classes.

Does that mean the university has found an angel who is providing new quarters for advisors and deans? Of course not. The additional advisors will be housed on the second floor of an office tower; the deans and functionaries will move from the second floor to the third floor. And what's on the third floor? The political science department. Never mind that: they can move to the fourth and fifth floors. There are sufficient smaller offices there for the current political science faculty to be housed there: never mind that the offices are not conducive to conferences with multiple students at the same time (useful for homework questions.) But who is on the fourth and fifth floor? Some political scientists and the economists. OK, same solution: house the current economics faculty in the smaller offices on the fifth and sixth floors. Hmm, we have the same enrollments that we had in 1987 with a faculty of 13 rather than 23. Guess that means no further expansion of the economics department ...

I'd compare the college's treatment of the economics department -- this is simply the latest in a Long String of Abufes and Ufurpations -- to the behavior of an abusive spouse, but abusive spouses will sometimes come up with a cruise or a fancy car as part of their manipulative techniques.

What I will do is ask Herrn. Schneider u. Schwarz to consider for inclusion on the sheepshead deck, as the King of Spades, Associate Dean William Minor. He is certainly shoveling a load onto the political science and economics departments. (And, as this is a ten-story building, there are additional inconveniences to people on the higher floors.)

I'm also wondering what sort of training these additional advisors will be getting. "Well, the university does not plan to hire any additional economics or political science faculty, and we envision further downsizing of philosophy and history, so we can't get you into those prerequisites this semester, but we do have lots of sections of underwater basketweaving open." Or what answers will they have for those students who will discover that there is always additional space for the individuals whose function is to keep those of us who remain to do the work from doing the work? That discontent is already surfacing in the paper. Or whether the additional advisors will have special training in Cooling Out The Mark?

21.4.05

COMPOUND INTEREST. The Country Pundit pays tribute to the Norfolk and Western big steam program, which was still producing Mallet Compounds as late as 1952.
The only surviving Y-class locomotive resides far from home, in the National Transportation Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. When I'm King of the World---with apologies to James Cameron---Y6a #2156 will be returned to her proper place with #611 and #1218 under the Claytor Pavilion at the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
That might be the last Y6 intact (I saw pictures of the two in a Roanoke scrapyard in Trains in the late 1960s; if you want to talk about steam engines that got away, a picture in Trains sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s had a North Western E-4 Hudson, which looks a lot like a Hiawatha but not quite as fast in ore-thawing service at Escanaba, Michigan.)

As far as that "only," that refers to the only Y-6. In Cold Spring Shops's back yard is a Y-3, No. 2050.


Mallet Compound at Illinois Railway Museum.

The locomotive was shunted outside for these pictures, ordinarily it is under roof in the building that also houses the big electric locomotives and the Nebraska Zephyr.
INCENTIVES MATTER. Milt Rosenberg's guests Thursday night were two restaurant critics, Dennis Ray Wheaton and Ruth Reichl, and the book talk for the evening is Ms Reichl's new Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. Beaneries appreciate good word of mouth, and this show described the work of people who are paid to provide that form of word of mouth in newspaper columns. (Keep in mind that non-railroaders don't have a sandhouse to share the word of mouth about good beaneries.) The most expensive beaneries keep the photographs of the newspaper restaurant reviewers on the employee bulletin board, and the reviewers go to great troubles to disguise themselves. The opening segment of the show featured Ms Reichl's story about obtaining a legend and a cover; apparently good tradecraft isn't for intelligence officers only. But it does make a difference: under her legend she was treated very badly by a famous New York beanery that seated her party while the King of Spain was waiting in the bar when she appeared as herself.

20.4.05

IRONIES. I too, intended to take a "No Posting Day." Welcome, however, to visitors from the Carnival of Education (which is yielding hit after hit after hit after hit) and to Villainous Company readers (thanks for the recommendation!) There's also some traffic thanks to this recommendation from King at SCSU Scholars, who has a post on the folly of self-congratulation as a basis for policy that is worth your careful attention. At work today, I've also discovered that yes, there is expense preference behavior afoot, and at least one dean at Northern Illinois University is to be named to the deck of cards.

19.4.05

FIFTEEN MINUTES OF FAME. This morning I checked my referral logs and discovered that Cold Spring Shops was at that time the top listing for this search string, and not doing too badly on this Swedish-language version of the same search string. That traffic stopped coming after the white smoke came out of the smokestack in question, but perhaps some of those readers will be back again. No free ice cream tonight; perhaps more on Thursday.

18.4.05

TONIGHT'S RAILROAD READING. Intriguing graphic on the header of The Fourth Rail. In reality, there was only one of that type of locomotive, the Pennsylvania Railroad S-1 (scroll down.) In light of the troubles it had, four would probably be the death of the roundhouse foreman. But this is kind of cool.

Reminds me, ought to do some work on the suspension of my model, which is in O Scale and brass. Lego modelers, visit the Brick Shelf.
WHY I KEEP POSTING ON THE SAME THEMES. Northern Star columnist Genevieve Diesing reflects on Northern Illinois University's retention problems.
When I got here, I liked NIU right away - the people were nice, the classes were interesting and despite the unusually frequent car alarms and train whistles, the atmosphere had promise. And then I went to pay for my books.
The prices of which may be higher to reflect the high proportion of book purchases underwritten by third parties, whether parents or taxpayers providing grants and loan guarantees. I paid $50 for The New Haven Railroad in the McGinnis Era; there is lots of color, there are plenty of halftone engravings, and it's about 200 hardbound pages. I don't know what the press run is; probably not close to that of a principles of microeconomics book in softcover.
With a bad taste in my mouth about the expense of textbooks, I then learned that although I paid a decent sum for the right to park on campus, there really wasn’t any room to park anyway. Then there was the inefficiency of the newly redesigned DuSable bus turnaround.
Here we'll have to agree to disagree. Before that turnaround was redesigned, class-changing time offered a parody of middle school, with students rather than parents dropping off students. It's not as if ours is a sprawling campus. Everything is within easy walking and biking distance, even for 50 year old professors who understand "use it or lose it."
When second semester rolled around I discovered, as did many of my peers, there just weren’t enough classes available for us. Some students were forced to pay thousands of dollars a year for courses they didn’t even need, in hopes they could get into required ones at a later time.
Although there's something called strategic management of your core courses (I ended up taking more political science electives at the expense of philosopy electives during more prosperous times for the academy; getting closed out of your first choice isn't something new) there is still too much of the enhance-productivity-by-running-fewer-sections-with-more-students mentality at work around here.
I got a taste of what administrators and NIU officials meant when they spoke about "priorities." Our football team’s success is clearly reflected in head coach Joe Novak’s salary, (which is far above the pay of many of NIU’s full-time professors) although, in a March 28 article in the Northern Star, President John Peters was quoted as saying "Accomplished professors aren’t paid what they should be."
Thank you. Words are plentiful, deeds are precious.
There was the renovation of the gleaming Altgeld Hall and the luxurious administrators’ offices - just blocks from the Stevens Building, which was reported last week to have a computer lab in a former janitor closet and problems with heating and mold. The building was not even constructed in accordance with the American Disabilities Act. And as I write this, the flooding in Cole Hall has caused one of my classes to be canceled.
I think that's called expense-preference behavior. To be fair, many of our buildings are in 1960s Institutional Expansion style, before the building codes calling for ramps and wider doors were in force.
Perhaps the low point of all this was discovering that summer commencement had been sold out from under us. That decision outraged hundreds of students, yet was made without any of their or faculty members’ consent.
The Convocation Center was built without the consent of students or faculty, and the Jehovah's Witnesses were willing to pay a substantial rent for its use. (But it has nothing to do with money. Service and social justice are the objectives.) The administrators will note that no other Illinois public university has a summer commencement: apparently they too were closed out of philosophy.
I would be lying if I said the general impression I’ve gotten so far didn’t make me feel, well, slightly unimportant. If administrators focused more on the issues that concern students and less on the potential to make money from them, they wouldn’t have to research why students don’t want to come back.
And that's a column without mention of the "access" fiction and the "assessment" of the obvious, two other sources of the dropout rate.
LET'S PLAY WORD SUBSTITUTION. Make changes in the following paragraph such that it's an accurate statement of curricular judgement somewhere in the academy:
The truth is I dislike Kennan so don't teach him myself. I'd guess from informal conversations with friends that my dislike for Kennan is fairly widely shared among Jewish and minority scholars, at least. But it's also highly idiosyncratic and all about ethnicity, for me.
The answer is at Professor Drezner's place.
SOME GERBILS DON'T LIKE RUNNING THE MAZE. The editors at the Northern Star discover how much work goes into filling out tax forms.

It takes an average of almost 27 hours to fill out a simple 1040 and the documents that go with it, including the time it takes to gather information and learn the rules, according to the National Taxpayers Union. Surely, that contributes to many errors in the forms.

The country wastes $203.4 billion a year dealing with and enforcing the code, according to the Tax Foundation. Instead that money could be going to support schools or health care.

I just headed over to the Tax Foundation site and running that estimate to earth is going to involve more work than I care to put in this evening. It almost certainly conflates compliance costs (such as the $1.25 in photocopying for $1 off on a tax bill) and enforcement costs (to deter "do-it-yourself" tax cuts.) That "instead," however, is priceless: doesn't much of that school and health care money pass through the State and Federal Treasuries first? It's not dropped from helicopters.
I THINK IT'S CALLED SERVICE LEARNING. As University Diaries reports, some people view it as "extortion and bribery." There are many other academic follies competing for my attention. The service learning scam has not afflicted the economics curriculum, although from time to time the university sends around a memorandum inviting faculty members to get involved in its own service learning initiatives, many of which (not surprisingly) encourage students to engage in (approved forms of) unpaid activism for college credit.
ASK AND YE SHALL BE ANSWERED, SEEK AND YE SHALL FIND, CLICK AND IT SHALL BE OPENED TO YOU. Papabile reports that yes, the Washington Post has a Sistine Chapel smokestack webcam.
ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF THE SEA, AND IF THEY TAKE THE NEW HAVEN? Teasing aside, it's the 230th anniversary of Paul Revere's Ride and the Shot Heard Round The World.



Internet technology continues to impress me. Here is a panoramic view from the middle of Concord Bridge (the modern replacement); it's a submission to a more general electronic art project that, alas, is now a broken link.

RUNNING EXTRA: I have been advised that the broken link is now fixed. A number of 360-degree panoramas are on offer there.
WE'D BELIEVE YOU IF YOU DIDN'T SHOUT SO MUCH. Book Review No. 12 is South Park Conservatives, which some of the big boys have already reviewed. I sometimes fear that the problem with polemical books like this is with the publishing house, Regnery, where I suspect resides an editor who errs on the side of preaching to the converted. Consider a passage from page 6 in the opening chapter, "The Old Media Regime,"
During the Reagan years, Bernard Goldberg wryly observes, "I started noticing that the homeless people we showed on the news didn't look very much like the homeless people I was tripping over on the sidewalk." In fact, the typical Reagan-era TV-news homeless person looked like your hard-working family-man neighbor, suddenly, catastrophically down on his luck because of a bad economy and a lack of "affordable housing," not the drug-addled, gibberish-spouting, fist-waving deinstitutionalized lunatic he was likely to be in the real world.
One might make the point without the adjectives, perhaps by noting that the networks' case studies featured people who, at the margin, might have kept their homes with a different set of public policies, rather than the people rendered helpless by a desire to close the asylums and rehabilitation hospitals, and the failed public policies might include zoning codes that impede the construction of cheaper housing. Cast in that light, however, the networks' emphasis might be a consequence of ignorance of the policy arguments, or of the constraints of the medium (try exploring that run-on sentence in 30 seconds, with memorable quotes and a chance for the info-babe to have a concerned look on her face) rather than on some bias. That's not Regnery's style, however: the polemical books have plenty of red meat.

A quote from page 32, at the end of yet another recitation of "Illiberal Liberalism," rings somewhat ironic.
But politics by invective is a double-edged weapon, because intelligent people will ultimately stop believing these accusations. Now that the proliferation of new media -- talk radio, cable television, the blogosphere -- is giving conservatives popular forums in which they can challenge and rebut their accusers, illiberal liberalism's political efficacy is eroding fast.
But what is replacing it? Moonbat. Wingnut. Idiotarian. Imperialist. A proliferation of outlets does not have to bring a proliferation of good ideas in its train.

The chapter dealing with Campus Conservatives Rising is in some ways least convincing. Yes, conservative voices are less rare on campus, and yes, there is resistance to much of the re-education masquerading as diversity awareness. But that resistance might be of a piece with the resistance to compulsory chapel from years ago, and the argument that such re-education crowds out substantive learning need not be a conservative complaint: see The Disuniting of America by Kennedy administration hagiographer Arthur Schlesinger., and The Twilight of Common Dreams by Berkeley veteran Todd Gitlin. These, too, have their polemical moments, but they raise some of the same objections that South Park Conservatives author Brian Anderson sees as evidence of libertarians and conservatives rising, without drawing that inference.

17.4.05

CARNIVAL CALL. Carnival of the Capitalists calls at Gongol.com, with clever theming (the posts laid out in no particular order, but with readers given the option of viewing entries by theme or in alphabletical order.) That's rather a lot of work; thanks for the effort. And yes, I have a post on the midway; thanks, readers, for dropping in.
NOT INVENTED HERE. American Scene views the bad-ordered Acela Express as a metaphor for Amtrak gone wrong.
Rather than purchase a proven Swedish high-speed train, the X2000 tilt-train, designed to accommodate older, not-quite-straight tracks like those found in the northeastern corridor (and unlike the very straight railtrack used by the TGV and other high-speed lines overseas), Amtrak decided to build an entirely new model at vastly greater expense that - get this - experienced serious mechanical failures from the very start. For the sake of building a much slower fitfully tilting version of the TGV, a non-tilting train, they built a train that, remarkably and at the most inconvenient moments, failed to tilt. Had they gone with the X2000, they would've had an excellent high-speed train in 1998.
The way we like to look at the Acela fiasco in the midwest, for the money Amtrak spent it could have purchased enough Electroliners to offer train service on a 15 minute headway. At the moment, I'm speculating about the brake problem: if memory serves, the Acelas turned out to be a bit wider than the design originally called for, which contributed to the tilting problems, and the trains came in somewhat heavier than the design. (They are very solid riding trains.) Did the factory install brake disks designed for the lighter trains? If so, are the disks dissipating more heat and spalling?

SECOND SECTION: Chris at Signifying Nothing, keeping more ridiculous hours than I, tracks back with a link to instructive New York Times coverage. The reporter managed to find a cross section of Metropolitan Corridor symbolic analyst types, who whine in that particularly upscale East Coast way.

A married couple, Dennis and Jan Stevenson, both botanists at the New York Botanical Garden, were also delayed and would barely make it for the start of a seminar called "Future of Flora" that they were to participate in at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

"We have to spend an extra two more hours on the train," said Mr. Stevenson. "I am sort of annoyed. Why is there no infrastructure for this kind of thing?"

Because Patrick McGinnis sought to restore the common dividend, and James Symes and Stuart Saunders to keep the Pennsylvania's continuous payments of common dividends intact, rather than upgrade the Northeast Corridor properly after World War II? The other individuals interviewed also remind me of the voices of influence who hounded McGinnis over the New Haven's commuter service. But let's keep Mr Stevenson's annoyance in perspective. Is the use of federal tax money to provide additional upgrades to the Northeast Corridor so as to get symbolic analysts to conferences more quickly defensible under either a benefit principle argument or an ability-to-pay argument?

In Boston, some of the affected travelers are taking advantage of a different transportation subsidy, opting to use the budget air carriers or the bus! But let us not make the mistake of arguing that Amtrak's problems are reason to privatize the carrier. Recall that the railroads sought relief from the passenger train problem, particularly in the Northeast, where the Penn Central kept up that dividend record right up to bankruptcy day, with Amtrak and Conrail being the form of the relief. Rather, let us think about what works.
Amtrak's most recent performance report shows that the Acela Express has an on-time arrival rate of 77.6 percent -- far less than Amtrak's 94 percent goal.
The most reliable performer -- as regular readers know -- is the Hiawatha service, using P32Uglies, Horizon coaches, cabbage cars (serving as driving van trailers, for my transatlantic readers), with accommodation no posher than a trolley service of beverages and bag snacks on selected trains. I will watch the proposals from the Bush administration closely: whatever reform is on offer will not satisfy me if it does not provide for continued improvement of the emerging corridors out of Chicago. These pose a somewhat more difficult problem than either California, where the network (apart from any Las Vegas service) is intrastate, or the Official Region, where the symbolic analysts will use their voices to keep the subsidy money coming for their Decela Expresses. (Nice turn of phrase, Chris.)
BUT WILL THERE BE A SISTINE CHAPEL CHIMNEY WEBCAM? Papabile is a weblog focusing on the papal succession. Lots of sources and links.
EXIT AND VOICE. Jeff at Quid nomen notes the return of No Credentials and the end game for Academic Game (where the farewell page pays several compliments to these pages.)
The perspectives of both of these women--and other people like them--should serve as reminders to defensive professors that "attacks" on academia are neither a right-wing conspiracy nor a movement driven by ignorant bumpkins. As the prestige of academia further diminishes, no one who's familiar with these and similar blogs should be at all surprised by the phenomenon.
Perhaps. People respond to incentives, after all. On the other hand, John at Mt. Hollywood might interpret their exit -- and the exit of other former academicians -- as an efficient reallocation of resources in the face of a reserve army of underemployed Ph.D.s in some fields. Jeff is correct to observe that the academy's troubles can no longer be blamed entirely on an anti-intellectual strain in conservative politics, some fears in this manifesto notwithstanding.

Years ago, I wrote the following:
Universities are failing to carry out their mission. Contributing to this failure is a collection of ideas we call "politically correct." The intellectual foundation of these ideas is an extreme relativism that questions the possibility of objective knowledge and seeks to dispel "coherent beliefs of any kind." A university built on such a foundation cannot stand.
Others are beginning to catch on. The Washington Post's Steven Goodman invites professors to come back to earth.
With faculty and administrations leading the way, political correctness and posturing -- from both the left and right -- is reaching dizzying heights in the land of the ivory tower. And rising right along with it is the frustration of middle-class parents, who are growing increasingly resentful of paying sky-high tuition for colleges they see offering their kids a menu of questionable courses and politically absurd campus climates that detract from the quality of a university education.
(Do I hear an echo?) My prescription:
Universities best serve their students through rigorous development of reasoning skills and respect for what we have learned. Rigor is likely to diminish incivility on campus, because students kept grappling with intellectual problems will have less time to fight with each other. Better that they be unhappy with a few demanding professors.
(In those days, student reactions to the excesses of affirmative action sometimes took on a more ugly tone.) Hear Reason's Cathy Young on the consequences of viewpoint imbalance.But universities are different:
Ideas are their lifeblood, and a lack of intellectual diversity endangers the very purpose of the academy. In a recent survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni nearly half of the students at America's top 50 universities and colleges complained of ''totally one-sided" presentations and readings on controversial topics.
(And how often have I taken a doctrinaire faculty liberal aback by referring to a line of research that just doesn't fit the dominant paradigm outside of economics?) I also made this claim.
We are only beginning to see the consequences of our failure to carry out our mission. The employers who hire our students and the legislators who underwrite our efforts are questioning our effectiveness.
Regular readers will recognize those themes here. This post is to recognize others sounding those same themes. Start with some recent lamentations in Atlantic by Princeton and Harvard graduates who discovered, too late, that they were not properly challenged. Perhaps Charlotte Simmons is art reflecting life. And Professor Reynolds notes,
Speaking as someone working in the factory, I'm a bit worried at the increasing dissatisfaction out there. Then again, as the biggest problems seem to be at expensive private schools, perhaps those of us at public institutions will benefit.
(What is it about lawyers not getting "a counterexample can be a disproof?" A reader brought up Ward Churchill at not-yet-privatized Colorado.) And, pace University Diaries, this optimism about the future of the Ivies and the like appears to be misplaced.

The most wealthy and prestigious of universities in our country, I mean to say, aren’t part of the crisis this writer evokes. They subsist in a stratosphere of their own, revolving perpetually without need of students or alumni or anything. They are self-sustaining planets in the firmament of the American university, and they do not need to worry about the dark scenario of alienation that the Post writer sketches.

To be sure, such schools are evolving into rich people’s playhouses, theatrical settings for the cognitively dissonant dramas of liberal guilt and reactionary self-indulgence, apparent rigor and actual grade inflation… But their growing triviality makes them no less sought-after. For while it’s true that, as the Post writer notes, many parents “aren't sure that the Ivies -- where the political battles on campus are fiercest -- are worth the money,” it’s also true that the United States contains tons of parents for whom Harvard’s tuition is affordable.

Yes, but one does not get rich or stay rich by mis-spending money. Mr Goodman has seen this in his work finding matches between students and universities.

In 18 years of in-the-trenches experience counseling kids on their college choices, I've never seen the unhappiness as widespread as it is today. If colleges don't tone down the politics, and figure out how to control ballooning costs, they run the risk of turning off enough American consumers that many campuses could marginalize themselves right out of existence.

Colleges are having an ever-harder time making what they do comprehensible to the families footing the bills. I counsel families of all political stripes -- liberal, conservative and in-between -- and varied income levels, but they all agree on one thing: the overly politicized atmosphere on campuses is distracting colleges from providing a solid education to our young people.

Maybe. On the other hand, the real return on an investment in a proper baccalaureate is still quite high.Im my essay, I suggested,
Rising incomes may be rewards to people who learned careful reasoning, mathematics, and science, and who sold their skills to employers who valued them. That others are losing ground may be evidence of diminished skills of more recent graduates of high schools and universities. Economists are sorting out these hypotheses.
Another 14 years of research gives me no reason to withdraw any of that statement. The problem may not be with the price tag; rather it is with the content. The wordnoise about "access" and "diversity" and "service" and "social justice" conceals the reality: some 20 percent of new matriculants require what the administrators delicately call "remediation." Translation: high schools didn't bring up short the individuals who had shortcomings in their basic skills. And there's little that looks like a core curriculum. Here's Mr. Goodman.
Liberal arts courses, taught in the context of free speech, have always helped open young minds to the excitement of the marketplace of ideas and to the value of even unpopular opinions. But that tradition seems to have been stood on its head. There is a world of difference between challenging students to think more broadly and trying to shoehorn them into a more narrow spectrum of thought, which many parents feel is happening.
(And which, when a Pigouvian compares notes with a social democrat who compares notes with a Marxist, is likely to be the outcome: the polemics about "viewpoint diversity" are not simply spin.) Moreover, the Ivies need not be the only path to the executive suite. Perhaps that path leads through Augustana, with some of its faculty holding Northern Illinois University degrees. That article offers some speculation on ethical principles inculcated at church-based universities, and the military academies.

There is one complaint in Mr Goodman's article that requires a bit more discussion.
Some universities use financial aid as a way to compete for the most desirable students. Kids get the message that money talks at these campuses. One of my clients just chose Syracuse University -- not because of the educational quality, but because the high tuition there at least has a tradeoff. "They will help you get a job afterwards," he said.
Hmm, if you're concerned with raising the intellectual tone in your classes, won't it make sense to recruit the high achievers. Why does the Orange athletic program get to do that but not the Maxwell School? And why not help develop networks and place students? Those might be more effective than the informal ones that evolve in the Greek letter organizations (Dude, I, like, can make you night manager at the Peoria Best Buy.) It's those informal networks that might be the real attraction of the name colleges: there is a separating equilibrium in which well-to-do strivers pay more for the privilege of associating with other well-to-do strivers.

There is still work to be done, and, as I do not intend to exit the academy in the near future, I shall continue to raise my voice, and to welcome the contributions of others who are discovering the same things.

16.4.05

PUSHED OUT? Tenure means a professor gets a hearing to determine whether the university has cause for dismissal, unless you're at Virginia State. Heart of Canada has been following the case of veteran Virginia State sociologist Jean R. Cobbs, who passed a post-tenure review only to be dismissed for cause by careerist Virginia State president Eddie N. Moore, a decorated veteran. National Association of Scholars president Stephen Balch spells out the stakes.
This extraordinary instance of administrative fiat ought to arouse the deep concern of anyone who cares for the future of intellectual freedom and academic due process. As a perusal of the facts in this case will quickly confirm, Professor Jean Cobbs has been subjected to a decade-long pattern of arbitrary and irregular treatment by President Eddie Moore and his administration at VSU. Now, despite her 33 years of exemplary service to VSU, she has been terminated with complete loss of retirement benefits by simple decree of Mr. Moore, without so much as a single hearing or even being informed of his reasons for doing so. And, beyond the outrageous, egregious injustice to Jean Cobbs, VSU faculty have been put on notice that they have no security, either through academic tenure or due process, from the personal whims of senior administrators. We accordingly urge both the officials who oversee the Virginia higher education system, and the legislators who appropriate its support to investigate this case thoroughly, as a matter of simple justice to Professor Cobbs and for the injuries to the reputation of their state's public institutions.
Carey at Issues and Views sees developments at Virginia State in more apocalyptic terms.
Although the details are murky, it has become obvious that some sort of deal was cut between Mr. Moore and the militant/Marxist/separatist element of the faculty. The evidence is circumstantial but extensive. Almost immediately upon Mr. Moore's arrival, foreign-born faculty, conservative and Republican faculty and staff, and faculty who were heavily engaged in research began to have difficulties with the VSU administration.
It's bad enough when the administrators make it difficult for people to actually do the work by calling meetings and sending around additional forms for people to fill out. This looks like a clear case of punishing people for doing their jobs. Herrn. Schneider und Schwarz, am I being too provocative suggesting that VSU president Eddie Moore be one of the unassigned Kings?

(There is no truth to the rumor that Schneider and Schwarz got lost somewhere on the Semmering Pass last fall.)
PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE. David French under The Torch lets us read his email.
And, last year my district, in hiring nearly 60 new faculty members, spent over $200,000 for Diversity Officers. Every step of the hiring process, from the start-up activities getting the hiring committee together, through the paper screens, and during the interviews and tallies, is monitored by a Diversity Officer earning from $60-$77 an hour. Assuming that a hire takes 50 hours, that’s a minimum of $3000 a hire for “diversity”!
OK, some sense of the magnitude of the Diversity Boondoggle. Then, this request.
Please don’t publish my name; I have administrative aspirations and a conservative label, moreso than the one I have now, could prove deadly.
Give me men who are stout-hearted men, not careerists. (That applies equally to women.) In an administrative position, this individual's learned (with one syllable) pusillanimity will not serve him well, and good judges of character are able to distinguish people who are true to their vision from pusillanimous careerists. The academy might benefit from more people who can kick ass and take names. It helps to know what asses must be kicked, and for a list of names to be transcribed.

IN SOME WAYS AHEAD OF HIS TIME?

Book Review No. 11 is The New Haven Railroad in the McGinnis Era. This book merits a review, as it is different from most of the railroad interest books I have purchased, which I usually buy for the institutional history or for photographs that will clarify where the hardware goes on the model. I want to focus on three dimensions of the McGinnis era: the finances, the brand positioning, and the Northeast Corridor infrastructure.

Patrick McGinnis is a rather controversial figure in the history of railroad management, and time on the State of Maine Northern stops the day before he took control of the New Haven Railroad. But the railroads of the Northeast faced a real problem after the Second World War, with public money going into turnpikes and airport improvements, and the economic base switching away from coal as a fuel input and manufactured goods as outputs, all to the detriment of the railroads. The managements of the New England railroads attempted to keep up maintenance on all passenger-carrying lines and to modernize their premier trains. These railroads generally did not pay dividends to preferred and common stockholders. Mr McGinnis, the book tells us, noted that companies with a regular record of paying dividends were better able to attract capital; his plan was to make good the arrears on the preferred dividends and resume the common dividends; he was going to raise the money by down-sizing the railroad, as well as replacing the more expensive trains with trains he thought would be cheaper and better. Whether that strategy was the correct strategy given the secular changes remains a topic for research, the bad luck of consecutive hurricanes in the summers of 1954 and 1955 notwithstanding.

The book, written by a member of the New Haven Railroad Historical and Technical Association, with a lot of help from Association member collections, sheds some light on the rather expensive, and in my view ill-advised, complete image makeover of the railroad. The railroad hired graphics designers Herbert Matter and Norman Ives under the supervision of Lucille McGinnis, wife of Patrick. I was aware of some of that history, but not that the railroad also retained Minoru Yamasaki, better known for the late World Trade Center and for the central campus of Wayne State University, and Eero Saarinen, to design new stations. Mr Yamasaki had the commission for a generic suburban station that looks nothing like Plasticville's generic suburban station. Mr. Saarinen designed a number of stations for larger cities that reduced the space devoted to ticketing and waiting while providing more space for other uses, such as parking, shopping, or, in Hartford, a sports arena. Mr. Saarinen's design featured a cable-stayed roof that might have been more resistant to a snowpack than the flat space-frame roof built in a later arena. (The Morgan-era Hartford station still serves commuters today.) Again, whether such an expensive makeover was the best use of resources under the secular conditions remains subject to debate, but the idea of cleaning up and making the railroad look contemporary has its merits.

The McGinnis project that had the most promise proved to be the greatest flop. His intent was to install continuous welded rail the length of the Shore Line, reprofile some of the curves for greater speed, and remove the electrification. To cope with the curvy route, he envisioned a fleet of lightweight high-speed trains such as the Spanish Talgo train (there is an instructive useful history here) and this site, in German, is worth careful exploration (that pioneer train looks like an amusement park ride) -- there is a separate page devoted to the North American Talgo trains that includes images of several promotional booklets from the early days of the Talgo.

The New Haven first ran some tests with one of the Spanish Talgo trains (the locomotives were built for the American Car and Foundry in the States, but I cannot recall by whom.)


In light of what happened later, the New Haven might have borrowed the Spanish custom and named the engine "Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrows." Some of the early trains are enshrined in Spanish railway museums.

The New Haven's problem then, as the successor companies are discovering today, is that the supertrains must coexist with commuter trains serving some of the most influential and demanding neighborhoods of the Official Region. (New Haven trains serve the northern suburbs of New York and the southern suburbs of Boston. Bad service could earn the displeasure of Henry Luce at Time, Norman Cousins at Saturday Review, and whoever had Harper's in those days. In those days, there was no countervailing blogosphere. If those guys were displeased, the chattering classes all saw the New Haven the same way.)

So, what of the super-train project? There proved to be no money for the welded-rail program (spent as preferred dividends?) The experimental super-trains proved to be rough riding and thin on creature comforts. The electric transmissions provided to get the trains into and out of Grand Central Terminal caused troubles (and the dual-mode electro-diesels purchased for the longer-distance commuter trains and the intercity trains not operated with super-trains proved to be less powerful than the straight electrics they replaced.)

But the more things change ... Talgo train technology is now being deployed, with some success, in the Pacific Northwest (and as the next iteration of the Hiawatha??? -- paint it orange and maroon, not blue, darn it!) On Mr. McGinnis's railroad, your tax dollars have installed welded rail its length (per plan) and extended the electric operation to Boston (contrary to his plan) and bought a new fleet of super-trains (the Acela Express) that have a history of teething troubles and were taken out of service again on April 15 with cracked brake disks.

15.4.05

I DELIBERATELY OVERPAID MY TAXES. Illinois excludes from its reckoning of taxable income the interest on Federal obligations, as well as its own tax refunds, which are potentially taxable income on Federal returns.

So here I am, earlier this week. Figure the Illinois tax refund. Now work out the interest income, both of which Illinois calls "Subtractions." Ask myself: is it worth preparing the little exhibit and photocopying all the statements as the instructions require? Net reduction in tax bill: $1. Fuhgeddaboudit.

And thus a parable to offer an explanation for Drake at Tufte's Classes.
The first question is when are these people getting their tax returns completed? If these people are spending time and money to get there [c.q.] complex tax return prepared are they working or waiting in line at the local tax service. The second question I pose is, why does tax preparation take so long and why does it have to be so complex and complicated? The tax system in our country needs to be overhauled. It is getting really out of hand and I believe it is costing the country more to tax its people than it actually benefits from tax revenue.
Let's walk this cat backwards. First, there is an optimal level of enforcement, and at least one commentator (via Constrained Vision) has characterized the effect of lax enforcement as "do-it-yourself tax cuts." Second, my brother earns his modest living operating the local tax service, and he always has interesting stories about his clients. Third, an introductory economics class probably doesn't get into adjustments, exemptions, deductions, and credits. Adjustments, exemptions and deductions have the effect of reducing taxable income: the exemption makes some amount of income, irrespective of source, not taxable; the adjustment deems some types of income not subject to tax; and the deduction reduces income by the sum of allowable expenditures. Credits reduce the tax on taxable income. Each of these carries with it a different set of incentives and a different effect on allocative efficiency. The incentives are set up by legislators who would like to encourage some kinds of behavior, and there are economists who like targeted tax credits or carefully designed exemptions to get people to Do The Right Thing, and there are economists who like simple tax codes.

Each of the policies has in common with a grocery store coupon some difficulty in using it. (What would be the point, for instance, of a targeted tax credit if anyone could claim it, purchase of electric automobile or not, to use one example from the current list of credits.) Thus the tax code and the tax form become an exercise in balancing ease of use against correct identification of beneficiaries, and sometimes it becomes expensive for a beneficiary to identify himself. That, however, might be optimal, just as all grocery coupons are not clipped and redeemed.

SECOND SECTION: The political economy of tax policy is a good place to observe opportunities to be logical giving way to temptations to make polemical points. I recall reading a commentary from a libertarian think piece objecting to adjustments, deductions, and credits as treating citizens like so many gerbils. But convoluted air-fare plans are simply freedom of choice in action, although the proper key in the proper branch of the maze yields a reward. What institutions most efficiently enable people to make optimal choices, and will that institution sometimes be the government?

CALL AN EXTRA. Constrained Vision:
Americans are willing to give up some deductions to achieve a simpler tax code.
IT'S FRIDAY. That's cat-blogging day at many sites. (Cats and model trains don't mix. I'm happy that other people keep their cats.) But what happens when people let their cats run away and don't worry about what happens next? In Wisconsin, hunting season for feral cats. And yes, there is a Coasian problem involved. (There are serious disagreements among people about the responsibility to restrain cats. Many farms have what the residents call "barn cats," and these enjoy great freedom of movement, although not the pampering that urban cats are supposed to get.)

Somehow, I just don't see the cat hunting season inspiring Da Yoopers to expand on "Second Week of Deer Camp."
PEOPLE RESPOND TO INCENTIVES. Freakonomics author Steve Levitt was tonight's guest on Milt Rosenberg's radio seminar, and his concluding remark was a prediction that future economics research would feature a higher ratio of empirical to theoretical work? Why? Many of the useful series are now available on-line. Professor Levitt noted that what used to take several days to transcribe, using lots of copy cards and lots of keyboarding, now can be downloaded over lunch.

Specification, however, continues to require careful thought. Oh, and nonlinear estimators sometimes won't converge, and seminar presenters will continue to fret about "wrong signs" and t-statistics.

14.4.05

EXPENSE PREFERENCE ALERT? One of the assistants-to in the College office was bringing some carpet samples to the deans, and the chairman has requested an "emergency" department meeting involving space allocation. I don't like the looks of this. Will keep readers posted.

13.4.05

SIXTY YEARS AGO. Harry Truman becomes President, succeeding Franklin Roosevelt, who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage at his Warm Springs, Georgia Southern White House. The 2nd Armored and 83rd Infantry are on the Elbe. Sgt. Karlson's unit is headed for the Czech border.