30.11.09

OBSERVATION OF THE DAY. King Banaian follows up on Recant, or Be Excommunicated with an alert to observers of higher education.
If what Climategate teaches is the inherent flaws of the peer-review process, that would be worth as much as sticking another fork in the hockey stick. It relies on people motivated by professional ethics, people who choose to be academics for a variety of reasons that would make you skeptical of trusting them with your car, let alone with the search for truth.
Too true.
A CATECHISM FOR THE HOLY INQUISITION. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has challenged the University of Minnesota for treating race-class-gender-culture models of social structure as the received theory for schoolteacher preparation.

The college intends to mandate particular beliefs and values "dispositions and commitments"-for future teachers. These are not just things like the disposition to deal with classroom discipline, but demands that future teachers demonstrate "cultural competence" as defined by the college's Race, Culture, Class, and Gender Task Group.

The college even intends to redesign its admissions process so that it screens out people with the "wrong" beliefs and values as well as those who either do not have sufficient "cultural competence" or who the college judges will not be able to be converted to the "correct" beliefs and values-even after remedial re-education.

That these models have yet to produce measurable improvements in the literacy, numeracy, or sociability of K-12 graduates has not yet come up for discussion.

University Diaries anticipates the self-selection that will ensue.

Applicants who don’t want their social views investigated and approved by admissions officers might save themselves money and anxiety as to the correctness of their views by not applying.

Applicants who read the criteria by which they will be considered culturally competent, and who alter themselves to conform to the school’s standards of cultural competence should feel encouraged to apply. This group should understand, however, that even if admissions officers find their degree of competence acceptable at this time, applicants will continue to be scrutinized closely on the matter throughout their years at the school.

Peregrinus expectavi, pedes meos in cymbalis. Presumably without the ritual immolation of infants. A spirited bull session ensues, during which a commenter gets to the heart of the matter.
Minnesota has one of the widest achievement gaps in the country, and this is the school responsible for educating a large portion of the state’s workforce. If we send out a bunch of educators who have no sense of the fact that their experiences are not global, but specific to a variety of aspects of their backgrounds, then we are failing those graduates and future generations of their students.
A fair point, but to allow untested theories of oppression to trump general models of achievement runs the risk of failing those graduates in another way.
Indeed, when Jump$start first began measuring financial literacy eleven years ago, the average financial literacy score for high school students was 57.3%. Since then, the numbers actually have declined falling to 51.9% and then rebounding to 52.4%, but the latest numbers reflect a new low. And this low comes even though, since the organization’s inception, hundreds of efforts and initiatives at the state and federal level have emerged aimed at promoting financial literacy. In some cases, these actions have proved beneficial. Interestingly, early surveys found that students from families in the top income range fared worse than students from lower income ranges. This result was attributed to the thought that "students from more affluent homes did not have to be as financially literate as their less affluent counterparts since they were almost universally college-bound and would probably be "cocooned" from most financial responsibilities for at least four more years." However, student scores from families in these higher income brackets have now improved. The survey hypothesizes that this improvement stems not only from the financial literacy movement, but also from the fact that such students are in environments most capable of offering them a solution. By stark contrast, students in other income brackets have not seen similar success. Instead, sometimes educational efforts appear to be having the opposite effect. Hence, the survey found that students who take high school courses in personal finance tend to fare no better than those who do not take such a course. The overall result is that student scores remain low and there is now an increasing divide between the financial literacy of students.
I highlighted two salient passages. Consider the first. Working hypotheses: students in affluent backgrounds receive reinforcement at home that offsets any deconstruction of American Dream ideas in the curriculum; alternatively, the curriculum skews upper-middle class in its presentation. Consider the second. Same two working hypotheses, but the deconstruction of the American Dream leaves the students from less affluent backgrounds with nothing to emulate; alternatively, the upper-middle class skew is offputting. (The few Jump$tart materials I have are at the office. Perhaps more during exam week.)
AN OPPORTUNITY TO DEFLATE THE BUBBLE? Notre Dame fires football coach Charlie Weis. The article details the team's continued underachievement, and a televised sports report noted previous coaches who did not live up to Knute Rockne standards. Accompanying articles suggest disinterest on the part of head coaches at other prominent football programs in the job.

Notre Dame has the opportunity to emulate the University of Chicago, and perhaps to induce California-Berkeley and UCLA to get out from some of the financial stresses their football programs are placing on the academic mission.

28.11.09

OUR THOUGHTS ARE WITH THE RUSSIANS. The Moscow to St. Petersburg Nevsky Express has been bombed, with serious loss of life.


Moscow Station in St. Petersburg.

The bombing occurred on a remote stretch of track, not easily reached by ambulances or med-evac helicopters, and a second bomb that exploded nearby later might have been timed to cause injury to rescuers.
TEACHING IS TOO IMPORTANT TO LEAVE TO NOVICES. The Wall Street Journal files a report on the finalists for Baylor University's Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching.

As much as [Williams mathematician Edward Burger] finds math fascinating, he realizes that most people will not use calculus after college. The utilitarian promise "is an empty one," he notes. "You don't need to know how to build a bridge to go over one." He says that the hardest thing professors can ask themselves is "the 10-year question." "What will my students retain from my class 10 years out?" And so his lecture is devoted to showing the audience how to "think mathematically."

Prof. Burger, who acknowledges being one of the tougher graders on campus—"I don't give grades; I just report the news"—says that he is only convinced a student understands a concept when he can "explain it to an 8-year-old." I wouldn't put it past him to bring a fourth-grader to class for that purpose, but he says he just forces students to explain concepts without using jargon.

The columnist notes that higher education loses something by leaving the introductory classes in the hands of relatively inexperienced people.
In an ideal world, senior professors, who have the most experience teaching, would be forced to teach freshman survey courses. Instead, professors at many universities are told by their mentors not to focus on teaching at all. And the joke on many campuses is that the winner of a school's teaching award is guaranteed to be denied tenure.
It takes a long time to develop the ability to distinguish a profound, but ill-formed question, from a clueless question, and to be able to answer both tactfully.

Go, read and understand all of it.
EARN YOUR PEACE PRIZE. The Friday night vigils continue, with participants taking the Obama administration to task for continuing the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. (The post title comes from one of the newer banners on display.)

27.11.09

THE DIAMOND JUBILEE.

The prototype 4-14-4 rolled out of Lugansk in December, 1934.


Moscow, January 1935.

The model might be in running condition by January.


Cold Spring Shops, November 2009.
THE DISCONTENT SPREADS. This Thanksgiving's political joke:

Have you heard about the Obama Bomb the taverns are serving?

Three parts Jägermeister, one part hope, get somebody else's change to pay for it.

25.11.09

MARKING OFF. Happy Thanksgiving. (If the Wall Street Journal runs the same piece the Wednesday in advance of each Thanksgiving, why not I?)

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.
RECANT, OR BE EXCOMMUNICATED. Angus at Kids Prefer Cheese explains the climate change consensus.

Thanks as always to Tyler for bringing this "scandal" to my attention. I am using quotes here because, in my opinion, this is just business as usual in academics. There may not be such a blatant electronic "paper trail" on display, but protecting turf, punishing heretics, and rewarding your friends is the coin of the realm.

Take macroeconomics for example. Who is the premier employer of monetary economists? Yes, it is the Federal Reserve System. Who as a class of researchers really deeply loves them some Fed? Yes, it is monetary economists. Fed independence is taken as a given an as a desideratum. Heretics (sour grapes warning: I am a Fed heretic) find it extremely difficult to publish dissenting views.

As a commenter to the post notes, confirmation bias.

Arnold Kling extends the argument.

The main reason I am a climate skeptic is (D2). My reasoning is very simple. Macroeconomists do not have enough data to verify hypotheses. (See my lost history paper.) Climate science has even less data. Therefore, climate science is even less reliable.

Before you protest that climate scientists have hundreds of years of data and many observation points, read the "lost history" paper. The point is that the information content of a seemingly large data set can in fact be quite low. Macroeconomists spent a good part of the late 1970's and the 1980's coming to terms with this (although some economists did not come to terms with it to the extent that I think is warranted). I think that climate scientists are unwilling to come to terms with it. That is why I am willing to challenge their expertise, even though I have only a superficial knowledge of the theories involved.

My sense is that another common feature of macroeconomics and climate science is that protagonists resort to bullying and ad hominem attacks relatively more often than in microeconomics or in other scientific fields.

In microeconomics, the bullying takes a more subtle form: one must be proficient in dressing up a straightforward idea in exotic clothing. For example, I suspect half the game theory articles that invoke Borel algebras and their attendant symbolic clutter could make precisely the same point without the apparatus.

The point of academic research, no matter how recondite, is to be a part, no matter how small, of that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the TRUTH can be found. To participate means to accept the possibility that subsequent researchers will find improvements to, or suggest errors in, your research. (I recently had the opportunity to review a paper extending a result I published 25 years ago. People are that hard-up for topics?) Here's Voluntary Xchange, suggesting some of the participants are not willing to grasp the full implications of continual and fearless.

Many are missing the point: it isn’t about a conspiracy or about nastiness.

It’s about having your positions tested.

Let me offer an analogy to help explain what the CRU hack has revealed about the A list of pro-AGW scientists.

They believe they’re writing great novels.

Their evidence is that they think their own novels are great.

To check that they swap their great novels with other people who believe they’ve also written great novels, and then they glad hand.

But their approach to the broad body of potential readers is defensive: they don’t want to actually show anyone their great novels because they might point out their flaws.

So they respond with elitism: they have patrons who can pull levers who do see value in their great novels. And only the patrons count.

And thus does sifting and winnowing degenerate into protection of received doctrine. That degeneration further weakens higher education's precarious position: the nonaggression pact between professors and students at the 100 or so claimants to the 20 best universities can not be rationalized as making possible Great Thoughts that will Improve The Human (pronounced Yuman) Condition. Stir in the watered-down course offerings ... Here's Ilya Somin.

Most of us, however, lack expertise on climate issues. And our knowledge of complex issues we don’t have personal expertise on is largely based on social validation. For example, I think that Einsteinian physics is generally more correct than Newtonian physics, even though I know very little about either. Why? Because that’s the overwhelming consensus of professional physicists, and I have no reason to believe that their conclusions should be discounted as biased or otherwise driven by considerations other than truth-seeking. My views of climate science were (and are) based on similar considerations. I thought that global warming was probably a genuine and serious problem because that is what the overwhelming majority of relevant scientists seem to believe, and I generally didn’t doubt their objectivity.

At the very least, the Climategate revelations should weaken our confidence in the above conclusion. At least some of the prominent scholars in the field seem driven at least in part by ideology, and willing to use intimidation to keep contrarian views from being published, even if the articles in question meet normal peer review standards. Absent such tactics, it’s possible that more contrarian research would be published in professional journals and the consensus in the field would be less firm. To be completely clear, I don’t think that either ideological motivation or even intimidation tactics prove that these scientists’ views are wrong. Their research should be assessed on its own merits, irrespective of their motivations for conducting it. However, these things should affect the degree to which we defer to their conclusions merely based on their authority as disinterested experts.

At the same time, it’s important not to overstate the case. I don’t think we have anywhere near enough evidence to show that the academic consensus on global warming is completely bogus, or even close to it. Nor has it been proven that all or most prominent scientific supporters of global warming theory are as unethical as those exposed in this scandal.

On balance, therefore, I still think that global warming exists and is a genuinely serious problem. But I am marginally less confident in holding that view than I was before. If we see more revelations of this kind, I will be less confident still.

There are multiple theses questioning the received consensus nailed to Newmark's Door. I liked this.
[Climate Audit's Steve] McIntyre has a section on his site, "Econometric References". It lists a dozen articles from the economics literature on how to do statistical analysis properly. The list doesn't make him right, but it does mean he's probably better read on a key issue than 99.9% of the journalists who write about global warming. (And probably more than a few of the scientists, too.)
Max Planck, call your office.

23.11.09

REMAINDERED GOODS ON A LARGE SCALE. Book Review No. 45 features Sam Walton: Made in America. In previous years, I've offered reviews of How Wal-Mart is Destroying America and Wal-Mart: The Face of Twenty-First-Century Capitalism, works that recite grievances about the corporation. Mr Walton, not surprisingly, offers a different perspective, offering inter alia the advice that a business that fails to treat its employees and customers well is unlikely to be a success story. In passing, he offers the real story of the famous greeter at the store door. There's a lot of standard success-in-retail stuff for the aspiring entrepreneur, and people whose comparative advantages lie in presenting goods in an inviting way can learn a lot to bring up at the Saturday morning meeting. What struck me, though, about the early days of the company, was that the business model was Railroad Salvage with better presentation of the merchandise and hence less of the reek of poverty in the store. Perhaps there's still some of that thinking at work. It's often wise for a Wal-Mart shopper to pick up that bargain item now, as it might not be available again.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
REGRESSIVE TRANSFERS. It's been a regular theme at Cold Spring Shops. The recession has induced some families to scale back their aspirations, with some of the upscale universities objecting to tax-subsidized competition. I've noted the trade-off inherent in tuition subsidies.

Perhaps the proper role of the government is to make possible the conditions under which people might prosper, though it might smell of picking winners and it does involve subsidies to the middle class and the well-to-do.

On one hand, I understand the regressive transfer argument. On the other hand, I benefitted by the help of taxpayers, back when one could earn enough money on a full-time summer job and a half-time commissary job during the school year to make tuition, books, and the dorm bill. Beyond that, perhaps the state subsidies induce some people to substitute away from those fifty claimants to the best 20.

I've been on that theme since before the various bubbles burst.

We welcome Econ Log to the fray.
The latest opposition by UC students to a 32% increase in tuition is a revolt of the "will-haves."
With copious documentation, including links to a useful essay by Armen Alchian.


A New York Times forum also notes the trade-off.
Student protesters said that the higher costs will make it even harder for middle class and poor students to go to college, and will widen the education gap between the haves and the have-nots. But the students at the 10-campus California system are, on average, from far wealthier backgrounds than the average household in the state. This gap is pronounced at other prominent public universities, like Michigan and Virginia.
(Via Phi Beta Cons.)

21.11.09

WHY I PERSEVERE. It's not a well-written column, but when a student posts a gripe about absentee professors, it bears circulation.

I paid my tuition to hear you lecture and pontificate to me for only 42 hours. Not holding class regularly is not acceptable. Yes, us students may sometimes be absent, but we are not the ones getting paid. Do students get a check for every class a professor skips? They should, because I need a refund.

You are not in a room of substitute professors. Granted, most of us students are pretty smart, but we do not have the full education or professional experiences that qualify us to be a college professor. I did not pay to hear John Doe talk.

If you assign a reading assignment, then you should not spend the next day with a PowerPoint of that chapter. Guide us in a group activity that builds the skill of that chapter, or tell us what it means. When you lack a thoughtful presentation of the material, I find no reason to waste my time and prepare.

AN EMPIRE REGAINS HOPE. I've deliberately stolen the title of Anatole Shub's An Empire Loses Hope to introduce Book Review No. 44, Michael Meyer's The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Untold Story exaggerates: that Poland and Hungary were well on their way to reform early in 1989 is not a secret, and that East Germany's government changed its position relatively quickly is well known. The book is instructive reading despite the author's tendency to play down U.S. triumphalism, as it is the product of work he did after accepting an assignment to the Warsaw Pact beat that a colleague had turned down as unlikely to provide any blockbuster stories. Oops.

That gives Mr Meyer the opportunity to cover much of the same territory as Mr Shub. Where Mr Shub began his explorations just before the building of the Berlin Wall and ended with the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia, Mr Meyer began with the Soviet decisions neither to occupy Poland in response to an election nor to occupy Hungary in response to a decision to open their borders and ended shortly after Romania's execution of the Ceausescus. There is a coda referring to the troubles in Jugoslawia that offers some lessons about generalising too carelessly about threats to the United States elsewhere on the basis of standing firm against Communism. Some of that is Newsweek talking back to The Weekly Standard, and some of that has potential for graduate seminars in international relations. Great story all the same, complete with a genealogical challenge: does Hungary's Miklos Nemeth, who was instrumental in his country's transition, share a common ancestor with the New York Jet quarterback who famously undid a somewhat less substantive empire?

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)
DON'T SQUANDER THE ADVANTAGES. A team of Northern Illinois University researchers investigates the science gender gap.

Girls enjoy science less. They concentrate less. They doubt their skills. They’re bored. They’re stressed. They’re less intrigued by a challenge.

Ironically, many girls earn good grades in science but still feel less competent than their grades would indicate. Also, both genders report similar levels of hard work, living up to the teacher’s expectations and the value of science to themselves and to their future. Meanwhile, even though more boys than girls told the researchers that science is challenging, boys reported more confidence in their skills and a higher level of concentration in class.

The largest gender difference is in ninth-grade general science classes; the imbalance appears to narrow by the time students reach physics, usually a junior- or senior-level course.

Of great concern to the researchers is their finding that as the challenge of the material rises, girls become less engaged. A similar response is seen concerning the perceived importance of the material. In both cases, boys intensify their engagement.

Girls also respond negatively to “public” activities in science class, such as lab work and giving presentations. They rate lectures and completing work at their seats as the most engaging classroom activities. In contrast, boys eagerly greet opportunities to “show what they know.”

The summary doesn't specify what "perceived importance" refers to. It also suggests that some of the active learning methods so popular with reformers have downsides. One of the researchers tells the Northern Star that more research is useful.
“I often hear teachers ask ‘how can I motivate my students?’” [educational psychology and foundations professor M. Cecil] Smith said. “I feel very strongly that that’s really the wrong question. A better question is ‘How can I create the sorts of conditions in which my students feel motivated?’ Potentially, I think this work could have some implications for that.”
Preferably, if the work does not squander the potential of numerically-inclined males in the process.
OPPOSITION REQUIRES SUBSTANCE. Victor Davis Hanson interprets Sarah Palin's continued visibility as a reaction to what is.

Yet Palin won’t quite go away, given her opposition to the two most unpopular institutions in America today: Big Government and High Finance.

The voters are tiring on left-wing, condescending big government. An Eric Holder, Timothy Geithner and Barack Obama are the best reflections of the contradictory urge to redistribute money, and hector the productive upper-middle classes—while at the same time indulging their rarefied tastes and desire for privilege through government administration.

Yet Wall Street elites are no more popular. They are seen as selfish, conniving, and of no political persuasion other than kowtowing to the particular powers that be in Washington. Their creed is not conservatism or liberalism, but rather statism and the marriage of the federal government and high finance. And we now know these one-eyed jacks. Federal regulators (cf. e.g., Timothy Geithner, Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Hank Paulson, Franklin Raines, etc) drift in and out of Wall Street. In exchange for guaranteeing that firms don’t fail and get sweetheart attention, federal officials are promised that during their sabbaticals from Washington they are to be accorded ceremonial jobs with access to near automatic multimillion-dollar bonuses.

Rick Moran notes, however, that merely being Not The Failed Establishment is not sufficient.
But even Hanson recognizes where she is right now. It has been a year since she burst onto the national scene and she has done little to rectify the huge gaps in knowledge and nuance that exposed her as an intellectually unserious person during the campaign. And by that I mean simply that she has failed to apply herself in any meaningful way to the process of learning what she needs to know in order to become a successful politician. Not an academic. Not a pointy-headed elite at some think tank, but rather a thoughtful citizen of the republic who knows enough about the issues facing America to serve effectively.
It will take good ideas to lift the burden of the current government's bad ideas.
ECONOMIES AND DISECONOMIES OF SCOPE. John J. Miller makes an observation on the allocation of effort in higher education.
I don't want to knock the importance of original research into obscure subjects, but I also suspect that the quality of a lot of this work is quite low—and that broadly speaking, we'd be better served if more professors performed less scholarship and did more teaching.
He subsequently posts a comment he received.
Also consider that the majority of college students are semi-literates who should not be in college anyway, or even high school, and that teaching would be much easier if we could chop down the number of students by the necessary 50-75%.
Leave aside the possibly dubious empirical content of the assertion, for the sake of discussion. Such a development would make original research easier, whether the professor is meeting two classes or five, as the professor is making fewer mental changes of gear. The skill set called assisting the unprepared (or, all too frequently, called fending off excuses) is not the same as the skill set called sharp thinking.

At Inside Higher Ed, such a development is a bug, rather than a feature, when the conversation turns to accountability.
It was acknowledged that [evaluating a university's performance by end-of-semester enrollment] could create perverse incentives of its own, by discouraging institutions from enrolling academically underprepared students who might be unlikely to succeed -- a potential risk of the entire emphasis on "completion" that is increasingly in vogue.
The alternative, however, is to continue a status quo in which the high schools fail to do their jobs.
CLASS STRUGGLES. At The Corner, student protests of proposed fee increases at California's flagship state universities are advocacy of a regressive transfer.
First and foremost, the protests are about privileged kids demanding subsidies from working people. The UC system will continue to be heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and the students who attend are among the most naturally gifted, with the highest future earning potential, in the country. This is especially true at the system's flagship schools of Berkeley and UCLA, where the protests have been most intense. Narcissism and self-absorption are the norm on college campuses, but it really is pushing the limits to throw such a tantrum at the idea that you will be getting a smaller amount of free money taken out of the paychecks of strapped taxpayers, most of whom could never dream of the advantages and opportunities you enjoy.
At the World Socialist Web Site, privilege begins somewhere else.

UCLA Political Science Professor Mark Sawyer told the press that he was teaching his course when shouts of “Walkout! Walkout!” became audible in the classroom. His students stood up and left in response, with Sawyer joining them.

“I have single moms in that class [and] students supporting parents. I have people who have children and they are scraping together what they can to try to support themselves and their education,” Sawyer said.

The hardship is one that other Californians probably also bear.
Many students in the UC system hold part-time and even full-time jobs in order to support themselves while attending college. The fee hikes will make it impossible for them to continue going to school. It was reported on Friday that California’s unemployment rate has inched up again, and is now at 12.3 percent.
Once upon a time, working one's way through college was an honorable calling, and the community colleges and night programs offered their students comparable intellectual challenges to those offered at the tonier institutions. It's a strange sort of recession in which working one's way is now one of the evils of capitalism.
COMPOSER RIVALRIES. "Peregrinus expectavi pedes meos in cymbalis" means "I really don't like Igor Stravinsky". More here and here.

18.11.09

THE REAL TECHNOCRATS? The Overhead Wire asks readers to rethink the rails-dirigiste-roads-emergent view of urban development.

I'm always a bit surprised (but shouldn't be) when I read an article like this about how extreme conservatives believe that folks interested in smart growth and livable communities are trying to push their lifestyle on everyone else. They raise the specter of the iron curtain and soviet apartment blocks that were designed and built in the same era as Pruitt Igoe and other poorly thought out urban renewal projects that followed the ideas of Le Corbusier in the United States and around the world. I would hope those mistakes would not be repeated, and all urbanists know better.

But everyone who reads here knows the histories and the market distortions of sprawl which has absolutely dominated the market over the last 60 years. If anything, its they who are forcing everyone to live their lifestyle, a sick distortion of the actual desires of at least some Americans such as myself who want to live in an urban walkable environment. By not providing a choice in living, or transportation, the opponents of livable communities are telling us that the actual market doesn't matter and that they know what is best even though they would like us to believe that their way is the choice of the people, even those who don't have a choice.

This video, recommended in the post, is instructive.
A LATTER DAY EMPIRE BUILDER. The New York Times offers a roundtable on Warren Buffett's purchase of BNSF Railway. Political scientist Keith Poole gets it.

No other country in the world can match the American freight rail system in terms of quality or quantity. And it is the only system entirely in private hands. The push toward reducing greenhouse gases will also favor rail because it is far more energy efficient to move bulk freight by train and then off-load it onto trucks near the destination than other transportation modes.

Plus, substantial investment has been made in the system in the past decade. In the late 1990s during the Clinton-era boom, the freight railroads were running near capacity. Burlington Northern Santa Fe spent large sums re-opening the old Northern Pacific tunnel (built in the 1880s) for the sole purpose of getting empty grain trains out of the Seattle-Tacoma region (the tunnel is not high enough to take double-stack containers).

The railway have since suspended service on the Stampede Pass line, but capacity constraints on the Cascade Tunnel line remain real.

Historian Scott Reynolds Nelson considers a different motive.
While the Obama administration has sent dollars in nearly every direction – broadband, highways, public schools – perhaps the most ambitious proposal is high-speed passenger rail to cut down greenhouse gases, trim down highway costs, and bind the nation together. That project will require rights-of-way at many points from the nation’s railways. But given the weakness of American eminent domain law, investors who hold on to the rights-of-way will be able to dictate the terms, and may well reap fortunes.
That's a backhanded way of noting that freight railroads might give up their reluctance to share tracks with passenger trains -- or permit dedicated lines to be built separating the passenger from the freight per current safety regulations and subject to engineering constraints -- in exchange for investment in additional capacity for the freight trains. That exchange seems superior to providing entirely new passenger lines, either as greenfield construction or using abandoned steam railroad and interurban rights-of-way.

(Recommended by The Transportationist.)
ALLOCATING SCARCE RESOURCES. The editorial board at the Chicago Tribune gets the point.

The task force's recommendation [that women first schedule mammograms at age 50] is based partly on its finding that annual screening of women in their 40s prevents one death for every 1,904 women tested, compared to one for every 1,339 tested annually in their 50s.

Otis W. Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said the task force "is essentially telling women that mammography at age 40 to 49 saves lives, just not enough of them."

Women and their doctors worry that insurers will balk at paying for mammograms on grounds that they're not cost-effective, leading to questions about whether the new guidelines are about improving health care or saving money. If they encourage doctors to be more selective about which patients need frequent screening, they might actually do both.

That's the benefit-cost principle, and if you consider an analogous choice, improving traffic safety or saving money, it's precisely what all highway departments do in deciding where to place four-way stop signs, or build rotaries, or install traffic signals.

16.11.09

INSTEAD OF GUANTANAMO. The national government contemplates purchasing the Thomson Correctional Center, a state prison that Corruptistan hasn't had the money to put into service. The editorial board at the Rockford Register Star approves of the plan. I am still weighing the arguments. The prison is in my North West Frontier. Is it cruel and unusual punishment to decorate the intake hall with pictures of the Apple River Canyon or the Black Hawk statue or the other nearby places that provide peace of mind, that the terrorists will never see? Or to subject the terrorists to the very real rigors of a northern Illinois winter?
SPARE A MOMENT FOR THE TRAIN CREW. Hannover 96 goalkeeper Robert Enke commits suicide by train.
"Ohhh, nein, nein, nein! ! ! Raus von den Gleisen, du Arschloch! ! ! Bitte, raus, bitte ! ! ! Verdammt!”, the two screamed in vain at the trespasser through the bullet and rock-proof windscreen, as the Series 146 locomotive’s horns blasted away. The driver had already thrown the brakes into emergency braking mode in a completely futile attempt to avoid the unavoidable. They both knew all too well what was going to happen next. It took only about another five seconds for RE 4427 to reach the point where Robert stood – still at a speed well above 100 km/h. Perhaps the longest, most agonizing, most painful five seconds in the careers of the two seasoned train drivers.
Fans have built a large makeshift monument at trackside. Train crews on the route know all too well that it could have been their train. I don't know what support Germany's railroads offer to train crews, or how long they will be off duty.

15.11.09

LIFE IN THE MID-MAJORS.


Tank McNamara, 15 November 2009.

Spot on.
THE BURDEN OF COMPETENCE. It's the phenomenon I refer to as punished for being cooperative, and there's some venting on the subject at Reassigned Time.
I am not an administrator. And the more administrative duties that somehow land in my lap, the more I have to pick and choose which parts of my job I will do adequately and which parts of my job I let slide. Notice that there is no pride in doing a good job in this scenario, because it's pretty much impossible to do a really good job when you're being pulled in about a thousand different directions. Especially when some of those directions in which you're being pulled are into doing administrative bean-counting that has nothing ****** to do with being a college professor.
I propose to unpackage this proposition. Faculty at Reassigned's university, like those at most other public comprehensives and land-grants, are doing the work of three or four people, a combination of budget constraints and misguided notions of productivity. Those administrative burdens include the numerous pet projects that are tangential to higher education, but keep the special education division active. Draw your own conclusion.
THE CASE FOR TIGHTER STANDARDS, IN ONE SENTENCE. Unreasonable expectation of attendance and/or note taking. Via University Diaries, with broader context here.

13.11.09

OUR NEIGHBORS AT WAR. More Northern Illinois graduates at Ft. Hood.

Two other 2008 graduates were present at Fort Hood during the shooting.They were Lt. Laura Dorado and Lt. Mike Cramer, said Steve Ashpes, chair of the Department of Military Science. He added that neither were injured as a result of the shooting. Dorado is a nurse and helped treat some of the victims.

According to Public Affairs, nothing has been requested of NIU yet. They added that the school would be willing to help in any way if asked.

CREATIVE RAILROAD MARKETING. The concession at the Convocation Center reduces food waste by making a pizza available to suitably enthusiastic fans. This season, the program is the Operation Lifesaver Craziest Fans contest.
GONNA GO TO COLLEGE 'CAUSE IT'S TWO TO ONE. Gonna go to college, gonna have some fun. (Apologies to Jan and Dean.) The economist in me always wondered about the stability of that equilibrium. University administrators do too, if in a different way.
Too many boys arrive at their senior year of high school lacking both the skills and aspirations that would get them into, and through, college. At a typical state university, a gender gap of 10 percentage points in the freshman class grows by five points by graduation day, as more men than women drop out.

All this explains why colleges have been putting a thumb on the scale to favor men in admissions. There just aren't enough highly qualified men to go around. Determining that colleges practice discrimination doesn't take much detective work. Higher acceptance rates for men show that colleges dig deeper into their applicant pool to find them. The final proof: Freshman class profiles reveal that the women, with their far higher high-school grade point averages, are more academically qualified than the men. Interviews with admissions officers reveal that the girls' essays sparkle compared to the boys', and girls far outshine boys in extracurricular activities as well.

The Commission on Civil Rights cited an example written about in U.S. News & World Report in 2007: Virginia's University of Richmond was maintaining its rough gender parity in men and women only by accepting women at a rate 13 percentage points lower than the men.

It would be patriotic to report that this discrimination against women is carried out in the national economic interest of boosting graduates in key math and science fields. But, in truth, it's really a social consideration. Colleges simply want to avoid approaching the dreaded 60-40 female-male ratio. At that point, men start to take advantage of their scarcity and make social life miserable for the women by becoming "players" on the dating scene.
And all you gotta do is just wink your eye? All those resources devoted to Take Back the Night and assorted consciousness-raising are unproductive? There's no dynamic by which the women respond to the players with more selective strategies of their own?

At Phi Beta Cons, George Leef considers the broader implications.
Still, this trend tells us something. As Christina Hoff Sommers observed in her book The War Against Boys, our K-12 system is becoming increasingly feminized with the notions that competition is bad and that boys need to be socialized to act more like girls. That may well be the reason why fewer boys pay attention and grasp the educational basics. So I don't think we need to worry about the fact that there's an imbalance between men and women in college; the thing to worry about is that K-12 is failing to provide much of an education for more boys than girls.
Strike "for more boys than girls." That feminization hasn't had much effect in engineering, lab sciences, and math, those better application essays notwithstanding. (How can K-12 simultaneously be downplaying competition and encouraging the girls to write better essays?)

12.11.09

TONIGHT'S TOP TEN LIST. No. 9: Loss to Northern Illinois.
RECLAIMING THE CULTURE, ONE PROFESSOR AT A TIME. A Northern Star columnist doesn't enjoy interacting with distracted people.

Holding doors for people seems to be a thing of the past.

Basic respect for professors has gone out the window, and if you thought anyone would care that you have a paper to write when the lab is full and half of the room is on Facebook, think again.

Though the lab attendants do a good job keeping people off of their cell phones in the computer labs, they seem to miss when students are carrying on conversations like they’re the only ones in the room.

The winner for the rudest behavior definitely goes to texting mid-conversation.

Why are students disregarding the people around them, and where does this self-centered attitude come from?

The answer, dear reader, is in the research.

Brad Sagarin, associate professor of psychology, specializes his research in social and evolutionary psychology, social influence and resistance to persuasion.

Sagarin believes that two key elements explain the increasing perception of rude behavior and bad manners: the change in social norms and the change in technology.

“Technology puts us in a chronic state of distraction ... I have the capacity to be rude in a larger amount of situations,” Sagarin said.

He points out that Facebook chatting, e-mail checking and text messaging become addictive.

These habits make us oblivious to the world around us, and we show a lack of respect to other people as a result.

So, what can other students do to address those people who seem to disregard everyone around them?

“I think students can do something about it: They can change the norm. If you find it rude when somebody is doing something in class, frankly you as a fellow student are in a better position than I as a faculty member to chastise them for it,” Sagarin said.

Sagarin believes that people learn behaviors based on what they observe around them.

If they see that everyone is on their cell phones texting in class, it’s their cue that this behavior is acceptable.

Student self-enforcement is helpful, on the general principle that emergent orders are more robust than top-down systems. Some help from the professoriate matters, as one University of Virginia economist notes.
Prof. Kenneth Elzinga places the main responsibility on the teachers responding to this issue by stating that both large and small lectures can be detrimental. “It all depends on how the teacher conducts the class and how eager the students are to learn. An engaging professor and an engaged student yields an optimal classroom equilibrium.”
Classroom management by wandering around, and encouraging engagement, helps. The author, a columnist for The Cavalier Daily, expands.
When students are in classroom sizes of 10 to 20 students, they are under pressure at all times to stay alert, focus and respond to questions posed with accuracy and sincerity. Professors should branch out and expand their teaching strategy to incorporate more interaction between themselves and the students. Clicker questions were one step in this direction but still act as just one more technological interface further isolating the teacher and those being taught. Moving along the rows of class, passing off the microphone to gain student feedback, and even skits performed in Price is Right fashion where we can “Come on Down!” will engage students at a much higher level and assuredly cut down on students cutting up. I’ve never seen so many Internet pages shut down and PowerPoint slides pop up on laptops when my professor decided to waltz up the rows of the auditorium.
That column courtesy University Diaries, where the emergent order is getting top-down reinforcement.

Latecomers, dozers and loud-whispers have always plagued college classrooms. But the ability to access Facebook, e-mail, games, and the Internet on a BlackBerry, laptop, or iPhone is a new frontier of distraction - and some professors are trying to do something about it.

Several professors agree more students are using laptops in class and more are twiddling on their smart phones like iPhones and BlackBerrys. To combat eyes and minds wandering to news feeds and Twitter lists, instead of English readings or economics lessons, a growing number of faculty members have decided to ban laptops in an effort to win back students' attention and improve learning.

The laptops tend to turn students into court reporters, that is, when it doesn't turn them into news junkies.

Margaret Soltan, professor of English, said she began asking students not to bring laptops about three years ago, and put a formal no-laptop policy in her syllabus this year.

"I began to notice that students with laptops weren't really looking at me and they were just sort of mechanically taking notes," Soltan said.

She said small English classes require students to engage in discussion, and she could tell the students with laptops were less focused on the class. Sometimes she couldn't see their faces, she said.

"It just seemed to me that for the sake of discussion and focus and intensity in the classroom and just social engagement, it would be better if they didn't use them," Soltan said.

"I haven't heard any complaints from any student, and I have heard gratitude from students," Soltan added.

Soltan said that some colleagues of hers have policies banning cell phones in the classroom, and that it may be the next step for her.

"That's the next front," said Soltan of cell phones in class. "The war never ends."

Many professors agreed that phones in class are less of a disruption than laptops, but Soltan noted that some students check their phones religiously.

"Of course all professors notice students surreptitiously checking their cell phones and to me, there's sort of a compulsion about it. I mean the class only lasts for an hour or so," Soltan said.

Those surreptitious checks are opportunities for a quick "What do you think?" If the metaphor is war, the quick question to the texter is the quickest way into his or her O-O-D-A loop.
EATING THE SEED CORN. A Times Higher Education column makes the case that higher education ought to be higher.

Who will teach students to think, to be disciplined, to be critical of themselves? Instead, they are being encouraged to select the university that says it can prepare them for jobs that may not exist when they graduate. If companies designing their courses go bust or are not recruiting, their hard-won training could have limited value.

It is a pity that our First Minister’s advisers have not convinced him of the dangers inherent in opting for a student-as-customer model. Customers usually go for the easiest, cheapest or most user-friendly option. Thus, we should expect a rise in demand for such fashionable courses as cosmetics, costume and the culinary arts, rather than rigorous ones such as history, physics or chemistry.

Apart from their obvious responsibilities, universities once cultivated reservoirs of talented people ready to meet the unpredictable challenges and problems that befall societies from time to time. Lord Mandelson’s [Britain's First Minister for Education] policies commit us to praying for a predictable future.

Britain's national anthem prays God to confound the Queen's enemies' politics and frustrate their knavish tricks. Is there no provision to similarly confound and frustrate the Queen's Ministers?

11.11.09

OUR NEIGHBORS AT WAR. SSgt. Miguel Angel Valdivia, a May graduate in mathematics, was recalled to active duty in October, returning to Fort Hood on 31 October.

He is recovering from injuries sustained on 5 November.

Instructors in the math department at NIU said they were surprised to learn Valdivia had been shot, and sent wishes for a speedy recovery to their former student.

Professor Bernard Harris said Valdivia took two of his courses. Harris recalled a time during a lecture where he wrote a mistake on the board and Miguel called his attention to the error.

“He said, ‘OK, down for 20,’” Harris said.

Professor Harvey Blau had Valdivia in class in the spring for an abstract algebra course. He described him as a hard-working student who wanted to do a good job.

“I wish him a speedy recovery and a little upturn in his future,” Blau said. “It’s a really tragic event. “It’s something nobody should have to undergo.”

Sgt Valdivia was working on another degree here when his recall notice came. We wish him a full recovery.

10.11.09

A NEW COLD WAR INITIATIVE. Fruits and Votes picks up a Wilson Quarterly article on the state of high speed Passenger Rail in the world.
Since entering service in Japan in 1964, fast trains have been gaining in speed and popularity. The first Shinkansen, or bullet train, traveled between Tokyo and Osaka at a maximum of 130 m.p.h. The latest-generation Shinkansen runs at a top speed of 188 m.p.h., and its ancestor is now in a museum. France launched Europe’s first high-speed railroad between Paris and Lyon in 1981, the Train à Grande Vitesse (“train of great speed”), better known as the TGV. Today, trains doing 125 m.p.h. or more zip across 13 European countries as well as Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia recently let contracts for a European-style supertrain between the western port of Jeddah and the religious centers of Mecca and Medina, while Israel has a new Tel Aviv-to-Jerusalem line in the works and Iran is upgrading its main lines out of Tehran to standards exceeding 120 m.p.h.
We've seen those museum pieces. There was no imperative to view the Soviet Union's trains as a strategic threat, with their streamlined 4-6-4s in service as late as 1957. But Iran and Saudi Arabia ... perhaps there's reason to stay ahead of them in Passenger Rail as well as in nuclear weapons.

It doesn't matter whether the author reads Cold Spring Shops or not.
The result is that train service is slower today than it was in the 1940s, when “streamliners” touted for their speed—such as the Super Chief, 20th Century Limited, Denver Zephyr, and Hiawatha—routinely topped 90 to 100 m.p.h. between station stops. While the rest of the world has advanced, America’s passenger rail has stalled, if not reversed direction.
Preach it, brother.
While maybe not a pie-in-the-sky project, instituting high-speed rail—or even getting train speeds back to 1940s standards—will be a tall order requiring years of commitment and vastly more than $13 billion to pull off.
Rethink the speed and signalling standards. Repaint the westbound speed boards at A-5 that currently read 79-55 as 110-55. Continue in like manner through Rondout and Wadsworth and ...

Not so fast, say critics. According to Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank, high-speed rail is a “mirage” that would do little to reduce highway traffic congestion or improve the environment. He and others argue that most congestion involves travel within cities rather than between them, and O’Toole contends that high-speed rail in any event “won’t take more than three or four percent of cars off the highways it parallels.” At best, supertrains would replace commuter airlines, and at worst, the lines would cause a long-term drain on public finances at a time when the United States is in dire fiscal straits.

“Taxpayers and politicians should be wary of any transportation projects that cannot be paid for out of user fees,” O’Toole warns. But roads and airports are paid for only in part by those who use them through gasoline taxes and other user levies. For example, airline ticket tax receipts cover airport construction costs, but the costs of safety measures and a portion of air traffic control—more than $2.5 billion per year—are subsidized by all taxpayers, including those who never fly. Intercity trains are likewise subsidized out of tax revenues from the whole population. Last year, Amtrak earned 72 percent of its costs from ticket receipts and received about $1.2 billion in direct federal subsidies.
Passenger Rail and air compete for a small share of total passenger mileage, with a three- to four- percent reduction in automobile mileage leading to a substantial reduction in congestion. Passenger Rail need not be restricted to high-speed intercity limiteds: more frequent commuter service, perhaps mixing expresses and stopping trains, can also reduce congestion. To repeat, the weekend Chicago area commuter trains, some of which run on two hour headways, routinely run six to nine full cars, as shoppers and museum goers balk at congestion and at parking charges beginning at $20 for the first half hour, without any European-style policies in place specifically to discourage urban driving. And those regional airlines are undependable tax sinks.
Even the most farsighted planners behind the Interstate Highway System did not anticipate the extent to which the new roads they built would help spawn a burgeoning suburbia, with its far-flung office and industrial parks, edge cities, and immense shopping malls and commercial areas.
Complex adaptive systems will do what they please.
High-speed rail doesn’t simply proceed from point A to point B; it has the potential to energize the cities and towns where it stops in between. The normal practice is to locate intermediate stations in populated areas roughly 50 miles apart. In Europe, high-speed railroads have generated the most growth in provincial cities, as once remote districts benefit from their newfound closeness to hubs such as Paris and Berlin. In a century that will demand more compact, energy-efficient development, high-speed rail has the potential to establish a new superstructure for growth.
I'm pleased to see this idea diffused.

There's a lot more in the article, it will reward careful study. But note this paragraph, on the current constraints on mixing freight and passenger trains.
The Association of American Railroads currently requires dedicated track for passenger trains running at 90 m.p.h. and over. An agreement relaxing this policy to permit shared-use trackage could reduce expenses. Still, retrofitting freight lines will not be easy or cheap. A coalition of midwestern governors hopes to use stimulus money to develop lines out of Chicago with train speeds of 110 m.p.h. Wisconsin plans to rehabilitate a rail link between Milwaukee and Madison, at a cost of $600 million.
Look at this speed tape, and visualize the opposing passenger and freight train traffic on the C&M.

RUNNING EXTRA. There's a conversation of the validity of Mr Reutter's faster 1940s service assertion going on at Marginal Revolution.
THE DOWNSIDE OF ACADEMIC SPECIALIZATION. Market Power recommends an article by Cornelius Vanderbilt's biographer that compares Warren Buffett, the recent purchaser of BNSF Railway with ... Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The American railroad produced the nation's original corporate capitalists—the ones we call tycoons, moguls, or robber barons. The first and greatest was "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, who amassed the New York Central system between New York and Chicago in the 1860s and '70s. This week's purchase of Burlington Northern by Warren Buffett seems to make Mr. Buffett a worthy successor.

"It's an all-in wager on the economic future of the United States," Mr. Buffett said of his purchase. "I love these bets." So did Vanderbilt. And Mr. Buffett's wager is on a Vanderbiltian scale. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, is paying $26.3 billion in cash and stock for 77.4% of the enormous railroad. (It already owned the rest.) In the Information Age, this is a startling endorsement of the oldest of the old economy.

Nineteenth century railroads largely created the modern corporate economy. Led by Vanderbilt, they landscaped the playing field that Mr. Buffett now strides across. The tale of the two titans, then, is a tangled story rather than a mere contrast of then and now.

The tangled story neglects meaningful differences in the railroad system the Commodore put together, by connecting independent short lines into a single trunk line ultimately linking New York to Chicago and St. Louis, with BNSF, a combination of the easiest freight route from Chicago to Los Angeles with the easiest freight route from Chicago to Seattle. The latter route was the vision of James J. Hill, who financed the railroad without any government land grants and acquired rights-of-way from Indian tribes by negotiation rather than force. His civil engineer, John Stevens, followed up on a legend brought back by the Lewis and Clark expedition of an easy crossing of the northern Rockies. That's the substance behind Mr Buffett's purchase.
Mr. Buffett is betting on good old fashioned stuff—such as grain, coal for power plants and consumer goods imported from Asia—and the need to move it.
And the infrastructure to move it. And, perhaps, that the best use of the electricity from Great Plains wind farms is as the power source for electrically operated railroads to move the grain and the coal and the ethanol to locations less suited to wind farms.

The editor of Trains once asked, in a reflection on James J. Hill, "where is Yim when we need him?" Perhaps Mr Buffett is this era's Yim.
THE INTUITION OF SEASONAL ADJUSTMENT. Professor Munger.
One more shot at explanation: suppose the high temp in NC for each day in January stuck at 56 degrees. And suppose it stayed at 56 degrees for the daily high all through the summer. Would you say that the climate stayed the same? No, you would say that the climate cooled, dramatically, because you mentally "seasonally adjust" the numbers for ...well...seasons. Same with economics: what seems like good news in October is not good news because it takes great news in October to be good.
Game theory, or representative-agent macroeconomics, are comparatively less in the nature of art forms.
THE IRON BOATS GO AS THE MARINERS ALL KNOW.


Our annual Edmund Fitzgerald tribute.

9.11.09

HEAR! HEAR! The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a forum: Are Too Many Students Going to College? (Hie thee hence before it goes behind the pay wall.) Best observation: Berkeley education professor W. Norton Grubb.
We do have a moral obligation, emerging from several centuries of concern with equity in a highly inequitable country, to make access to and completion of college more equitable. But rather than proclaiming College for All, we should be stressing High School Completion for All, emphasizing that such completion requires either college readiness or readiness for sustained employment—or for the combination of the two that has become so common.
The combination of the two need not be so common. But that requires the high schools to do their jobs.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE. Passenger Rail advocates who don't understand the freight railroads are not helpful to the cause. Here's another example from Destination: Freedom.

Rebuilding the nation’s passenger railroad has got to be put at the top of our priority list. We had a system not so long ago that was the envy of the world; now we have service that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of.

The tracks are still lying out there rusting in the rain, waiting to be fixed. The job doesn’t require the reinvention of anything -- we already know how to do it. Rebuilding the system would put scores of thousands of people to work at meaningful jobs at all levels. The fact that we’re barely talking about it shows what an unserious people we have become.

Rebuilding the American passenger-railroad system has an additional urgent objective: We need a doable project that can build our confidence and sense of collective purpose in facing all the other extraordinary challenges posed by the long emergency -- especially rebuilding local networks of commerce and re-localizing agriculture.

Was I hallucinating, when, on Sunday morning, a stack train topped by five motors and tailed by two ripped past Chesapeake Bagel at about 70 per?
DEADLY IDEAS. Multiculturalism kills.
But that pathology of political correctness has now been laid bare before us. More than the two handguns, it was the murder weapon in that room at Fort Hood. Those thirteen innocent people are indeed PC deaths because it was PC that allowed Hasan to be there. The question is, as it is with all emotionally loaded learning, what will we do with this new information?
Socialism kills.
The students of Young Americans for Liberty hosted a rally to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall at noon today on the lawn outside the Ann W. Olin Women’s Building at Washington University.
The rally included a corrective labor camp display. University authorities shut it down. Expect updates.
TEAR. DOWN. THIS. WALL.


It is too soon to hope that Kaliningrad will become Königsberg, or Wielbark revert to Willenberg.

8.11.09

SAD NEWS FOR THE STATE LINE. In the Fort Hood shootings, two northern Illinois soldiers, Francheska Velez and Michael Pearson, and two southern Wisconsin soldiers, Amy Krueger and Russell Seager are among the dead. Another four Wisconsin soldiers are among the wounded. Cruel February comes again.

7.11.09

BITTER CLINGERS. The Soviet Union is eighteen years past its sell-by date, and Stalinism is a great way to turn a poor country into a destitute one. On November 7, some people still have occasion to stage a Communist parade.



I'm looking at those greatcoats and wondering how to render "Oh we loathe the oooold one" in Russian. Wait, maybe it IS Russian. о-и-я, ё-а!
COLLEGE, THE NEW HIGH SCHOOL. A Northern Star columnist discovers a twist on weeknight football.

Heck, at Virginia Tech, to get attendance up for weekday games, it cancels afternoon and night classes.

So if you want to play weekday games to make money, do so. But don’t try to sell it as a way to showcase the university and the program when in order to do so you have to endanger the mission of the university.

Endanger the mission? Redefine the mission perhaps: high schools, after all, turn the last class period on Friday into a pep rally. We're doing the high schools' work in remedial classes already, why not reproduce the social structure of high school too.

On Thursday night, Northern Illinois became bowl-eligible. That's a mixed blessing. Last year, the incremental return from the Independence Bowl was a negative $154K. Ball State, which lost $67K at the Motor City Bowl, defended its loss because it was smaller than Northern Illinois's. This year, Ball State stands to lose precisely nothing at a bowl.
THE CASE FOR RETRENCHMENT GROWS. University Diaries picks up a report from Berkeley with an unusual lede.
Home to the nationally ranked Cal Bears and a clutch of Nobel laureates, the University of California, Berkeley, boasts brains and brawn.
Tail. Dog. Wag. Never mind that Berkeley researchers were winning Nobel prizes during the Joe Kapp era on the field, as well as during the early 1990s when a weak California team offered the prospect of a first win for a new Wisconsin coach called Barry Alvarez. (Didn't happen.) Nevertheless, the faculty has taken a courageous (by faculty senate standards) stand.
But with budget cuts fraying the seams of campus life — fewer classes, faculty furloughs, student fee hikes — tension has developed over the millions that go to support Cal's sporting life.
A non-binding resolution calling on the university to reduce the subsidy to athletics has passed the faculty senate. (No news on whether the senate also endorsed carrot juice and clean air.)

Another University Diaries post recommends a student column out of Mid-American BCS runner to cellar dweller Ball State.

In reality, the vast majority of students do not attend sporting events and even though they do not attend, they are still being charged. I attend one, maybe two, football games a year. I would be much better off buying the tickets for $20, or whatever price on game day, and not having to pay $877. I would save $837. Ball State is making me $837 worse off. Why are we all being charged for something only a few of us use?

Ball State’s intercollegiate sports department would operate in the red if not for the student subsidy. For 2008-09, the athletics department budgeted expenses were $14.3 million, two of the main revenue sources to cover these expenses were almost $8.9 million from student fees and $2.5 million from additional university support. Ticket sales were only expected to be less than one million. Intercollegiate sports, at least at Ball State, are not self-sustaining.

The column goes on to recommend that student fees be detailed in order that students can identify the toll athletics takes. On general principles, the recommendation is a good idea, in order that students be able also to identify the advocacy organizations, often featuring exotic politics, that also take their toll.

There's more on the peculiar economics of college sport, and the possibility of retrenchment, at Market Power.

4.11.09

HIGHER EDUCATION'S SUBPRIME SECTOR. You can name names.
Outside of its elite private institutions, Chicago is the The City Where Diploma Dreams Go to Die, writes Kevin Carey of Education Sector.
You can propose hypotheses for the proliferation of dropout factories.
But catastrophic failure rates are a problem for any college. In reality, the accreditation system has evolved over time to accommodate diversity in quality to an almost infinitely elastic degree.
You can work the problem.
We have an excess of politeness and a deficit of candor in our discussions of higher education. As a result, public leaders in Chicago and elsewhere have turned a blind eye to dysfunctional institutions in the heart of their communities. Students are paying the price.
You might conclude that improvements in the status quo are unlikely. But it's better to identify the problem and propose solutions, which might (for lack of any other choices) gain some traction, than to post anonymous whinges that will accomplish precisely nothing.
YOUR RIGHT TO EXERCISE CHOICE. Protecting competitors is not the same as protecting competition. In Wisconsin, your right to have independent grocers to buy Thanksgiving fixings from is not free.
Wal-Mart has full-page ads in metro daily newspapers today promoting its prices for Thanksgiving dinner. It's a striking demonstration of the cost to consumers of the state's Unfair Sales Act, also known informally as Wisconsin's minimum markup law.

The ad in our paper offers frozen whole turkeys for 86 cents a pound. The same ad in the Chicago Tribune has turkeys for 40 cents a pound.

Ocean Spray cranberry sauce and Heinz turkey gravy are priced the same in Illinois and Wisconsin. But Green Giant canned vegetables cost six cents more here (56 cents) and Stove Top stuffing is $1.15 a box at Wisconsin Wal-Marts, compared with 78 cents in Illinois.

Wal-Mart's spokeswoman for the region has said the company will honor the law and will not offer its below-cost loss leader deals in Wisconsin. Wal-Mart prints different ad fliers during the holiday season, with higher prices, for stores in Wisconsin and three other states that ban selling below cost.

Proponents of Wisconsin's Unfair Sales Act say it protects small retailers who can't afford to sell things below cost.

The Wisconsin law does allow retailers to sell below cost to match competitors' prices, and I've never seen the state go after anyone for selling cheap Thanksgiving turkeys. I expect the prevailing supermarket price for frozen turkeys will go below 50 cents a pound this year, as it usually does.
The columnist is too young. Yes, the prevailing supermarket price for frozen turkeys will fall, but it's still covered by minimum markup. The state did investigate below-cost sales of December turkeys in 1973, and Morgan Reynolds, who was teaching intermediate price theory at Wisconsin at the time, had some fun with that news item.
MORE CASH FLOW GAMES. The state's propensity to allocate money but not to spend it is ubiquitous. The capital bill includes funding to renovate the Stevens Building and remodel Cole Hall, but the expenditures have not yet been authorized. The state's revenue enhancers include planned increases in taxes on cigarettes and video poker machines, an illustration of the inverse-elasticitity principle for reducing excess burden conflicting with the Pigouvian principle for offsetting externalities. At Urbana, the cash flow games have encouraged doomsday planning.

The University of Illinois has received only a small fraction of the $317 million it is owed by the state for this fiscal year and has effectively frozen many open positions.

University spokesman Tom Hardy says the state's government has paid the school only $400,000 so far as it wrestles with a budget
deficit.

Hardy says open positions that normally would have quickly been filled now require approval from a high-ranking administrator.

Outgoing university President B. Joseph White says furloughs are becoming an increasingly likely possibility for employees. The university set up a plan last summer to furlough workers if needed.

I'm on a search committee again, and I'd better buy trip cancellation insurance along with my 'plane tickets.

3.11.09

THE CHINESE ARE SERIOUS ABOUT HIGHER EDUCATION. Three weeks ago, I made a claim.
It's probably going to be some time until self-despising administrators in those Chinese universities go on guilt trips about underserved Tibetans or marginalized Uighurs. Until that day, Chinese higher education will gain ground on a United States higher education too consumed with inclusion and access and too involved in positional arms races in basketball and football, and too willing to take high school graduates that haven't really finished grade school.
No worries, mate.

China has been cranking out college graduates at a breakneak pace, but the quality of the education has become highly suspect and, perhaps more importantly, there haven’t been nearly enough jobs to employ all the newly credentialed. In other words, simply producing more graduates — no matter how much it has frightened some people in America – has largely been a waste.

The obvious lesson from this should be that it’s foolish to simply make massively expanding the ranks of degree holders a national goal. But that doesn’t compute for many U.S. politicians, despite abundant evidence that we don’t need heaps more graduates anymore than China does.

Followup here.
HORIZONTAL AND VERTICAL EQUITY. Community colleges exist, inter alia, for second chances. But second chances are expensive.
If I had plenty of ambition and no conscience at all, this would be my plan to get my cc through the [budget] crisis and emerge with greater resources and cachet on the other side:

Upscale.

Although academics as a breed love to be idealistic, I'm increasingly convinced that economic class exerts a certain gravitational pull that can only be resisted with great and ever-mounting effort. Every institutional incentive we have is to go upscale.

If we dealt with the pincer movement of lower state aid and higher enrollments by imposing admissions standards -- say, by refusing to do remediation anymore -- the economics (and prestige) of the operation would take off. Blocking developmental students would, all by itself, result in a wealthier student body. We would have much higher retention, graduation, and transfer rates. We would have much less call for special services for students with severe learning disabilities. Our financial aid spending would drop dramatically, as would our spending on tutoring. We'd run proportionally more sophomore-level classes, to the understandable delight of the faculty. As our graduation and transfer rates went up, our standing as a college of first choice would go with it. And we could both impress our politicians and insulate ourselves from them, just like the University of Michigan has.
Anonymous Community has been dealing with more enrollments than it can handle, in part by students who might, under other circumstances, enroll at Michigan or Buffalo or perhaps one of the privates. Have any of those students griped to their professors, or to advisors, or even to deans, about the special ed students dragging down their classes?

As a matter of conscience, perhaps the land-grants and the mid-majors, and possibly even the community colleges, have obligations to ambitious and able students, whether place-bound or crowded out by the upscaling ambitions of their states' flagship campuses.
I've seen some public four-year colleges follow this strategy, and it almost always works. They decide at some point to become more exclusive, and a few years later, they're suddenly 'hot.' For whatever reason, they don't experience this move as a violation of their mission. If anything, they take pride in their newfound exclusivity.
That's a virtuous cycle, in which motivated students raise the intellectual bar for other students, and boost faculty morale along the way. I don't see how recognizing that a mid-major, or a regional comprehensive, is in the same business as Harvard or Michigan and has the obligation to offer the same intellectual challenge to ambitious placebound strivers that the more famous institutions claim to offer to whoever it is they are recruiting these days.

There is, however, that issue of horizontal and vertical equity.
(The marketing of something like that can get weird. "Your tax dollars at work, excluding the likes of you!" Tone is everything.)
The use of tax dollars to provide any kind of education is going to involve some sort of regressive transfer: perhaps most evidently in the tuition subsidy to students from wealthy state-resident families, more subtly in the creation of human capital that makes a university graduate, on average, richer than a high school graduate. But a system of public K-12 that reinforces the work habits of the upper middle class also does so. And the failure of public K-12 to do so, for whatever reason, both condemns young people who haven't learned those habits at home to a life of poverty, and saddles higher education, whether at Anonymous Community or Northern Illinois or Michigan or Harvard, to devoting resources to remediation. (Baldwin Locomotive went out of business when railroads got tired of having to repair oil leaks in newly-delivered diesels. Discuss the generalization.)
Moving to open admissions in a society with increasing class polarization leads to some extremes for which the system wasn't built. As the K-12 systems from which many of our students come continue to founder, we spend more on tutoring and support services to try to make up the difference. Students who need those services notice that we're good at them, so they seek us out. Our graduation rates suffer, and we get flogged for it in the press and the political discourse. Meanwhile, the public four-year college down the street jacks up its standards and all is well.
So lean on K-12 to counteract the class polarization by holding all students, beginning in kindergarten, to the standards of the middle class. And bill the high schools for the work you're doing that they should have done. Hard budget constraints have a way of focusing the mind.

And recognize that the public four-year with aspirations to becoming a graduate institution is probably doing something right.
The courses aren't taught better just because the faculty is loaded with "academic stars." If anything, it goes the other way. Students at schools where the professors actually handle most of the teaching are likely to get more out of a course than at schools where the profs are mainly preoccupied with their publications.
This claim is inaccurate, and probably not a useful claim for a conservative commentator to make. That professor who is "preoccupied" with publications might be aware, for instance, that the vulgar Keynesianism pushed by so many wanna-be court intellectuals for the Democrats (that idealism conceit in practice) has been rebutted by the permanent income hypothesis and rational expectations and real business cycles. That professor with the four- to six- sections of introductory (read, where the special ed students predominate, as high school) economics might be so burdened with accommodations and assessments and all the other impedimenta imposed by the Colleges of Deaducation that he or she is still teaching the Samuelson version that treats Keynesian macro and welfare economics micro as received truths.
I don't think the mania for admissions preferences is really about the students. Rather, it's about the academic administrators. It makes them feel good about themselves to believe that their social engineering matters a lot. When mean people like Roger Clegg say that they ought to drop racial preferences, that's like telling them to stop playing make believe and grow up.
That argument does generalize to the special education function, and to treating remediation and retention as positive goods for their own sake.