30.11.05

WORDS ARE PLENTIFUL, DEEDS ARE PRECIOUS. Northern Illinois University begins a national search for a new provost. President John Peters has ambitions.
“Our next provost must rise to the challenge of creating a great intellectual environment, enhancing the student experience, driving an aggressive research agenda, expanding our graduate programs, creating sustainable scholarly and creative initiatives, encouraging active engagement in our region and continuing our efforts to internationalize the campus.”
High sounding words, to be sure, but follow the money. First comes the new alumni relations center. Next comes the study hall and weight room upstairs from the locker room. Today comes a field trip.

Administrators have set up transportation to the NIU football team’s first MAC Championship game at 6:30 p.m. CDT Thursday at Ford Field in Detroit.

The first 300 students who buy a $5 ticket will receive free round-trip bus transportation, a box lunch and a T-shirt commemorating NIU’s MAC West Division title.

Yes, you read that right. The prize for winning the Wednesday afternoon game rescheduled for TV from the Tuesday evening game is an opportunity to play in a Thursday evening game. Because Friday is the last day of classes, a Saturday game would technically be during exam week, not permitted. And there are prizes for those who stick around for those Thursday summary classes.
If the Huskies win, a post-game celebration will be held in the Holmes Student Center’s Regency Room until midnight. The event will feature a disc jockey, snacks and beverages. The first 300 students to arrive at the event will receive a free T-shirt. For more information about tickets and the postgame celebration, call the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership Development.
(I wasn't aware we had such an office. Perhaps that falls under the rubric of "enhancing the student experience.")

Anybody in headquarters ever hear of an opportunity cost?
ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHERS. The folks who run what we used to know as the Greater Rockford Airport would hereafter like all to refer to it as the Chicago/Rockford Airport.
It became the Chicago/Rockford International Airport this month, although the airport is about 90 miles from downtown Chicago. Milwaukee and South Bend, Ind., are similar distances from the city, but neither of the public airports in those cities has seen a need to add Chicago to their name.
Pedantic note: the Mitchell International Airport train station is at Milepost 78 from Union Station, and the Chicago South Shore and South Bend extends about 90 miles from underneath the Prudential Building. Therein lies a hint that the name change might not deliver the benefits the renamers anticipated. It is possible to reach O'Hare, Midway, South Bend-Niles, and Mitchell by train from the Loop and the inner suburbs of Chicago. (In the few times I've explored the Hiawatha Corridor recently, I have seen substantial Mitchell-Sturtevant or Glenview traffic on board.) Rockford, you're stuck on the Kennedy and Northwest Tollway. But what was that H. L. Mencken line about not going broke underestimating intelligence?

When travelers in Denver are looking at the computer screens of arrivals and departures in Denver or Detroit, they're going to see the listings for Chicago-Midway and Chicago-O'Hare, followed by Chicago-Rockford. There is a value in that association, [RFD executive director Bob O'Brien] said.

The change is unlikely to result in people getting off a plane in Rockford and wondering where the Wrigley Building and Navy Pier are. Entering the word "Chicago" at a site such as Orbitz will only bring up options for O'Hare and Midway, not Rockford.

"You wouldn't choose us unless you chose us on purpose," O'Brien said.When he hears from those angry over the airport's new name, O'Brien said he explains there was a sound financial reason for the move.

"If it creates millions of dollars in economic impact, if it creates jobs and enhances the quality of life here, what do you care what we call it for marketing purposes," he said. "You're still going to say I'm going to the Rockford airport."

If.

(Via The American Mind.)
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Just One Bite has reservations about universal college.
Call me an elitist, but I don't think that lowering entrance standards and adding remedial classes to allow people with limited intellectual capability or a lack of motivation to attend college benefits us. I'd love to see more details about college drop-outs; how many of them had been struggling from Day One? When we make a four-year degree (what an antiquated term that is!) a goal -- nay, a necessity -- for people who want a decent standard of living, resulting in a larger percentage of mediocre students going on to college, why are we surprised when many of them fail to thrive?
(Via Multiple Mentality.)
SCOOPING THE ONION. I'm not familiar with something called "The David Lawrence Show," but he's following stories involving Delta Airlines, including the rather macabre (and rail-inspired?) Onion cost-cutting story I commented on.
CARNIVAL CALL. This week's Carnival of the Capitalists cruises onto Gill Blog, and Carnival of Education No. 53(8) is open at Education Wonks.

InstaPundit's extended family have a blogospheric version of Amusement Business available as Blog Carnival Index. Virtual tack-spitters, forsooth!

29.11.05

"RELENTLESS COMBINATION OF MISCHIEF AND LOGIC." That might be better than "sex, death, and why the lines are longest at the roller coaster" as a way of selling economics. It's part of a Catallarchy interview of Tim Harford, The Undercover Economist (must add that to the stack), who has his own advice column.
GETTING OFF THE TREADMILL? Russell at Cafe Hayek sees a less-Scroogelike reason to say "humbug."

Suppose every American decided that life is too fast-paced, that the pleasure we get from material things is fleeting and that we all need to spend more time with our families. Suppose every American decided to look for part-time jobs with half of the hours we currently work.

The result would be an economy that was half as large as the current one. But that transformation would be good, not bad. Assuming that we indeed found that additional family time to be as satisfying as we had expected, then our economy would be healthier. We would be happier and better off.

The only footnote to this point is that if we all made this decision overnight, the transition to a smaller economy would be traumatic. But if it happens gradually, it would be fine. Having an economy half of the current size would be good if each of chooses to spend more time at home and less time in the commercial side of life.

Too many stories about holiday spending imply that spending has some sort of positive externality, that the benefits extend far beyond the buyer and the seller and that to stay home by the fire in the fireplace playing the guitar or reading to your children is somehow unpatriotic.

That third paragraph offers a variation on a theme I've posted on here, (sorry, the search screen isn't helpful tonight) about how half of (or all of) Friday away from the office will be the reality for many people, long before some amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act codifies it for everyone. (Is there a way of testing the hypothesis that legislation mandating changes that are already taking place encounters less resistance than legislation mandating changes that are not?)
MORE HISTORY TO KNOW ABOUT. No reason to study history?
We're not very good at celebrating our military heroes. Memorial Day and Veterans Day pass with less and less public acknowledgment, beyond a general holiday feeling. Around June 6, when the president goes to France to observe the anniversary of D-Day, there will be some notice of Normandy veterans. But no one will even pause to contemplate the anniversary two days before--Midway Day, the official commemorative day of the U.S. Navy. It marks one of our nation's most dazzling feats of arms, just six months after the disastrous surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
That leads into a review of a new book about Midway, with a caution, and a recommendation.

[Author Alvin] Kernan [who served on Enterprise] brings this maritime battle superbly to life. He explains the whole history of the U.S. carriers and their arsenal and the commanders and pilots who were trying to learn on the job. And he narrates the air assault in gripping detail. Mr. Kernan makes it clear how it came to pass that U.S. admirals sent a large group of brave but poorly equipped and undertrained men to fight with outmoded tactics. He is less clear on why. One obvious explanation: At the beginning of a war, you fight with whatever is at hand and learn from your mistakes. Adm. Nimitz would have happily accepted double the casualty rate to get what he got: four sunk Japanese carriers.

Midway was a great victory, but the Navy still had miles to go to figure out how to use and defend its carriers--as the costly mistakes in the sea battles around Guadalcanal in late 1942 proved.

Must consider adding this book to the stack.
THE HIGHER LEARNING. One university sees its future in vocationalism.

Many colleges in recent years have eliminated majors or departments in relatively obscure fields, citing the need to focus on areas with growing student interest. Few, however, have taken the step Post University plans: eliminating majors in English and history and upper-level courses in liberal arts generally.

Post, in Waterbury, Conn., was founded as a private university in 1890, and has always had a strong vocational orientation. The university has seen some radical changes in governance. In 1990, Post became one of several American colleges that affiliated with the Teikyo Group, from Japan. Post became Teikyo Post University. Last year, when Teikyo pulled out, private investors purchased Post and it traded in its nonprofit status to become a for-profit (and profitable) entity.

Now the university — with about 1,400 students — plans to stop offering liberal arts degrees and to focus on academic programs directly linked to careers. No full-time faculty members will lose their jobs. But there will be shifts in priorities for adjunct hiring — and part-time faculty members teach a major proportion of classes at Post.

Jon Jay De Temple, president of Post for the last five years, said that he believes the institution needs focus. “We’re not big enough to do everything for everybody,” he said.

De Temple said that based on that view, administrators and board members believe that majors that don’t “lead to a job” should be eliminated. He stressed that there would still be history and English instruction at the university, but said that there would not be any upper-level courses. “We’re probably not the best institution to turn out an English major,” he said.

The college hopes to shift resources to expand offerings in high-growth fields such as criminal justice, health services, and sports and entertainment. Post also wants to improve its well regarded equestrian program.

With such improvements, De Temple said that he thought Post could increase its enrollment of traditional-age college students from 625 to as many as 900.

Read and reflect. Wouldn't it be easier for those 625 to 900 people to apprentice themselves to firms rather than chase the credential?

The university describes its mission thus.
Post University is a career-oriented and student-focused university located in Waterbury, Connecticut. Post is known for its quality academic programs, small classes, national award winning student activities, and its NCAA Division II athletic programs. Our students pursue their personal and professional goals within academic programs supported by a dedicated faculty who blend both theory and practice within their classroom experiences. Become a part of the long tradition of private higher education in New England. Take the time to explore this web site and discover New England's value, Post University's career-oriented programs that focus on each student, every day.
I'm not sure what to make of a university website that allows a visitor to "View Course Cart."
TONE-DEAF? There's an electronic carillon simulator in the student center that serenades the campus at noon each day. Today, with the blue norther blowing and everyone stressed with those end-of-the-semester deadlines and that final exam anxiety, the programmers decided to serenade us with Song of the Volga Boatmen.

27.11.05

NEW IDEAS, OLD IDEAS. Time's Joel Klein interviews Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, who offers some suggestions for his Democratic Party.
Expand support for higher education. "Make college as universal in the 21st century as high school was in the 20th"; three out of four jobs in the new, high-tech economy require two years or more of higher education.
I'm skeptical. With the defect rate and the remediation efforts as high as they are, mightn't it make more sense to restore the high schools to respectability first?
Create a National Institute of Science and Engineering, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Funding for the nih [c.q.] has quadrupled since the 1980s, from $7 billion to $28 billion. "That's why we lead in pharmaceuticals and medical technology." Funding for science has been stagnant—about $5 billion—during that period. "I'd quadruple it and concentrate on nanotechnology, broadband and energy."
Here's a proposal that might inspire some debate. To what extent are those "rising health care costs" a side-effect of that government spending? On the other hand, is it right to refer to something that absent the research wasn't available at any price as a "rising cost?" To what extent is the research corporate welfare?
Promote energy independence. Reduce foreign oil by 50% in 10 years. Create a hybrid economy. Use government contracts and tax incentives to boost solar and wind power.
Does that include developing oil resources in Alaska and the Great Lakes, and the oil shales, or extracting more natural gas?
"You got a job, you got health care." Give the uninsured vouchers—"I'm not afraid of vouchers"—for use in the insurance system that covers federal employees. Basic coverage, nothing fancy.
Demsetz auctions for the right to sell the insurance?
Organize a bipartisan summit on the budget. Balance it.
What are you prepared to give up? I see proposals to spend money.

APPLIED HIAWATHA RESEARCH.

All this posting about Hiawatha steam speed records or not inspired me to take a mental health day riding a Hiawatha. Hey, the weekend pass is good for two days, and the stack of homeworks to be returned Monday will be the most travelled set of homeworks I've graded, with one Hiawatha, two commuter trains, three stations, a coffee house, and an airport Starbucks offering working space.

Today's connecting concourse is Chicago's Union Station.


The waiting room has thus far avoided being "redeveloped" as an office tower or an apartment complex, and it stands in all its Pennsylvania Railroad grandeur. (It also serves as a gathering area for some Amtrak passengers as we shall see.)

The conductor of the 10.20 "Morning" Hiawatha (hey, the real Morning Hiawatha used to leave at 10.30) was a bit impatient on the radio. "C'mon, 'Casey,' let's highball!" (Name changed.) So when the conductor collected my ticket, I was in the mood for some teasing. "Could 'Casey' get us from Glenview to Milwaukee Airport in 45 minutes?" (No.) But at one time, such running would be possible.


This schedule was in effect when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Trains are much faster, although today's service is better spaced throughout the day, with something resembling a memory pattern of two hour headways. Several of the services shown here continued to Green Bay, the Twin Cities, and the Pacific Coast. Note that the speed restrictions in effect today are bureaucratic constraints, not technological constraints. No automatic train stop, centralized traffic control, welded rail, or dead-man petals in 1941.

The northbound trip was fast and on time into the airport. Amtrak strengthened the formations with a business-class dinette car (hey, hire a cafe attendant and make that a regular feature.) There is work in progress at Highway 20 building what looks like a new Sturtevant-Racine station (what will happen to that funky witch's hat station at Sturtevant?) Lake Yard, and the interlocking tower that stood there until recently, are gone.

The weather isn't conducive to flying.


I'm not sure whether these posts are a security measure or simply recognition that some drivers will mistake any wide paved surface, including a sidewalk leading to a passenger platform, for a road.


Let the record show that there was at one time a closer train stop to Mitchell International.

The line of trees marks the right-of-way of the North Shore Line, and the Milwaukee Division locals would make a flag stop at Grange Avenue, although whether any adventurous souls made an intermodal connection hiking into the airport from there may remain an eternal mystery.

Inside the airport, which offers a shuttle bus to the train station (and lots of air travelers were making connections today) this cluster of maps shows the weather and the current position of airplanes inbound to Milwaukee. The maps might have assuaged some people on this foggy day.


(Again, the cheap digital camera reveals its limitations.)

The southbound 3.0 Hiawatha was a few minutes late into Airport Station, probably delayed in Milwaukee receiving transfers from a late-running Empire Builder that blasted up Lake Hill just ahead of the corridor train. Once all the airport passengers were loaded, it was off to the races, with an on-time arrival in Chicago, and plenty of time to turn the train and get the northbound hordes away at 5.08. (That's WITH strict adherence to the 79 mph speed limit. Give them their head to 110, I say.) Other trains were also busy, with the State House and Pere Marquette strengthened but away on time, the Capitol Limited loaded and away on time, a long Illinois Zephyr into the station with little time to load and away on time (passengers requested to queue outside the departure lounge.) Only the Twilight Limited was delayed, account late arrival of the inbound equipment, and those passengers were requested to assemble in the Great Hall to be marched to their train when it was ready. But considering the crush of passengers and the limitations of the concourse, which was "redeveloped" in 1969 for commuters only, the late afternoon departures went quite smoothly. That also appeared to be the case on the suburban services, including the 6.40 to Elgin, which was also full of shoppers, holiday-makers, and a few transfers off of Amtrak.

26.11.05

FAREBEATERS' PARADISE? The first weekend of Christmas shopping brings lots of people into Chicago. Metra sent a ten car train to protect the 10.05 Geneva-Chicago, and by the time it left Elmhurst, nearly all the seats were taken. The conductor and collectors didn't have sufficient weekend passes, although they sold one-way tickets for people who would pay more for the weekend pass than for two one-way coupons. I wonder if there's a way of auditing the one-way ticket sales from Chicago to determine how many people might have taken advantage of the situation to buy only their return ticket.

At Chicago, I bought the weekend pass and headed to Kenosha, where the heritage trolley is running. It has been tricked out for Christmas.


I brought along the Canon with the old-style film and a light meter I can manage. It was a gorgeous day for trolley pictures. This one from the cheap digital will have to serve for now. Perhaps some real pictures later.

The other Metra trains were also doing a good business hauling shoppers around. The Kenosha 400 came in a few minutes late after setting down large crowds at the North Shore stations (from which relics of the old North Shore Line can still be seen if you know where to look) and on the return trip the three open cars were pretty well filled, including shoppers making short turns from Lake Bluff or Lake Forest to Evanston or Ravenswood. If the roads are miserable enough, people will use the trains.

I used the train rides to do some reading and will soon post more book reviews. I still plan to meet the Fifty Book Challenge. Reviews 42, 43, and 44 are in preparation, and 45 is in progress.

25.11.05

IN FOR MAINTENANCE. Some of the motive power has been receiving maintenance. First, a New Haven H16-44 with the Atlas caboose a reader asked about. The cheap digital camera doesn't do a real good job with orange and red in direct light, so I've turned this into a black and white image. The diesel has received a wheel cleaning. The pilot requires a bit more adjustment so it won't short on grades.


This State of Maine Northern caboose hop has one of my Lionel GP-7 conversion projects, using a frame from Chassis System and a P&D drive (the Atlas drive originally envisioned by Chassis System isn't quite robust enough for so heavy an engine.) The engine is in for some handrail renewals.


Santa Fe never had any of these, but with careful application of un-paint followed by some Hunter Green, we will see a believable representation of a New Haven engine. This is another of my bargains, which I obtained for $100. The driveline is Central Locomotive Works's. It requires more weight over the lead truck, as the trailing truck is sufficiently massive as to induce a torque that relieves itself by wheel lift in the lead truck.


Just for fun, a Pennsylvania O1a from Locomotive Workshop, which is having its power pickup improved.


Lessons learned from that project will make completion of the other O1a easier.


I'll not be complaining of boredom once finals are in.
RULES WRITTEN IN BLOOD. Nobody died, but a few people are still in hospital, many got a scare, and many more were home late after a westbound Metra North Central train hit some cars trapped on the tracks at Elmwood Park, Wednesday night. The crossing is a scary one, with the tracks crossing the road at a very shallow angle, and big signs all over the place reading "Long Crossing. Do Not Stop on Tracks." Some people did anyway. The usual set of maltimed Illinois traffic lights contributed to the accident. There is a set just east of the tracks that is not interlocked with the railroad crossing. I thought those were supposed to be fixed after the school bus got trapped on the Northwest Line at Cary Grove in 1995. Several survivors of the crash have reported being stuck in traffic, which was very heavy that evening.

The point of traffic control signals is to control traffic, not to frustrate it. But no highway engineer has ever figured that out. I don't know how many hours are wasted in shopping districts by drivers who watch the signal at the mall entrance drop to red just as the signal at the mile road has cleared for the first time in two minutes. I also suspect that a lot of speeding is a response by local drivers who have figured out the perverse cycle of traffic lights that will stab you at each mile road if you travel the legal limit.
RECLAIMING THE CULTURE. From Joanne Jacobs comes news that some parents are regaining the strength to say no to coarseness.
Well, the so-called utopia is here, and older women have reason to be alarmed at the dangers young women are bringing upon themselves. These girls are treated as objects just as surely as in any earlier generation. It's pre-liberation treatment in post-liberation disguise. "Turn back before it's too late!" we want to warn them -- because what awaits them is not Prince Charming. It is more likely to be loneliness and regret.
And Kimberly at Number 2 Pencil sees sense in the policies of Chicago eateries that would like the yuppie puppies to be housebroken. Inside voice, indeed.
STUDENTS TAKE NOTES, TAKE TESTS, TAKE OFF. That's life at a commuter school, but at Wisconsin-Milwaukee the emphasis is on taking off.

Only 40 percent of those surveyed felt that the coursework that they were given would be relevant in everyday life. This is 10 percentage points lower than the national average for schools the size of UWM.

Very few of those surveyed feel that they have learned stronger social skills or gained understanding of global and political issues since coming to UWM.

Part of the problem may be that less than half of those surveyed feel that they have adequate contact with faculty members outside of class.

Most of the students in the survey never went out of their way to contact professors, join professional clubs or participate in academically enriching programs.

The academic department may not be to blame in the long run, however, because the survey also shows that UWM students are doing little to help themselves get the most out of their college careers.

Some specifics.

Almost half reported skipping class frequently or coming to class late.

UWM students are not engaging in their academics with their fellow students either. Of those surveyed, only 25 percent stated that they discussed coursework or engaged in intellectual conversations with their peers.

Although last year’s freshmen class rated UWM’s academics low, they were quick to point out that their overall college experience was rated very highly. Over 72 percent rated their experience at UWM to be great.

This surprising result may be attributed to the fact that UWM students are more social than most colleges across the country.

Freshman students at UWM rate slightly higher than the national averages in drinking, attending parties and getting involved with community events.

I'm sure the Wisconsin legislature is pleased to appropriate money for Club-Med-by-the-Lake.
AND THERE IS YOUR DAGGER. With the third quarter winding down, Wisconsin converts an interception into a touchdown, and it's 41-17, probably ample cushion even for a suspect defense.
FREE-RIDERS. Laura at Ace of Spades discovers the British radio tax, and that where there are taxes, there is tax evasion. The television signal is costly to produce, but use of it is nonrivalrous, and exclusion of viewers, once they have bought the receiver, is costly. In short, the Beeb is a classic example of a collective consumption good with a serious free-rider problem.

In the United Kingdom and other parts of the Commonwealth, owners of radio and television receivers must pay an annual receiver tax. In the United States, we have commercials. But with recording technologies, including Tivo, watchers can avoid the commercial tax by judicious use of the pause button (legacy VCR users know that one) or by fast-forwarding. The rating services and the advertisers have exactly no authority to compel people to pay that tax.
WELCOME, EDUCATION WATCHERS. Education Watch liked this post so much he quoted all of it. Look around, there might be more of interest around here.
BEER AND CIRCUSES. Northern Illinois University's football team overcomes Western "We Scored First" Michigan to earn a spot in the Mid-American title game at Ford Field with an invitation to the GMAC Bowl or the Motor City Bowl at stake. First prize: a trip to Detroit. Second prize: two trips to Detroit.

Earlier that day, the university commenced construction of the Academic and Athletic Performance Center, a long-winded way of describing fancier locker and weight rooms with a study hall upstairs.

The director of athletics trots out an annoying metaphor, again.
Athletics is the front porch for the university. It's the most visible. This is a strong re-investment in the front porch. The front porch is not the most important part of a home, but it is the most visible part.
I repeat: those of us who are in the kitchen, or perhaps relegated to the broom closet, have been doing our work, even when the front porch was 0-for-the-late-1990s.

Here's what the new front porch will look like.



Leni Riefenstahl and Albert Speer could not be reached for comments on the presentation.
NOTICE OF LINE RELOCATION. Bill Roggio has closed The Fourth Rail with its funky what-if-Pennsy-had-built-multiple-prototypes-of-the-S1 headers and is now posting from Iraq on Threats Watch.
GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY OF A CLASSIC. Betsy's Page finds a report that the green bean casserole invented by Campbell Soup's idea department is fifty years old, and still popular at Thanksgiving.

Herewith one, from yesterday's dinner. Yum.


Apparently the dish, which isn't everybody's favorite, is also available ready-to-run for those who aren't into kit-building. There are also scratchbuilder versions of the recipe.
THINKING LIKE A RAILROAD. The Onion imagines a macabre cost-cutting strategy.

A 737 traveling from Cincinnati to Salt Lake City was lost with all passengers and crew Monday when cash-strapped Delta Airlines, the aircraft's operator, canceled Flight 1060 en route.

According to a statement from Delta, the midair cancellation was made as part of the company's plan to cut continental service by 25 percent and emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy with an economically viable business strategy."

Delta Airlines regrets any inconvenience to our valued customers," the statement read in part. "Unfortunately, in today's uncertain economy, service interruptions and cancellations are inevitable."

I wonder if a writer for Onion is familiar with the history of the passenger train. In the late 1960s, the Louisville and Nashville annulled the Pan-American at Montgomery, Alabama, where the train would lay over to be combined with the Crescent Limited (in those days an interline operation) to finish its run to New Orleans. Passengers were put on a bus. The annullment enabled the railroad to terminate a passenger train in the interval between expiration of a restraining order and an appeal to a higher court. The railroad could then argue that any further restraining orders were moot, as no other Pan-American was running.

Not long after that, the Burlington killed the Billings-Alliance local under similar conditions, delaying a number of passengers somewhere in northwestern Nebraska until buses could be arranged. Among the passengers on that train was Representative Glenn Cunningham (once an Olympian runner) who made a federal case out of train discontinuances upon his return to Washington.
RESEARCHING THE HIAWATHA. The Milwaukee Road Historical Association maintain an archive at the Milwaukee Public Library. Enroute to Titletown, I stopped at the library and inquired about the November 1939 employee magazine with C. H. Bilty's article about the 125 mph test run of an F-7 Hiawatha that is likely the world's fastest authenticated speed obtained with a steam locomotive. The archive is not a public collection, and volunteers from the association work with the requests researchers leave. Expect a full report once I hear from the association.

The central library in Milwaukee was worth the trip, research findings or not. The inside has been extensively rearranged, with all vestiges of the old museum removed, and the central lobby backdated, with the escalators and other traces of Fifties modernization replaced by a grand staircase. Worth a look.
ISN'T HIGH-TECH WONDERFUL? Wisconsin's pre-bowl bowl is a road trip to Hawaii. There's a Rainbow Warrior fan attempting to make the best of things, liveblogging the game at University of Hawaii Football.

SECOND SECTION: STOCCO TO ORR, TOUCHDOWN, WISCONSIN!
CARNIVAL CALL. Carnival of Education No. 52(8) makes its pre-Thanksgiving call at The Education Wonks

22.11.05

HAPPY THANKSGIVING. That's all for this week. I give thanks for your readership and your comments.

Spare a few moments thanks for the young people in harm's way around the world, for the people in emergency services who deserve to sit down to the turkey without the alarm ringing, for the people in transportation, tourism, and entertainment passing on their family gatherings to enhance yours.
BURY THE PROBLEM, APPOINT A COMMISSION? University Diaries recommends this Neal McCluskey column in National Review. Mr McCluskey is skeptical about the Spellings Commission on Higher Education doing anything substantive.

In September, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the formation of a commission tasked with designing a “national strategy for higher education” to prepare us for the 21st century.

The commission is composed entirely of people in academia, government or big business, all of whom benefit when taxpayer money is shoveled into higher education. Its recommendations are therefore almost a foregone conclusion: The federal government should spend more on student aid supposedly to ensure, as Spellings demands, that we have a workforce for the 21st century, and on “basic” research that businesses want done but on which they would rather not risk their own money.

Of course, with a unified national strategy two more things will come: federal control of academia and an end to the competition for students that has driven innovation in American higher education and made it the envy of the world. It’s the worst thing we could do according to a recent analysis by The Economist, which concluded that for a higher education system to succeed, it must “first: diversify [its] sources of income” and “second: let a thousand academic flowers bloom. Universities… should have to compete for customers.”

Unfortunately, we are heading in the opposite direction. Think No Child Left Behind for the Ivy League. “Many people don't realize that federal dollars… make up about one-third of our nation's total annual investment in higher education,” Secretary Spellings declared as she announced the formation of her commission. “By comparison, the federal government's investment in K-12 education represents less than 10 percent of total spending. But unlike K-12 education, we don't really ask many questions about what we're getting for our investment in higher education.”

If the commission is going to be anything other than an exercise in public choice, it behooves interested parties to suggest courses of action and point out omissions.

The academy is broken, and the commission ought to understand why.

The commission ought to know, for example, about universities diversifying their sources of income by rescheduling football games to suit the broadcasters at ESPN and competing for customers with climbing walls, coreless curricula, and nonexistent admission standards. A post at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni lays down a marker.
As part of her ongoing investigation into American higher education, Margaret Spellings ought to consider the incuriousness of contemporary college students alongside the decline of liberal education and the spiralling costs of a bachelor's degree. It's a difficult, perhaps impossible, thing to quantify, but it is nonetheless a phenomenon that is every bit as current as the declining quality of higher education, and every bit as troubling. If we are to reform American higher education in a meaningful way, it will not be enough simply to reshape curriculum and costs along idealized lines. It will be necessary to envision this reshaping in the context of the modern undergraduate's intellectual sensibility. It cannot be taken for granted that this sensibility is inherently curious, inherently interested in learning, or inherently responsive either to the spirit of inquiry or to the more mundane spirit of intellectual respectability. Liberal education, in its tradition conception, is predicated on the idea that those engaged in it care deeply about questions, about exploring ideas, about discovery; it also presumes that those engaged in it want very much to acquire a breadth and depth of general knowledge that will save them from personal and professional embarrassment later on; it also assumes implicitly that a desire to avoid shame animates on some level students' quest for cultural literacy. Students must bring a certain type of determination, as well as a certain horror of ignorance, to their studies if liberal education is to be successful. In the absence of that determination, it's a real question whether liberal education may properly be said to exist.
The commission ought to know that a conclusion satisfactory to everybody may not be possible. There are two posts at SCSU Scholars that bear on workforce preparation and the future of higher education. One focuses on the continuing difficulties businesses face in finding skilled workers.
Firms are spending more in making investments in their own workforce. This demand for skilled labor will quite possibly also lead to increased demand for older workers, which would soften the blow raising retirement ages or the age at which one qualifies fully for Social Security. Indeed, what sense does it make to give skilled labor an incentive to not work?
What does that say about the academy's efforts at workforce development, all those business majors notwithstanding?

Another post links to a temporarily free Chronicle of Higher Education article on the battle between the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin Legislature.
Along with paying a price for some political and management decisions that its own administrators concede were ill advised, the Wisconsin system appears to be feeling a backlash from broader higher-education trends. Those include rising tuition and admissions requirements, which have left many Wisconsinites feeling shut out of the system; tight state budgets and escalating costs, which have brought its expenditures under intense scrutiny; and a growing divide between the culture of colleges and the way the rest of society thinks and operates.
You think?

Much of the article touches on Culture Wars topics where the university appears to have made whatever effort it took to be as transgressive as possible. But focus on this:
The system's enrollments from working-class and poor families have dropped substantially, and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers say taxpayers complain that many campuses have shut out their children by raising their tuition and admissions standards too high.
Herein lies a conflict the commission ought to be aware of. To the extent that university degrees augment human capital, those degrees are private benefits, and it makes economic sense for the beneficiary to bear the burden. To the extent that more rigorous curricula augment human capital, it makes economic sense for the university to avoid enrolling "clients" whose primary interest is getting wasted. And perhaps the local common schools have failed at their job of preparing Wisconsin's children for college.

Finally, the commission ought to know that the academy's common practice of admitting the unprepared and calling it "access" is sapping the morale of the faculty. Although each of the following sites is anonymous, allowing the poster to get away with characterizations of students that I consider impolitic, the frustration, irritation, and attempts at grim humor brought about by the antics of the unprepared, who nonetheless consider themselves entitled, are clear enough.
IT PAYS TO UNDERSTAND ECONOMICS. In August, Hawaii's Public Utilities Commission issued wholesale price caps for gasoline, a development that led Coyote Blog to deem Hawaii a "peoples' republic." In the comments to that post, I noted,
The state's behavior makes misguided use of a basic principle of competitive supply, namely cheaper inputs translate into cheaper final product. But the way this regulation works, with the retail price of gasoline not capped and the wholesale supply limited to that which can be profitably sold at the controlled price, there will be no gas lines as a somewhat higher retail price will clear the retail market. I use a variant of this in price theory courses (at all levels) all the time.
Later that day, the Coyote updated his post with a link to Jane at Asymmetrical Information, who made a similar observation.

Monday morning, the wake-up-radio-news included the latest retail gasoline price survey from Lundberg. Money observation.
Mainland prices are falling faster than Hawaii prices.
As Gomer Pyle would put it, Supraahz, supraahz, supraahz.
REFLECTIONS ON THE RAILROAD LIBRARY. I took a mental health afternoon, otherwise known as visiting a few local hobby shops. I made some additions to my library, including a used copy of Some Classic Trains. But this isn't any used copy. It has a bookplate showing the Canadian National Railways Library as former owner, and it is autographed by author Arthur D. Dubin to Donald Gordon, who headed the Canadian National Railways, who as "CN" today own the Wisconsin Central and the Main Line of Mid-America.

Something to reflect on, though ... making arrangements to someday sell off the library.
LOCAL EQUILIBRIUM. Chris at Signifying Nothing receives a tenure-track offer.

21.11.05

MISPLACED PRIORITIES. The editorial board at the Northern Star, whose writings of late have been too silly to comment on, take a position on Wednesday afternoon football.

For one, the game will be broadcast across the nation on ESPN2, meaning tens of millions of people will have a chance to see Huskie Stadium and the NIU campus on live TV. People need to see a jam-packed stadium filled with loud, passionate fans.

What potential recruit would want to come to NIU if he turns on Wednesday’s game and sees people sitting on their hands in a half-filled stadium? Good recruits usually mean good football teams, and good football teams mean more exposure and more money for NIU. This in turn means a better school for you to attend.

There is so much to fisk here, especially that concluding sentence. But it is not to their silliness I wish to speak. Rather, it is to the silliness of the adults who supposedly run the place.

In an attempt to put more fans in the seats, [director of athletics Jim] Phillips and the athletics department sent an e-mail out to NIU faculty and staff November 4, offering two free tickets to every staff member at NIU. Those tickets are for seats in the student section on the east side of the stadium.

"It was our gesture of good will toward the staff as well as trying to get more people in the stands," said Eric Schultz, director of the ticket office in the Convocation Center. "If they’re staying on campus to work, we’re asking them if they would take a half-day off and come support the team."

A second e-mail went around this morning, repeating the invitation.To repeat:
Under some circumstances I might be willing to take the good director up on his offer, but that Wednesday has been committed for some off-campus research. If he wanted to comp me for a proper 1.30 pm Saturday game my attitude would be different.
And we are supposed to be grateful the scheduling isn't worse.

Before ESPN2 decided to broadcast NIU’s game, the two teams were scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.

Schultz said that NIU is in a better position than Akron and Kent State, who will play at 10:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving on ESPN2.

But those reschedulings have nothing, nothing at all, to do with money. Amateur sport and all that.
IT'S CRUNCH TIME. A story makes the academic rounds about the professor who began a class, "Have any of you ever had a professor who you really thought was mean ... asked too much work ... graded too hard?" Heads begin nodding in agreement. The professor continues, "It has occurred to you that there are some of you we can't stand either?"

Something similar is playing out in print at St. Cloud State. A student, overwhelmed with deadlines, offers the school paper an op-ed.
College is extremely stressful and many drop out. It's difficult to balance a social life with the immense amount of work professors pile onto students.
It gets better.

King at SCSU Scholars fires back.
You later write "Many of those who teach at the college level should not be in a classroom." You know, of course, we say the same thing -- "many of those who attend college should not be in a classroom." And, mirabile dictu, most of you aren't ... until after Thanksgiving.
There's more.

20.11.05

RECEIVING VOTES IN THE COACHES' POLL. Truth Laid Bear's Sunday "Top Posts" includes a link to my free-association about the exit strategy in Iraq and the American Civil War. (Gulp. I do all sorts of serious stuff and then get recognized for straying from my area of expertise. Reminds me of the day I was entrusted with organizing morning clean-up of the cabin at summer camp, didn't take the task too seriously, and the cabin won the cleanliness prize for the day. Maybe there is something to lightening up.) Thanks for the recommendation. That post may have been a bit flip about Blogs for Industry's victory condition; he elaborates here. That's about as unambiguous as the mission statement at No End but Victory.

All the same, the war-related discussion in the saner parts of the blogosphere leaves open the possibility of a resolution satisfactory to the saner elements of the peace faction and the victory faction. For my part, it doesn't matter who claims credit afterward. Continuing the Civil War analogy, some rump of the Ba'ath party or the Iraqi al-Qaeda is likely to hang on much like bits of the secesh army and the Klan did, for a long time after. That's something we've had some practice with taming. The part of the discussion that I prefer to focus on involves establishing sufficient police, Iraqi military, and legitimate government agencies in place to deal with such things that the U.S. no longer has to garrison the place. That's a theme I've heard out of the Bush administration and the opposition alike. That simply says you meet a set of objectives prior to withdrawal, rather than a timeline. Blogs for Industry sees a problem there.
The Senators are asking for a plan with a level of detail that is not useful...except to Senators looking for a way to claim credit for success and blame others for failure if details are not met.
Or perhaps for a way to fulfill a campaign promise? Perhaps "stand up an Iraqi government" might be an ill-posed criterion for performance.
SWITCHING OUT THE GLOUCESTER BRANCH. It's been a while since I've posted any model pictures. Here's an operating session. The layout dead-ends in a corner. In this case, that's exactly what happens at Rockport, Massachusetts, with the Atlantic Ocean rather than the basement walls constraining further extension.


You are looking at a four-track passenger station, a freight house, and a few industry tracks. Behind the camera is the balloon track for Rockport. Yes, a prototype railroad really used a John Armstrongesque reverted loop to turn commuter trains. There is an escape track in the passenger station long enough for one locomotive, and a runaround track that will handle seven cars. I dragged ten cars and a buggy out of Rockport.

Here, the train has finished its work at Gloucester and Everett and is about to go into the lower staging loop.


The power is a Locomotive Workshop Britannia metal cast body on a stretched Atlas F unit chassis. I paid $25 for it at a swap meet and beefed up the transmission a bit. It's a good runner. I do have the detail parts and decals to make this into a believable representation of a Bangor and Aroostook engine.


Ten cars later comes the buggy. The tracks in the foreground go to what I call the Harbor Branch. It's not quite accurate for the Eastern Route of the Boston and Maine, but it adds play value in a smallish basement.

19.11.05

THE NEED FOR SPEED. DoDo's Monday Train Blogging for November 15 highlights the fastest passenger trains, including a note that the German ICE-3 sets, which offer first-class passengers the second best railfan seat in railroading, are authorized 330 km/h (a bit over 200 mph) when recovering time. Some of the discussion there focuses on the opportunity costs of the high-speed service. Apparently the freight service and the branch passenger trains get short shrift. On the other hand, the recently-arrived Great Western issue of Railway showed a Class 66 being tested in France. Condensed SD70s on the Western Front, Dash-8s in Estonia, bring on the Armour yellow.

I mentioned the railfan seat. The best one looks like this. (The Germans are probably relieved that there are no level crossings of the high-speed lines.) And, continuing an earlier conversation, look what I found in La Locomotive a Vapeur, which is a useful technical reference for the erecting shop downstairs.


This is a speed tape M. Chapelon obtained after a cab ride on the northbound Hiawatha on November 8, 1938. The consist is the Four-Spot with nine on. That's a heavier train, which will affect its braking and acceleration. The A class were optimized for a seven-car train. It's a routine run all the same, with the train reaching cruising speed north of Morton Grove, checking to 90 or so for the diamonds at Rondout, checking again for the State Line curve at Russell. (One of these days I must research the history of the survey of the Northwest Territories. None of the north-south section roads line up across 42o 30' N. There is also a jog in I-94 at Russell Road.) Then a sustained acceleration of a heavy train with a few miles run at 100-plus north of A-68 and the hard checking downhill from Lake into the curves and drawbridges leading into Milwaukee.
THINKING ABOUT EXIT STRATEGIES. Blogs for Industry appears to endorse the idea of declaring victory in Iraq and going home once there is a victory. Fruits and Votes offers a somewhat different victory condition. Both posts bring to mind memories of the American Civil War. Fruits and Votes sees this source of tribal antagonisms.
The elected majority leadership has little incentive to restrain its majoritarianism and its corresponding marginalization of the Sunnis as long as it has what looks like an open-ended commitment from the US.
Radical Republicans during the early stages of Reconstruction, anyone? On the other hand, is it too much of a stretch to draw parallels between Sunnis reclaiming some political power and the long, simmering insurgency that mutated into Jim Crow? (That insurgency, incidentally, despite the surrender terms agreed to by Lee and by Johnston, both of whom dreaded the idea of taking to the hills and resisiting.)

The analogy is not perfect. Emperor Maximilian, even with French help, along the southern border of the old Confederacy is not the same sort of challenge Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey bordering Iraq, each with a different interest in the resolution of the tribal antagonisms, pose to an over-the-horizon force maintained by the U.S.
THIS APPEARS TO BE A LINE RELOCATION. Midwest Conservative Journal now appears to be here. The previous site is still current.
WHAT'S COOKING, DOC? Tonight it's homegrown salsa. Here's the first jar decanted. My tip for quickly peeling tomatoes: put them in the freezer for half an hour, then drop them in boiling water. The skins rupture.

You are looking at the results of three hours of simmering. The salsa is in the rear pot. The front pot has boiling water for sterilizing the jars.


Here's the finished product. Two large jars, four small jars, and a little bit left over for a treat once the dishes are put away.


I really must invest in a better digital camera. The inspection sample is in a genuine Tony Packo's chili bowl, and the picture doesn't do the logo justice.

18.11.05

THAT FAVORITE NUMBER IS 4800 OR 6100.




You're the Pennsylvania Railroad!


Old and established, you have incredible skills of self-advancement which you have put to great use. While many admire the ends that you've achieved, there are those who know your means have been dubious. But in the glory you've created, you believe quite strongly that the ends justify the means. Secretly, you've always wanted to have a mohawk.


Take the Trains and Railroads Quiz
at RMI Miniature Railroads.


Heck, if these guys have already taken it, I'd best.

RUNNING EXTRA. The bill of lading is in error. As a commenter notes, the site text for The Pennsylvania Railroad reads,
Considered to be standard in all ways, you try to set the tone for those around you. Aspiring to push the limits of what others think you can accomplish, you would be a good candidate to aim for the Guinness Book of World Records. With a long history of success and prosperity, you will have a full life. If you were a stone in a building, it would be the keystone. Your favorite number is 65000.
I think the Interstate Commerce Commission ought to look into this.
THE ECONOMICS OF PROFESSING ECONOMICS. I'm not sure what the economics departments are doing differently from other disciplines, such that their Ph.D.s face better odds in the job market and in the face of state-mandated retrenchments, administrators must devote some of the resources they'd rather apply to expense-preference behavior to keeping economists from leaving.

Professor DeLong notes,

Economics Departments appear to have made a conscious collective decision (I still can't figure out how) to downsize their graduate programs in the 1970s--to accept smaller numbers of teaching assistants and larger class sizes in order not to be churning out Ph.D.s for which academic jobs would be absent. Then the explosion of business schools created a large additional demand for economists. Then the expansion of world finance created a host of other jobs--in the Federal Reserve, at the IMF, in private-sector banks--that economists could fill.
That last sentence confirms what the anonymous community college dean suspected about private employment opportunities for Ph.D. economists. The "conscious collective decision" might be no more than an upward-sloping supply curve at work. I started graduate school in the mid-1970s (applied to four programs you'd recognize, got into three, had offers of aid from two.) All I can tell you is what went down at Wisconsin, where the admissions and aid committee made fewer offers of aid as the soft money dwindled (reduced spending on poverty research, fewer grants funded by National Science Foundation.) To some extent that committee may have attempted to extrapolate likely demand for courses requiring teaching assistants over the four years entering students might expect aid. Other departments might have made similar calculations, but that's a purely neoclassical response to changing incentives. No cartel is necessary.

Focus, now, on this statement from Dean Dad.

The big state universities couldn’t survive if they paid full-time salaries to everybody who teaches freshman comp.
Phrase it slightly differently.

The big state universities would be hard-pressed to offer the same in-state tuition discounts if they offered 40 person sections of their core courses taught by regular faculty with research opportunities.
That includes introductory economics. Economics is rarely a major of first choice for people. Sure, there are the Alan Greenspan wannabes and there's nothing like an energy crisis to get people listening, but the reality for economics faculty at any institution with an undergraduate business program is the provision of lots of spaces for pre-business students to complete their economics prerequisites. The term of art the college uses is "service" courses, which those of us with some knowledge of animal husbandry find slightly amusing.(*) The situation is not much different at institutions with no undergraduate business program. Students have a greater propensity to do an economics major because they perceive it as somehow cognate to business (it isn't). Getting the more careerist of those majors excited about the finer points of game theory or the Welfare Economics Paradigm is a struggle. Where the undergraduate business program has admission standards, the economics program serves that cognate purpose, with a somewhat different set of motivational challenges. As business enrollments grow, more students take the service courses. As business admission standards tighten, more students pursue the cognate major.

So how, then, to cheaply offer lots of slots for those principles students? On one hand, the department could hire lots of tenure-trackers whose primary task is to offer two to five sections of introductory economics a semester, and charge a high tariff, or, if a state university, hit the legislature up for a bigger subsidy. On another, the department could hire fewer tenure-trackers, rotate the responsibility to staff the service courses, find large rooms to offer them, hire apprentices to handle most of the routine questions and the grading, and use the proceeds to subsidize opportunities for those tenure-trackers to occasionally conduct an advanced class with somewhat more connections to the cutting edge of economics research, where there is no dearth of interesting, incompletely answered questions. (I think we have to appeal to one of those Japanese demons with more than two hands here, as there are other models available.)

The second approach is one more likely to appeal to aspiring faculty members. The service courses become a necessary evil one can be induced to do with the promise of additional merit money for larger enrollments (our approach) or overload adjustments (the large course counts as two or more courses taught.) Either method of compensation satisfies overseers whose metric is enrollments or student-credit-hours-per-faculty-member. (If your metric is classroom hours per faculty member, we have ways of adapting to that as well.) The overseers get their productivity, the pre-business students get serviced, and the faculty members get to teach in their areas of expertise. (There are derivative consequences of this outcome, involving a general disinterest among economics faculty in improving the content of introductory economics courses, but that's tangential.)

It's not too much of a stretch to then set up a graduate program in any university with an undergraduate enrollment of over 10,000, using the service courses to simultaneously subsidize the graduate program and lower instruction costs. In economics, there appears to be a rough balance between Ph.D. production and hiring. The forty departments claiming to be among the top 25 turn out tenured faculty for each other, for the other Ph.D. programs, and for the more famous private colleges. The remaining Ph.D. granting departments will turn out the occasional tenure tracker for each other, for the Upwardly Mobile departments not yet ready to commit to a Ph.D., and to less-famous private colleges that sometimes have long-term working relationships with such departments. (Believe me, if you're running a department in a solid if not well-known small college, you do NOT want Harvard's or MIT's tail-end Charlie on your tenure track. There are other pitfalls, but that would be digressing.)

I'm not persuaded, however, that the existence of government and private-sector opportunities for economists suffices to explain the near-continuous market clearing of the job market for economists, and the lack of clearing elsewhere. The opportunities to offer service courses to subsidize doctoral programs appear to be better in two of the disciplines with the tightest job markets. Introductory economics is a required course for business, engineering, and a few other majors, and relatively few of those students will take additional economics. Freshman composition is for everybody, and history of some kind or other frequently turns up in the general education requirements. College enrollments have been rising. Until employers rebel against paying a premium for unproductive credentials, the incentive for people to give college a shot will be present.

Furthermore, the upper division courses in other fields offer more play value for curious students than upper division economics, where there are lots of calculus story problems with the calculus hidden.

Conclusion: why other disciplines have not balanced new production with new hires as effectively as economics mystifies me.

(*)The college is thinking of definition (4) or (5), we prefer (12).
WHAT, NO DENUNCIATIONS OF CLASSISM? Joanne Jacobs finds local coverage of the Great Divide between Cheeseheads and Coasties at Wisconsin.

Of the 28,217 undergraduates at UW-Madison, 58% are from Wisconsin and 11% are from Minnesota.

Most of the other 31% come from Illinois, New York, California and New Jersey. These students form a distinct demographic, and are often clumped under the all-purpose category: Coasties.

Their tuition - $20,280 a year - is substantially higher than what students from Wisconsin and Minnesota pay, $6,280 and $7,802. That makes them more likely to come from wealthier families.

(Note the rationality at work. Although that $20,280 is notionally full fare, using arbitrary accounting allocations of unallocable joint costs, it's still cheaper, even with room and board, than four years at one of the Ivies, and with better football -- and hockey -- teams, and a larger pool of hook-up buddies. Since money is fungible, Wisconsin taxpayers are subsidizing well-to-do parents from other states, as well as the intellectual development of their own best and brightest, many of whom, like me, will draw paychecks in Greater Chicago.)

The Coasties apparently are a recognizable sub-species, worthy of satire at Hallowe'en.

The stereotypes go something like this:

Coasties are snobs who self-segregate in private dorms and the Greek system.

Wisconsin students are provincial and unwilling to accept outsiders.

Students say the rivalry is lighthearted and that friendships form across the divide.

"We just like to make fun of each other," Bach said.

The Diversity Weenies are aware of the situation.
Even so, the divisions are now addressed at freshman orientation, and some students say they feel as if they are attending separate universities.
But not quite ready to add new re-education sessions.

Lori Berquam, dean of students, described the cultural conflict on campus as "good-natured," and a lot of students agree.

But Wren Singer, director of orientation and new student programs, takes it seriously. At freshman orientation, students are prodded into discussions of "stereotypes of coastal culture vs. Midwest culture," Singer said.

"Most people think about ethnic diversity, people from different races," she said. "But I think it's much more likely that a freshman would make a derogatory comment about someone from the East Coast than someone of color."

To some extent, there's nothing new about this. My mom is among the six percent from the poorest quartile to finish college -- this during and immediately after World War II -- and to this day she'll gripe about Coasties who would flag down a taxi to go to class on a cold morning.
OCCUPATIONAL BIRTH CONTROL? Welcome, Suburban Dad readers. In addition to my post on the consequences of mistreating economists, this post on economics course content and this on the misplaced priorities of university administrations might be of interest. The Semi-Daily Journal offers some thoughts on the economics department cartel.
[D]eans appeal to all kinds of social-solidarity and other motives to discourage professors in other disciplines from bargaining hard for higher salaries and fishing for outside offers. In Economics, by contrast, responsiveness to market forces is a moral imperative.
Ayup.

I do intend to offer a longer response to Dean Dad's queries, but first, some dossiers to look through (we're hiring!) and a teaching committee meeting (the "why am I here?" committee) to attend. Back this evening, before after the concerts. (Lots of good music around here, and the only opportunity cost is the grading or perhaps the shuffling of freight cars that gets left undone.) I do want to say a few words about "service" courses and the Faustian bargain they present for economics departments, from the perspective of a not-quite-successful-enough-for the bigs researcher with some occasional good things to say about life in the mid-majors.
NORTHERN WISCONSIN OCCUPIED BY 200,000 HEAVILY ARMED MEN. Don't panic, it's deer season. There was a skim of ice on the duck pond and the decorative drainage ditches this morning. Next week, I shall give thanks for a bit of down-time.

17.11.05

I STILL HATE WEDNESDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL. It's a bad concept. But if the kids have to play the games, let's enjoy what we can, such as Northern Illinois 35, Toledo 17, ending a losing streak that goes back to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
THE GALES OF NOVEMBER. Winter makes for interesting radio listening. My usual Milwaukee station cuts power at sunset, but distant legacy clear-channel broadcasting stations often come in five-by-five. Tonight, it's WWL out of New Orleans, reporting on continued troubles recovering from the storms. Tonight's weather forecast has a dew point of 22 (F) with an overnight low of 39 and strong northeast winds, not the best conditions for roughing it in a tent or a partially-rebuilt house.
FINDING THOSE MISSING SCHOLARS. University Diaries discovers the relatively light teaching schedules of the economics faculty at the University of Virginia.

Let us deconstruct this very postmodern phenomenon.

You’re proud of attending U Va because it has a world-class, famous economics department.

But almost all of its economists of stature are absent.

Hence you may boast that X and Y teach at your school. You just can't learn anything from them.

I paid the site a visit and offered a comment.
The departments that would like some research visibility have to make it worthwhile for their faculty to do research. Economics is one field that does not suffer from the overproduction of Ph.D.s, and doing good work is not as easy as it looks. The department that wants greater visibility has to pay for it. Deans don't like it, but when they don't pony up, the ambitious people leave.
This comment appears to square with a report in the Cavalier Daily, unless the first word of the paper's name is an adjective, not a noun.
"Top-ranked universities are hiring very aggressively," [economics chairman David] Mills said. "Duke, Columbia and NYU are taking people that we would like to hire."
The deans have a history of not ponying up.
The problem at the University was exacerbated by a University-wide hiring freeze put into place in 2001 that did not end until recently. During the hiring freeze, the economics department had a net loss of about two faculty members a year.
You would think that people who talk the talk about supply curves sloping upward would walk the walk. The employer has to respond with better pay or better working conditions.

To lure and retain economics faculty members, the University has begun to offer additional benefits not available to the faculty at large, [associate dean Karen] Ryan said. One such change includes cutting the teaching load from four courses a year to three because professors are attracted to the opportunity to do more research.

Cutting teacher course loads creates an additional strain on the number of students who are able to take economics classes.

In order to make up for fewer classes taught by full-time faculty, the University has adapted by bringing in adjunct professors, Ryan said.

Whether that last sentence heralds the camel's nose inside the tent, with future deans compelling the tenure trackers in economics to teach more or authorizing adjunct, teaching-only lines in lieu of tenure trackers remains to be seen. But that will bring tradeoffs of its own.

My comment prompted two thoughtful responses. The proprietor of University Diaries noted,
But if UVa's administration wants to hand out high salaries - courtesy, to some degree, of the state's taxpayers - to faculty, some of whom, by my reckoning at least, undercompensate students and thus the state in terms of teaching (and undercompensate the whole institution in terms of all sorts of other goods that aren't there when the faculty isn't there with any reliability), that's something else again.
On the other hand, legislative cost-cutting has the potential to turn Mr Jefferson's university into someplace where the harried teachers of additional, larger classes might at best be reading somebody else's interpretation of Mr Jefferson's thinking, rather than expanding on it themselves. Here's an abridged list of publications from Virginia's economics department. You think anybody has the final say on unilateral divorce or teen pregnancy or predatory pricing?

Professor Soltan also suggested, citing a Business Week editorial, that a research-intensive, partially (or fully?) -privatized, former public university undoes "the purpose of public higher education." Business Week puts it,
At the same time, creeping privatization accelerates a broader movement by the top 100 or so flagships to hike their tuitions at a double-digit rate. The result is that a public good designed to give all Americans access to higher ed is turning into something more like a private one, open primarily to those whose families can afford it.
There's nothing new about that. Burton Weisbrod and W. Lee Hansen identified the state university system of California as a large regressive transfer (subsidized higher education for the children of the rich, as well as subsidized human capital investment for future rich) over thirty years ago. (Springer will sell you a copy of a comment on the original article, which may be out there somewhere.) Current research (.pdf) suggests the subsidy is still present.
Over three decades ago Hansen and Weisbrod (1969) published a pioneering study of questions similar to these for the state of California. A key finding of their study was that “Public subsidies for higher education in California tend to go disproportionately to students from relatively high income families and are received in quite different amounts by people even within given income classes” (p. 84). Much has changed in California over the ensuring period; the population has grown more racially diverse, the public system has continued to grow in size and stature, and the economy of the state has changed. Yet postsecondary enrollments in the state are still distributed disproportionately in the three sectors.
Although Business Week suggests higher education has public good properties, that proposition is by no means incontrovertible. Perhaps all the spillover benefits of education can be credited to kindergarten, meaning the benefit to a degree holder is a purely private benefit. (The fact that the most popular major these days is business strongly reinforces that claim.) In such a case, there is no reason for the taxpayers to provide subsidies to raise the salaries of those who finish. Where did I see that news article about rich parents sending their kids to Flagship State rather than one of the expensive U.S. News-ranked privates? The same elusive research faculty, better football teams, and a larger pool of hook-up buddies to boot! (I know, cost-benefit is so dispassionate. It might also be the only way to have done with watered down curricula to keep legacy alumni happy and donating money, but I digress.)

But that still leaves unresolved what the universities ought do about those missing professors. Clearly, Virginia's attempt to drive down the wages of its research stars persuaded many to polish up their latest manuscripts and their curriculum vitae and shop the latter to institutions happy to claim affiliation in print on the former. (Mid-majors like that, too. I know.) On the other hand, to leave the required class scutwork to temporaries or to cancel classes is not right. Timothy Burke made that observation.
You say to undergraduates, "Come for the world-class departments!" but the world-class portion of the department is essentially invisible and inaccessible to the undergraduates. So why are the undergraduates there? So that they can get a degree with a major from an institution known to have a world-class department in their area of study--but it's the credential they're buying, then, not anything like actual teaching.
Charlie Sykes made that point in ProfScam long ago. The way in which Flagship State makes the hotshots available to the frosh, if they make such an effort at all, is to count an 800 person lecture as four courses. Then a lot of people can download the hotshot's Power Points (worst case scenario) or perhaps get a few minutes of face time during office hours. It's a good point, but as Professor Burke noted on his own site (with respect to a different problem),
Let’s suppose, however, that there is a tipping point out there somewhere, that higher education is moving towards a collective calamity in its pricing. What would it take for colleges and universities to start reducing their costs and lowering the price? For one, many institutions would have to do it at the same time. That’s because lowering the price is going to involve shucking off at least some of the product being made available. Doing that unilaterally is likely to be suicidal, especially among the top-end institutions. How to coordinate that movement without running afoul of antitrust collusion is a big issue in its own right.
The Virginia legislature is learning that lesson, as are several other state legislatures. The terms the legislature would like to offer, which Mr Sykes endorses (ProfScam, p. 258) imply a wage cut and a shift to a less preferable workload for the best (or best-situated?) researchers. (Professor Burke is contemplating the possibility of tuition-payers rebelling against tuition increases. I envision the real customers, namely the employers, rebelling against unprepared graduates first. Either of those developments would render moot much of the positional competition for researchers.) Impounding the demand for college degrees in ceteris paribus, the problem is one of achieving some sort of cost savings without antagonizing the most mobile faculty. I'm going to have to look at the consequences of those two-tier wage schedules at the legacy airlines from 20 years ago...

But there is another downside to keeping the most famous faculty out of the classroom. Martin Anderson's Impostors in the Temple refers to the use in their place of the young to teach the young as "venal." It is. Professor Burke is correct to refer to the promotion of world-class departments as bait-and-switch. It is furthermore a delegation of the most important teaching responsibilities ... introducing new students to the complexities of a new field ... to the least experienced practitioners, or to individuals not given the respect and compensation of a long-term position. (Imagine flight school taught by somebody who finished ground school three months ago, and cringe.) The best-intentioned of beginners are going to have troubles distinguishing a profound but ill-posed question from a clueless one, and tactfully dealing with both. The best-intentioned freeway flyers may be too stressed. Granted, a student who gets by the first two years of cattle-call classes is likely to have much more access to the famous experienced professor in a junior or senior level class. But what do we know about the sources of attrition in the first two years?

And thus, the problem. Experienced scholars are valuable. Valuable people are valuable because they have opportunities to be valuable to others. That gives them leverage to negotiate pay and working conditions more to their liking. To criticize them for doing so, and to propose that they be forced to accept lower pay and worsened working conditions, might assuage an editorial writer's sense of outrage, but it will not lower the student's tuition bill or speed up his or her graduation date. But to pretend that the experienced scholars are doing something they are not is also a scam.
SIGNS OF A SICK INDUSTRY? More straight talk from the dean at Anonymous Community.

I’d strongly advise against targeting a career as a college history professor. That’s not to say that adjuncting would be out of the question – those opportunities look to be plentiful for the foreseeable future – but I wouldn’t give up the day job.

The reasons have nothing to do with your ability, about which I know nothing. They have to do with the job market in the field, the length of training involved, and the opportunity costs.

The job market for history professors is dreadful, and has been for a generation. In fact, you can strike the word ‘history’ from that sentence and replace it with any liberal-arts discipline without invalidating the meaning. It’s absurdly difficult to find full-time work on which you could make an adult wage. I consider that unlikely to change, since the combination of increased vocationalism among students (the single largest undergraduate major in the US is business), cost pressures on colleges, and the repeal of mandatory retirement for tenured faculty means the only way for colleges to cut substantial costs is through hiring freezes.

All too true. (And those business degrees are in many cases noisy signals of true ability.) The Phantom Professor notes sickness in the working conditions as well, in a setting far removed from community college.

A new workout facility recently opened on the campus where I taught. It’s a marvel, complete with skylights, indoor climbing wall, indoor lap pool, water wall, state-of-the-art weight machines. You name it, they have the dernier cri of health club paraphernalia. To pay for this thing, the school raised tuition 6 percent over the past two years.

Elsewhere on campus, in many of the classrooms, students still sit on cracked plastic half-desks purchased in the 1960s. Ceiling tiles are missing in every building except the very newest. Water fountains don’t work. The main library is beset with mold and mildew. Air-conditioning and heat sputter under the cutting edge technology of the Reagan era.

But those things sit low on the list of repairs when surveys of prospective students reveal that a slick health club-like facility for doing squats, lunges and sit-ups a few times a week is a high priority when the country club kids are deciding which school to attend.

The unanswered question is whether the show rather than the substance is evolutionarily stable. (We have some of the same problems here. The space the deans grabbed for their unfinished showplace for legislators and corporate donors has doors with brass handles for future Monarchs of the Sea to polish up and other upscale trappings. The rest of the building, including the elevator lobby, still has the patched institutional ceramic tile walls and some recently broken ceiling tiles, casualties of the attempt to put 10 foot particle board desk tops onto an 8 foot tall elevator.)

Phantom also has a rather jaded view of enrollment management.

Early in the fall semester, departments throw tailgate parties and homecoming brunches to attract more students as majors. These are fun things to do and being a “fun major” is emphasized above all else.

Too much course work isn’t fun. Assignments and exams too numerous? Get rid of finals. Eliminate Friday classes. Dumb it all down and they will come. It will be more fun. Go drinking with your classes. Order in pizzas. Give more “group project” assignments that will let the strong lead the weak to higher grades. That's fun.

Want fries with that? There are market tests. Perhaps the Afghan unhappy with his experience at Yale was looking out the window the day the Principle of Derived Demand went up. Combine that with "economies of scale," an idea that ought to precede the von Neumann-Morgenstern utility function in the curriculum, and Yale's preparation of economics majors for the Wall Street banking houses, whether there's an element of fun, or not, makes a bit more sense. The student is not the consumer, the banking house, or the Fed's Board of Governors, or (for the adventurous) the economics faculty is.