27.2.11

MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS BY ANOTHER NAME?  The new governor of Wisconsin might be considering something called public authority status for what we used to know as The Great State University of Wisconsin.  It might be yet another attempt by the state to reduce its contribution to university expenses whilst retaining complete control over university policy.
University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin told the Board of Regents on Friday that if a plan to split UW-Madison from the UW System did not give her campus more control over tuition, then she wouldn't back it.

"I would oppose that because it wouldn't be a public authority," Martin said. Significant restrictions on tuition or big changes to the shared governance structure of the universities would be "complete deal-breakers," she said.
What intrigues about the article is the way in which posted tuitions serve as signals of excess demand for perceived quality.
Martin was also asked during a special regents meeting whether splitting from the UW System, in a model often described in higher education as a public authority status, would lead to a ramp-up in tuition. 
"My fear is . . . that this potentially moves Madison toward being a higher tuition model that would exclude those very students who have been able to attend Madison in the past," Regent John Drew of Milwaukee said.
Martin said she believes tuition at UW-Madison needs to increase to be on par with other major research universities. The possibility of a tuition increase of about 10% a year that was floated in a January memo was about the same as tuition increases that UW-Madison students have paid over the past two years, Martin said.
Martin also said she's not wedded to any specific tuition increase figure. But Martin would only endorse tuition increases that hold harmless students of need with families making $80,000 a year or less, that are offset with more financial aid, and that are tied with a campaign to let people know that the "sticker price" of a college education is not the real cost, once financial aid is considered.
Nobody pays list price.  Higher education, however, likes to labor under the conceit that nobody meritorious should be deprived of an opportunity to matriculate for something as crass as lack of money.  At the same time, admissions officers have opportunities to tweak aid packages for students in ways that would make the manager of a frequent flyer program blush.  Whether Madison posts the same list price as Oshkosh or a different list price probably doesn't matter much: cheeseheads and Coasties alike know which is the hardcore party school and which is the subprime party school.  But if Madison posts a higher list price, with the excuse that Urbana and Ann Arbor do it, and then offers its promotional discounts financial aid using a different formula than Oshkosh is obligated to do so, the yield it makes from the buckets of seats it sells (yeah, I'm talking like an Amtrak reservation manager, deal with it) might be higher than the yield it could have obtained under a standard formula applied for all Wisconsin universities.

The prospect of Madison going its own way bothers the editors at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
 A system that leaves what has been a resurgent Milwaukee campus weaker with fewer options of its own will not sit well. The Legislature should use a broad lens, and the matter should not be decided simply through debate over the next two-year budget.
Suppose for the sake of discussion that Madison is adapting to the excess demand for perceived quality by admitting more out-of-state students, thereby enhancing its own coffers (the out-of-state tuition is calculated on a fully allocated cost basis: allocate on the basis of a small bucket and admit a large bucket and you're money ahead) and compensating for the state's stinginess, and at the same time displacing Wisconsin residents who on the basis of the small bucket of Coasties would have a space at Madison to Milwaukee.  It is then likely that Milwaukee is admitting students who could cut it at Madison, and to offer them a less demanding course of study is to shortchange them.  Thus the policy discussion Wisconsin ought to be having is whether Milwaukee is set up to serve strong students.
[Wisconsin system president Kevin] Reilly counters that three alternatives are available here, all bad for the Milwaukee campus: UWM becomes a part of a two-school system with Madison (and a weak sister); Milwaukee remains within a weakened system that does not include Madison; Milwaukee spins out on its own, which it isn't ready to do.
Option one is the status quo before 1972, in which Milwaukee was not Madison, but it was more like a university than the converted teachers' colleges in the other system.  In those days the state guaranteed a slot somewhere in one of the systems for any applicant who graduated in the top half of a state high school class, although each university had its own criteria for admission.  The second option is to merge Milwaukee with the former teachers' colleges.

The focus on organizations, however, says nothing about whether there is enough capacity at Madison and Milwaukee to serve some portion of the top half of the high school graduating classes.  In these times, to suggest that the state pick up enough of the universities' expenses to allow a motivated student to meet his or her costs with a part-time job during the school year and a full-time summer job is a bit much.
A NULLIFICATION CRISIS.  According to Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley, the party of antebellum South Carolina is at it again.
Republicans interpreted their overwhelming victories as a mandate to change the course of the states. Specifically, they set about undoing decades of laws put in place by Democrats to favor labor unions over taxpayers.

Instead of staying on the field to defend their positions, Democratic lawmakers in both states fled to neighboring Illinois, where they hope to win with their absence what they couldn't at the ballot box — namely, the right to control policymaking.

Without the Democrats, the legislatures don't have the required quorums to pass budget measures, including cutting pay and benefits for public workers.

The lawmakers in exile call this a defense of democracy. In truth, it's a step toward anarchy. If it catches on as a practice, it will officially end government by, of and for the people.
The notion of checks and balances necessarily implies tensions, as do the competing principles of majority rules and minority safeguards.  Rules of order that specify a quorum, and rules of procedure that provide for filibuster, are ways to contain those tensions.

Spats over quorum calls and filibusters are nothing new.  It's also nothing new to observe holders of a temporary majority seeking to overturn the existing protections.  If you're Harry Reid tonight, you ought to be thinking very carefully about whether to give yourself powers that might be in the hands of Scott Walker's fellow-followers next year.
NO EVIDENCE OF A PLANETARIUM.  The City of DeKalb is building a new high school.  The academic plant has not received much mention, and there might be a planetarium and up-to-date science labs that I'm not aware of.  The big deal, however, is the football field.
When the referendum to build the new DeKalb High School passed in 2008, the cost didn’t include bleachers and lights for the school’s football field. However, a state grant and low bids led the DeKalb School District 428 school board to approve the purchase of bleachers and lights. 

DeKalb has been playing football games at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium for years. The addition of bleachers and lights will allow the Barbs to play home games at the new high school.
Our youngsters might not be able to work a trigonometric identity to save their lives, but they'll have more flexible practice hours for outdoor sports.  Never mind that the contingency fund (a reserve that might come in handy in the event of sovereign default in Springfield) gets tapped to provide the lights.
OUCH.  Kyle-Anne Shiver dismisses Our President in one sentence.
When candidate Hillary Clinton jabbed that Obama would have to “learn on the job,” she had no idea what an understatement that was. Obama’s real task was to grow up while on the job as president.
She deals unsparingly with Our President.  Her column, however, ought not be viewed as an endorsement of Any [Republican?] But Obama.

23.2.11

CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN.  Washington Post columnist Daniel de Vise adopts the Cold Spring Shops position on higher education.  (Each link goes to that segment of the manifesto.)


***
1. Measure student learning | 2. End merit aid | 3. Three-year degrees | 4. Core curriculum | 5. More homework | 6. Encourage completion | 7. Cap athletic subsidies | 8. Rethink remediation | Which idea is best? Vote now.
***

I exaggerate, but only slightly.  We could spar over national assessment tests (markets are environments in which evaluation and selection is forever at work) or merit aid (don't admit unprepared people and the issue goes away), but your Superintendent is not going to argue with "Generations of Americans went to college to learn a common core of human knowledge: Plato's 'Republic.' Darwin's 'Origin of Species.' 'The Iliad' and 'The Odyssey.' The rise and fall of Greece and Rome. Enough Latin to read the school motto and enough Shakespeare to drop quotes at cocktail parties."  Nor with "Students don't work as hard because they don't have to."  Nor with "Stop re-teaching high school in community college."  It's not quite sending the high schools a bill for the remedial students they heave up, but when the status quo isn't working ...

The dean at Anonymous Community and Historiann are both holding bull sessions.

If one of the house organs of the Eastern Liberal Establishment isn't enough, consider an essay along similar lines in the house organ of the Academic Establishment.
What good does it do to increase the number of students in college if the ones who are already there are not learning much? Would it not make more sense to improve the quality of education before we increase the quantity of students?
Turf out the disengaged and the party animals and the time servers and it's no longer a before and after.  But when The Chronicle of Higher Education takes up the cry of unprepared students and administrative bloat, it's a good day at Cold Spring Shops.
Increasingly, undergraduates are not prepared adequately in any academic area but often arrive with strong convictions about their abilities. So college professors routinely encounter students who have never written anything more than short answers on exams, who do not read much at all, who lack foundational skills in math and science, yet are completely convinced of their abilities and resist any criticism of their work, to the point of tears and tantrums: "But I earned nothing but A's in high school," and "Your demands are unreasonable." Such a combination makes some students nearly unteachable.
Sometimes it's up to professors to develop a spine.

Everybody who is drafted by the Green Bay Packers got some votes for the all-conference team.  But some of those all-conference types will still get the request to see the coach and bring your playbook.  And everybody who enrolls in a top graduate program has a transcript from somewhere with high grades.  But some people can't manage income and substitution effects.
As the college-age population declines, many tuition-driven institutions struggle to find enough paying customers to balance their budgets. That makes it necessary to recruit even more unprepared students, who then must be retained, shifting the burden for academic success away from the student and on to the teacher. Faculty members can work with an individual student, if they have time, but the capabilities of the student population as a whole define the average level of rigor that is sustainable in the classroom. At some institutions, graduation rates are so high because the academic expectations are so low. Failing a lot of students is a serious risk, financially, for the college and the professor.
Access, assessment, remediation, retention, subprime.  Meanwhile striving students who lack the finances or the social connections to get into an institution where some of their classmates might be smart and motivated, even if the curriculum is coreless or trendy, end up in the academic gulags.
 Contingent faculty members, who are paid so little, routinely teach course loads that are impossible to sustain without cutting a lot of corners. One would think that tenured faculty members, at least, would have the time to focus on student learning, but, as the proportion of tenured professors has declined, the service expectations on the ones remaining have increased considerably, turning a growing number of tenured professors into part-time administrators. At the same time, research expectations for tenure-track faculty members have escalated steadily. Teaching becomes a distraction from the activities that are most highly rewarded. The easiest way to save time in the classroom is to limit assignments that require personalized feedback and to give grades that are higher than students expect.
My mood would be better if more students would read, understand, and act on the feedback they do receive.  It would be better if there were fewer trendy projects, started with great fanfare only to be abandoned, that suck up faculty time endlessly tweaking the wording on documents that will later be misplaced or ignored.  It would be better if I could carve out a few more hours of thinking time.
Students may be enjoying high self-esteem, but college teachers seem to be suffering from a lack of self-confidence. It starts in graduate school, when we begin to fear we are destined for unemployment, when we compare our pay with that of comparably educated professionals, and when we realize that—for all the sacrifices that we've made, often with idealistic motives—we are held in slight regard. Many people even think of us as subversives who "hate America." During the latest economic crisis—perhaps the endpoint of a 40-year slide—many of us have felt as if we've become expendable, if we are employed at all. That makes it hard for us to make strong demands on our students, or, perhaps more important, to stand up for any kind of change in our institutions.
This last point is a call for faculty to develop a spine. Tenure might lead to compensating salary differentials. It is also an opportunity to show good stewardship of the institution, perhaps by saying no when it's required.

After the Establishment's case, the Pope Center's proposal for North Carolina looks moderate.
In order to ensure that budget cuts lead to better quality and efficiency, we recommend that the following six criteria be used to determine whether to reduce or eliminate appropriations: 1) reducing excessive costs or excessive growth, 2) improving quality, 3) eliminating politicization, 4) eliminating “mission creep,” 5) eliminating redundancy, and 6) eliminating programs no longer needed due to changing conditions.
Not time to declare victory and go home, but perhaps time to go work on the railroad for a while.
DEVELOPING THOSE MISSING MEN.  Kay Hymowitz's tour of Guyland elicits rebuttals.  Art of Manliness suggests she check her premises.
These kinds of articles also always frame the issue in a way that makes all modern men seem like boobs, with the implication that all modern women are paragons of maturity and success (just look at the picture above that ran with the article!). Are men the only ones who need work? You would never see an article called, “Where Have All the Good Women Gone?”

Also, I have a feeling that these articles just perpetuate the low expectations that society has for young men today. The articles and books simply stereotype all men as loutish, clueless, neanderthals. If you want men to man up, we need to highlight the positive examples of masculinity in society and expect more from men instead of throwing up our hands and exclaiming “Men! What can you do?” How about an article on the fact that tens of thousands of men are extremely interested in bettering themselves these days? How about an article on the fact that while a lot of men grew up without a strong male mentor in their lives, and do in fact feel a little lost, they earnestly want to catch up on what they missed out on and are  eager to become the best husbands, brothers, and citizens they can be?
Although her focus is primarily on Culture War themes, Dr. Helen recognizes the same point.
One professor Hymowitz mentions says:

The men come into class with their backward baseball caps and the “word processor ate my homework” excuses. Meanwhile the women are checking their day planners and asking for recommendations to law school.
If women were showing disinterest or not engaging in conversation at college, the big question would be: “what are we doing wrong, and how can we get them engaged?” When men tune out, they are good-for-nothing slackers. Perhaps if men were welcomed into this conversation, they wouldn’t need to sit back in stony silence.
There is a relatively simple corrective to the slouchers. Printer failed? Have it ready an hour or two before it's due. Stop enabling helplessness, get less of it.  Or is Ms Hymowitz suggesting that too many academic men are capons, unwilling or unable to lean on the lads?
IT'S CALLED A COMPENSATING DIFFERENTIAL, AND IT MATTERS.  Voluntary Xchange explains in the best telegraphic form.
Tenure is a form of compensation, and a pretty good one at that.
If you cut tenure, you’re cutting compensation.
And, cutting compensation makes you less competitive with other states. Utah already knows this: the state is known for lower salaries, higher benefits, and compensation that is comparable to other states.
In sum, if you cut tenure, you’re going to end up having to raise salaries to continue to attract new people willing to take the risk.
Perhaps the bill should be retitled the More Expensive Utah Higher Education Act.

The analysis requires faculty to have other job options.  That's almost certainly true of economists.   Humanities Ph.D.s, they notoriously of coffeehouses and bookstores in college towns, might be different, although if the industrial reserve army of underemployed Ph.D.s comprises participants in a tournament, in which a tenure track appointment is a seeding, and tenure a prize, take away the prize and perhaps the reserve army goes away too.

21.2.11

FASTER AND MORE FREQUENT.  In the current political climate, another round of grants for Passenger Rail projects seems unlikely, but Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett has a proposal ready to go should a request be issued.
The state of Wisconsin won $810 million in stimulus money to create high-speed rail service between Milwaukee and Madison, but Gov. Scott Walker returned the money to the federal government after his election in November. Barrett said that was a loss to Milwaukee's efforts to attract businesses and people, but said he will pursue rail grants for the Milwaukee-to-Chicago line the next time the federal government accepts applications for rail money.

"Within the next few years, we will need additional trains on the Milwaukee-Chicago run," Barrett said. "That would increase our daily trains from seven to nine or even more and further strengthen Milwaukee’s economy."
The figure of merit for The Milwaukee Road is twelve trains each way each day, perhaps with more even spacing, and the running time to beat is seventy-five minutes. Some of these things could be accomplished relatively cheaply.

It appears, though, as if new rolling stock is being prepared.  The manufacturer is considering moving its train factory to Illinois.  (There's an interurban factory a-building in Rochelle that might be material for a post one of these days.)


Talgo plant in Milwaukee
Fox 6 photograph.

Change the white to orange, make the red maroon, and add some gray trim and gold lettering and you'd have something spectacular.
GETTING THE MODEL RIGHT.  Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editor Ricardo Pimentel contemplates the quasi-privatization of The University of Wisconsin (at Madison).
The Madison campus apparently wants to secede from the University of Wisconsin System, becoming a more privatized hybrid - still sucking up tax dollars, just fewer.
In an environment of state austerity, such a proposal has its attractions.  State legislatures, or political appointees, continue to micromanage 100% of a state university's work, while paying for 25% or less of it.  Mr Pimentel fears that such a step would contribute further to social stratification.
California, my birth state, has a two-tier, four-year public university system. There is the California State University system and the more exalted, hard-to-get-into, chi-chi University of California system.

The UC acronym appears before such locales as Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara. Though there is some duplication in locales, we're talking about such places as Fresno, San Bernardino and Bakersfield for the Cal States.
If you're getting the impression that "two-tier," as Wisconsin used to have, means two different types of colleges, you wouldn't be far off. When I was growing up, struggling folks with good-but-not-great-grades went to Cal State. Brainiacs and those with money went to UC.
That "as Wisconsin used to have" refers to the structure 40 years ago, in which The University of Wisconsin had its main campus at Madison, a branch in Milwaukee, and some up and coming centers, at the time limited to the first two years, elsewhere in the state, and the Wisconsin State University System operated a number of converted teachers' colleges-cum-party schools in the hinterlands.  The state's policy at the time was to ensure a space in a state-supported university for anyone who finished in the top half of his or her high school class.  The thick envelope from Madison, however, corroborated one's brainiac status; the social set could evaluate Whitewater or Oshkosh on the merits of its parties.  Milwaukee Hamilton's National Merit finalists, however, grasped the caste system; in those days a finalist could request information from any three universities, and the joke ran "Princeton, Harvard, UWM."
UW-Milwaukee aspires to be a major research university. In fact, only two UW campuses have doctoral programs - Madison and Milwaukee.

The California-Wisconsin analogy doesn't totally fit. The UCs remain public. Now, imagine how pronounced the gaps would be if it were "quasi public." It would be an upper-crust, research university and then schools that don't even make the also-rans in that crucial research category.
 Milwaukee has long aspired to something more academically. Pursuing basketball greatness in the Horizon League isn't likely to do that. Putting more resources into engineering and urban planning and computer sciences and business might.
"Access" colleges provide an avenue to higher ed for challenged communities, and then there are those elite, research universities - hard to get into, breaking the bank when you do. And the problem here is that, alone among the state's universities, Milwaukee needs to be both - an access university and a major research university.
Mr Pimentel here conflates two kinds of access, one being the pernicious form of admitting unprepared students, the other being the economic form of subsidizing tuitions for promising but financially strapped students. There are at least two perspectives one can take toward those subsidies.  One is that they are regressive transfers to people who will become rich later in life.  The other is that they are a social contract with future generations that current legislatures have broken.  The reality, as Mr Pimentel notes, is that a striving student can no longer work his way through one of the elite universities with a full-time summer job and a part-time academic year job.
I'm not arguing for another tier for Milwaukee because it's so different from other campuses, but recognition that we lose something when public universities become less so. It communicates an abdication of public responsibility for higher education. We've been abdicating for years, levels of state funding steadily declining.
That puts Mr Pimentel in the broken social contract camp.  Perhaps so.  What matters, though, to the citizens of Wisconsin is that Milwaukee, despite having neither high-visibility football nor royalties from rat poison, now has more Wisconsin residents enrolled than Madison, and Milwaukee's part of the social contract is to make sure that its brainiacs and strivers get the intellectual challenge they might have hoped to get at Madison, had Madison provided a slot for them.  The incentive to the former teachers' colleges ought to be to lift their academic profiles as well.

20.2.11

FINDING THOSE MISSING MEN.  Kay Hymowitz takes a tour of Guyland, suggests different origins.
Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This "pre-adulthood" has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it's time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn't bring out the best in men.
There might be more than one cause, and forty years into the aftereffects of the Consciousness Revolution, it may be too soon to identify any tendency.  An anecdote from pop culture, however, is a bad place to start social science.
Where have the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers—a gender gap neatly crystallized by the director Judd Apatow in his hit 2007 movie "Knocked Up." The story's hero is 23-year-old Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), who has a drunken fling with Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) and gets her pregnant. Ben lives in a Los Angeles crash pad with a group of grubby friends who spend their days playing videogames, smoking pot and unsuccessfully planning to launch a porn website. Allison, by contrast, is on her way up as a television reporter and lives in a neatly kept apartment with what appear to be clean sheets and towels. Once she decides to have the baby, she figures out what needs to be done and does it. Ben can only stumble his way toward being a responsible grownup.
The plots of movies and sitcoms might identify some causes and miss others. Where have the good men gone?  Years ago, yelled at by a proto-feminist for holding a door open?  In contemporary sitcoms and movies, the sounding board for all her troubles, but never the steady date, let alone the mate?  Where's the incentive to be good, if to be good is to be ignored or relied upon in a crisis only or scorned?  But perhaps a longer perspective is helpful.
Unlike adolescents, however, pre-adults don't know what is supposed to come next. For them, marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether. In 1970, just 16% of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that's true of an astonishing 55% of the age group. In the U.S., the mean age at first marriage has been climbing toward 30 (a point past which it has already gone in much of Europe). It is no wonder that so many young Americans suffer through a "quarter-life crisis," a period of depression and worry over their future.

Given the rigors of contemporary career-building, pre-adults who do marry and start families do so later than ever before in human history. Husbands, wives and children are a drag on the footloose life required for the early career track and identity search. Pre-adulthood has also confounded the primordial search for a mate. It has delayed a stable sense of identity, dramatically expanded the pool of possible spouses, mystified courtship routines and helped to throw into doubt the very meaning of marriage. In 1970, to cite just one of many numbers proving the point, nearly seven in 10 25-year-olds were married; by 2000, only one-third had reached that milestone.

American men have been struggling with finding an acceptable adult identity since at least the mid-19th century. We often hear about the miseries of women confined to the domestic sphere once men began to work in offices and factories away from home. But it seems that men didn't much like the arrangement either. They balked at the stuffy propriety of the bourgeois parlor, as they did later at the banal activities of the suburban living room. They turned to hobbies and adventures, like hunting and fishing. At midcentury, fathers who at first had refused to put down the money to buy those newfangled televisions changed their minds when the networks began broadcasting boxing matches and baseball games. The arrival of Playboy in the 1950s seemed like the ultimate protest against male domestication; think of the refusal implied by the magazine's title alone.
Do your own thing: coopted by the bourgeoisie? The column is an excerpt from Ms Hymowitz's forthcoming Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.  That's likely to be material for a future Book Review.  The Consciousness Revolution?  Yet another experiment against reality?
THROW-DOWN IN MAD-TOWN.  A week ago, it was a basketball game between Wisconsin and the at the time unbeaten and top-ranked Ohio State men.  This week, it's ... Gettysburg?
Suddenly, all of the nation’s eyes are on Madison, Wisconsin, as a national battle long in the brewing was set off by the sudden reversal of political fortune last fall in the historical home of the “progressive” movement, when Republicans took over the statehouse and governorship. Public employee unions have been the last redoubt of the union movement, with unionized workers less than ten percent of the private work force. They have served to create an unvirtuous cycle of political graft and contribution that has long played a key element in Democrat electoral strategy, one that was crucial to Barack Obama’s winning the White House in 2008 and will be so again next year. And if they lose in this previously most “progressive” of states, others will surely follow, not just in the upper Midwest, but potentially across the country even to leftist bastions like California, whose shores managed to avoid November’s political tsunami.

So the Democrats, including the president, have correctly assessed that if their public-employee union allies lose this battle and are no longer able to demand ever-increasing wages and benefits, and funnel much of them from their (many of them unwilling) members to Democrat campaign coffers, their political fortunes will fall even further from their well-deserved “shellacking” in November. Like the coming loss of seats due to redistricting, this will be an even greater consequence of this election than mere loss of seats, due to its long-term strategic implications. And so concerned are they that they’ve even been willing to let slip the mask of “moderate” and “centrist” from the president to help their minions.

Several historical analogies to this event have been made over the past few days. Some have called it “Greece with snow,” as those receiving state largess have been rioting and protesting over even a slight diminution of it. Others have compared it to recent events in Egypt, which now threaten or promise (depending on one’s point of view of the desirability of the projected outcome) to cause the rest of the region to fall like so many dominoes, releasing a long-pent-up potential energy. It has even been analogized to the Spanish Civil War, a decidedly uncomfortable fit, given that it was a battle that both sides should have lost, from the standpoint of those who favor individual liberty and not various flavors of collectivism.
Pajamas’ own Richard Fernandez, in also noting the Egypt analogy, has pointed out similarities with the Battle of Jutland, an “accidental” naval battle in the First World War, accidental in the sense that its location was contingent on an external event and that, while such a clash was inevitable at some point, the location had not been planned by either side. The problem with this analogy is that, while it was the greatest naval engagement of the war, with huge casualties on both sides, it wasn’t really strategically decisive, and ultimately had little influence on the outcome (unless perhaps one wants to counterfactual that the Lusitania somehow wouldn’t have been sunk in its absence, and America not been drawn in to the war).

From that standpoint, I think that a more interesting analogy is Gettysburg.
It's certainly a major event, and it's flared up quickly.  Fourteen Democratic state senators, using a quorum call in lieu of a filibuster, have decamped to Illinois (one was interviewed from an undisclosed location somewhere in DeKalb), and one of them, elected by a slim margin in a normally Republican district in 2008, is subject to recall.

The dispute between the new Wisconsin governor and the state employee unions might be more politics as usual, or it might be special interests trumping the public interest, and it has Franklin D. Roosevelt turning up in unusual places.
"The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service," Roosevelt wrote in 1937 to the National Federation of Federal Employees. Yes, public workers may demand fair treatment, wrote Roosevelt. But, he wrote, "I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place" in the public sector. "A strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government."
And if you're the kind of guy who capitalizes "government," woe betide such obstructionists.
Only two weeks since the Super Bowl, just a week after that basketball game, and those seem so far away.

Meanwhile, Illinois has just raised a flat tax rate in such a way as to reduce the pay of all state employees, and new state employees have a pension with different provisions than long-term employees.
EXCESS DEMAND FOR ONE TYPE OF UNIVERSITY, EXCESS CAPACITY IN ANOTHER?  Tyler Cowen sees the opportunity for universities to move up the academic food chain, should they be so inclined.
The price of higher education is rising -- rapidly -- and yet a) individual universities do not have strong incentives to take in larger classes, and b) it is hard to start a new, good college or university.  The key question is how much a) and b) are remediable in the longer run and if so then there is some chance that the current structure of higher education is a bubble of sorts. 
A bubble there might be, and at the same time it coexists with a positional arms race. Thus, the fix.
I never see the authors utter the sentence: "There are plenty wanna-bee professors discarded on the compost heap of academic history."  Yet the best discard should not be much worse, and may even be better, than the marginally accepted professor.  Such a large pool of surplus labor would play a significant role in an economic analysis of virtually any other sector.
To some extent, that pool is wasted. Interview with a few top departments and a few middling departments, don't make the cut at the top departments, now deal with we're-not-as-good-as and don't-make-us-look-bad and with the guilt trippers who will enable weak students and call it access.

Matt Yglesias suggests that more subprime capacity will help contain costs.
What you could plausibly hope to see happen is the creation of an institution of higher education that’s (a) much worse than the University of Michigan, (b) better than nothing, (c) radically cheaper than the University of Michigan, and (d) scalable. Then you could imagine a model like that moving incrementally up the quality ladder.
Isn't it simpler to have the institutions closer in mission, staffing, and student body to Michigan to be more like Michigan, and for the institutions closer to Eastern Michigan to be more like Eastern Michigan, and so on ... the institutions not capable of lifting their game at all, or of finding students who can meet the demands, get shaken out?
PERHAPS THE PURPLE FINGERS HELPED.  Reason's Jacob Sullum takes stock of the neocons' democratization efforts.
As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians poured into the streets of Cairo, braving riot police, tanks, and the government's plainclothes thugs in an ultimately successful effort to end Hosni Mubarak's 30-year dictatorship, Elliott Abrams realized something important: George W. Bush was right.


Writing in The Washington Post, Abrams, a deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration, credited his former boss with recognizing that "Arab nations, too, yearn to throw off the secret police, to read a newspaper that the Ministry of Information has not censored and to vote in free elections." Other Bush partisans echoed Abrams, praising the former president for insisting, as he put it in a 2003 speech, that "every person has the ability and the right to be free."
The truth may be more elusive. Mr Sullum's concluding remarks note the tragic tradeoff inherent in any great power protecting its permanent interests.
Mindful of democratic elections that have empowered illiberal forces such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Obama, like Bush before him, worries that friendly autocrats will be replaced by hostile populists. Let's hope this fear, which underlies the long history of desperate despot coddling that Bush continued while condemning, does not become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
At the same time that defenders of the nation building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq are claiming some credit; critics of those efforts are suggesting that the nonexistence of strong pro-U.S. governments in those countries emboldens opponents of the relatively sympathetic strongmen in Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain. Iran and Libya are hardly home to friendly governments, and 22 years after Tiananmen Square, a new generation again questions the Chinese emperor.
A dangerous tendency has shown itself of late among many of our personnel -- an unwillingness to share the joys and hardships of the masses, a concern for personal fame and gain.
(Chairman Mao, 1957.)
THE FRUITS OF ACCESS-ASSESSMENT-REMEDIATION-RETENTION.  Universal college: triggering a revolution of rising expectations?
Would you like your college education to be free? Sure, who wouldn't? Well, the people of Tunisia and Egypt are learning that whenever the government supplies something, it is never really "free."
In Tunisia, "free" university education is guaranteed to anyone who passes the government's exams at the end of high school. Largely as a result of this, the number of Tunisians who graduated college more than tripled in the last ten years. This may sound like a good thing, but it has produced a glut of graduates.
Fifty-Seven percent of young Tunisians entering the labor market are college educated. This is while only 30 percent of Americans earn a college degree by the time they are 27. Recent Tunisian college grads have an unemployment rate approximately three times higher than the national average of 15 percent. This is up ninefold from 1994.
The reason for this is not necessarily because having a college education hinders people in getting a job, but because so many college grads are entering the labor market at a time when there are few jobs.
There's no shortage of work in North Africa; a shortage of opportunities to deploy the human capital higher education led young people to believe they were developing, whether because of rigidities in the ruling class, civil society given to corruption rather than transparency, or the legacies of Islamic rigidity means ambition collides, harshly, with reality.
We, in America, might not be as far away from the problems of Tunisia and Egypt as some may be inclined to think.
From 1997 to 2007, full-time enrollment in US tertiary education increased 34 percent. The average college student graduates with $24,000 in debt, a 40 percent real increase from 1997. In 2008, only57 percent of students enrolled in a four year college graduated within six years. The unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is 52 percent. The underemployed as a group may be as large as the unemployed in America. For example, in 1970 only 3 percent of mail carriers had a bachelor's degree, while today the number is 12 percent.
Although our case may not be as extreme as that of Tunisia or Egypt, we are headed in the same direction. And just like in Tunisia and Egypt, our education bubble is fueled by governmental policy.
Government accreditation laws keep potential institutions of higher education out of the market, which allows the institutions already in the market to raise their prices. Accreditation institutions can also force institutions of higher education to make changes that increase costs.
The saving grace, at least during periods of economic expansion, is that employers complain there are insufficient skilled workers to fill their more demanding positions (there are gains from trade for somebody to exploit, including employers that recognize the labor-leisure tradeoff), and that complaint maps in some approximate way into excess demand for institutions that maintain a semblance of academic standards.  Apparently, although college may be the new high school in the United States, the post suggests that college is the new junior high in Egypt and Tunisia.
WHY EARMARKS WILL NEVER GO AWAY.  Michael at Knowledge Problem shows two maps, one showing Congressional support for continuing an ethanol mandate, the other showing the location of ethanol plants, mostly within the Corn Belt.
If you are among those few people who still believe U.S. ethanol policy is driven by something other than the demands of the U.S. ethanol industry, then you might be surprised. For the rest of us: no surprises here.
So mote it be.  Note, though, a few votes from thickly settled areas.  Perhaps that's satisfying the aesthetics of upscale green constituents, or gentleman farmers.  On the other hand, that's the beginning of a coalition for some kind of Comprehensive Energy Policy Act, otherwise known as earmarks-by-consensus-in-committee.

15.2.11

WHAT IS SEEN, WHAT IS UNSEEN.  Jobs can neither be created nor destroyed, only changed in form.
Enacted in 2009, the federal stimulus bill is providing in excess of $800 billion to repair bridges and roads, plus millions of dollars to make and plant signs that give credit to The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for these improvements. But why don’t we just spend the whole $800 billion on the signs?  There is no real need to actually repair or build anything. It would put just as many dollars into the pockets of sign-making firms and their employees, who would then buy cars, new appliances, clothing and food with their largesse. 
Foolish you say? It would be efficacious in a simple Keynesian model, though probably not pass many laugh tests. And it is one reason the word “stimulus” has acquired four-letter-word status within the administration. 
The basic point is that there are an infinite number of ways to blow $10 billion—or $800 billion. We could repair roads or bridges, plow it into education or law enforcement, or produce and distribute more porno movies. In the short run the issue might be which of these various actions or projects would create more jobs; longer term we’d be more concerned with which one(s) would make our economy stronger and more humane. Any money spent to create jobs in Activity A could have gone toward job creation in B or C. And, of course, in an economy not run by Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, how we pay for everything—which either means raising taxes on someone, getting China and Japan to extend our line of credit, and/or reducing spending somewhere else in the public sector—has to enter into these discussions. 
It’s hard to object to  feel-good terms like “infrastructure” or “green” initiatives, but in a world of scarcity and choice, some spending is likely to be more beneficial, or at least less wasteful (Can you say Cash for Clunkers?), than another alternative. Do we choose bridges and overpasses instead of a high-speed rail network, restoring government buildings, more day-care centers and homes for senior citizens, or some elected official’s pet project to placate his or her political base of support?
(Via Professor Mankiw.)
NO CATENARY, NO TILTING TRAINS.  Amtrak's Michigan trains have free rein to 95 over some stretches of the line, with a speedup to 110 coming, possibly from Porter to Dearborn, and ridership and revenues are increasing.
THE COLLEGE BUBBLE, MADE IN WASHINGTON.  Cold Spring Shops's Favorite Administrator gets to the heart of the matter.
[For-profit college] enrollments soared, their profitability went through the roof, and investors rushed to get in on a good thing. The market capitalization of the for-profit sector of higher education shot up to dizzying heights. Much of the growth was due to the efficient way in which for-profit colleges and universities signed up students for federally guaranteed student loans. As a whole, the sector didn’t much concern itself with the academic preparation of its prospective students. Federal loan eligibility was the key to admission.
A bubble it might be, but legacy higher education ignores the non-profits at its own risk.
Liberal education has no real stake in the success of those corporations that draw a tidy profit from convincing marginal students to sign up for federal loans. There may be a good social welfare case for that practice. I leave that for others to decide. But liberal education does have a stake in finding ways to carry on in a culture that is largely hostile to its purposes and in an institutional setting that is increasingly vulnerable to public disaffection.
Perhaps so, but liberal education ought revert to its core content.
SUMMON THE HERITAGE. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority takes delivery of some new diesels.


There's too much purple in that maroon, and not enough gold. The lightning stripe is inspiring.


Brunswick, Maine, July 1946
Howard Kirkpatrick photo.

Passenger trains will be returning to Brunswick in the near future, barring political developments in Washington.

8.2.11

THE STEELERS NEVER HAD A CHANCE. Vince Lombardi fires up the 2011 Packers.


Lombardi's Packers were 5-0 in the preseason and 3-1 during the regular season against the Steelers.

The Steelers were the last team to defeat Lombardi's Packers, December 17, 1967, in a game that Jerry Kramer's Instant Replay suggests didn't matter too much, with Pittsburgh getting points off of an interception return and a fumble return, and Bart Starr rested in favor of promising understudy Don Horn.
PERFECT THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD?  The Obama administration continues to push for faster passenger trains.
Vice President Joseph Biden laid out details of the plan in Philadelphia today. He pitched the plan as necessary to keep America competitive with the rest of the world.
“We cannot compromise. The rest of the world is not compromising,” he said.
The Opposition is not interested in compromising.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the house committee that oversees transportation policy, quickly blasted the plan. “Rather than focusing on the Northeast Corridor, the most congested corridor in the nation and the only corridor owned by the federal government, the administration continues to squander limited taxpayer dollars on marginal projects,” he said.
Would the right honorable gentleman be willing to review the Federal Railroad Administration's safety regulations, to permit faster operation of trains on the existing tracks?

In New Hampshire, the Opposition is not interested in providing commuter rail service to Boston.
The plan would extend Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Lowell Line from Lowell, Mass., to Nashua, N.H.


“If it made sense, the private sector would do it,” said Rep. Donald McGuire, R-Epsom, author of the bill to shut down the extension. McGuire’s bill would repeal the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, which the legislature created four years ago with bipartisan support from Nashua-area legislators.
This private sector talk is misleading ... where are the private sector roads in New Hampshire?  Perhaps the commuter service does not have a positive benefit-cost ratio, but let's evaluate the project on that basis, not on some faith in invisible hands against a history of using public money on internal improvements.

And let's evaluate the benefit-cost ratios on a sensible basis.  In National Review, Wendell Cox (via Newmark's Door) sees nothing but doom behind Passenger Rail projects.
Among intercity transport modes, only Amtrak is materially subsidized. User fees pay virtually all the costs of airlines and airports, which (together with connecting ground transportation) link any two points in the nation within a day. The intercity highway system goes everywhere, and nearly all of it was built with user fees paid by drivers, truckers, and bus companies.
The Interstate Highway System is nothing without the city street network, and last time I checked, property tax payers were being assessed for street repairs (and in most jurisdictions it's more than $40 per house and $115 per hotel).  With the Little Ice Age setting in, states and cities are exceeding their budget for plowing and salting, and I don't see the invisible hand refilling those accounts.  Again, if you want to call a service self-sustaining, make a proper accounting of the costs and benefits, and the hidden subsidies.
High-speed rail is a budget buster. Japan, with the world’s leading system, illustrates the financial devastation that high-speed rail can produce. For 25 years, Japan borrowed to build a system serving the ideal rail corridor, nestled along a single coast with a population of more than 75 million people. Ridership was artificially increased by high gasoline prices and one of the highest highway tolls in the world. Yet this modest system, only twice as long as proposed California system, played a major role in driving up a gargantuan rail debt that was transferred to Japanese taxpayers. The rail debt added more than 10 percent to the national debt. This is akin to adding $1.4 trillion to the U.S. national debt.


Virtually everywhere high-speed rail has been constructed, financial liability has fallen to the taxpayers. In Taiwan and the United Kingdom, taxpayers assumed billions of dollars in private debts for much more modest high-speed-rail systems than Japan’s.
Perhaps so.  On a fully allocated benefit-cost basis, passenger rail might still be a proper use of resources.  Rail passengers can avoid parking charges ... I once astonished a British O Scaler who was attempting to make sense of London's urban access charges with my description of Chicago parking charges and the effect those had on Metra ridership; that, yes, and rail passengers are able to work from their seats without being traffic hazards.  Without being annoying is another matter, the Metra monthly commuter newsletter is full of whinges about cell-phone yakkers and self-important types who turn the walkover seats to create a small office.
MARKET TESTS HAVE STEEP GRADING CURVES.  George Leef of Phi Beta Cons isn't impressed with retention and completion rates.
Whether or not a student graduates depends upon his or her willingness to do what the school requires. At schools with low graduation rates, it’s not the case that students are like gamblers in a game where the odds are greatly against them. It’s just that most of the students who enroll are weak, disengaged, and don’t do what is required. The percentage of students who do graduate didn’t get lucky; they did the work to earn the credits they needed.
That's a variant on the subprime party school hypothesis -- the administrators are more interested in securing the tuition revenue than in producing either thinkers or holders of solid credentials.  There's some evidence that the more highly regarded universities have higher graduation rates, but that could be self-selection at work.
Searching for a school with a relatively high graduation rate isn’t necessarily going to ensure success for a student with poor academic skills and habits.
The college boards, letters of reference, and middle-class work habits matter after all.  Social construction be hanged, those poor academic skills show up in the dossier and the thin envelope comes the other way.
Also, it’s possible that schools with higher graduation rates get those rates because they have contrived to make it easy for students to pass courses and stay on track for graduation no matter how weak their ability and how slight their academic progress — the problem Arum and Roksa discuss in Academically Adrift. And as we know, simply having a degree to your name doesn’t guarantee a job that pays even moderately well. Schools that manage to string along weak students until they graduate might be doing them more harm than good.
Complex Proposition alert -- there might be some stringing along going on, but there's probably self-selection as well: the more academically motivated matriculants hope for the thick envelopes from the institutions where a critical mass of other academically motivated matriculants is present.

7.2.11

FASCHING, MIT PACKERSSIEG.


There was a Sprecher Abbey Triple for after the game, and I cleaned the local liquor store out of Capitol City Platinum Blonde Doppelbock last Friday.


And what chance did the Steelers really have after Fox Sports hired Dan Lauria in camel-hair coat and fedora to give a contemporary pep talk as if to today's Packers?

Prosit!
BACK TO WORK.  Cold Spring Shops have been in semester break and football playoff mode for the better part of two months.  The students are back, the Packers are Super Bowl champions, the snow has been cleared, and there's no shortage of our normal fare to work on.  Leonard Pitts will set the mood.
No, stupidity crept over the giant with the stealth of twilight, a product less of one abrupt moment than of a thousand moments of complacency, of resting on laurels, of allowing curiosity to be teased and bullied out of bright children, of dumbing down textbooks so kids could get better grades with less work, of using ``elite'' like a curse word. And, of behaving as if knowing things, and being able to extrapolate from and otherwise make critical use of, the things one knows, was a betrayal of some fundamental human authenticity -- some need to keep it real.
Stupidity stole over the giant until it could no longer tell science from faith, or conventional wisdom from actual wisdom and in any event, valued ideological purity above them all. Stupidity snaked over the giant until science teachers shrank from teaching science, history books contained history that wasn't history, late-night comics got easy laughs from people on the street who could not say when the War of 1812 was fought, political leaders told outright lies with blithe smiles and no fear of being caught and you would not have been surprised to hear that someone had fixed mathematics, so that 2+2 could now equal 17, thus preserving the all-important self esteem of second-grade kids.
We seek a more positive outcome than the one Mr Pitts fears.  Stay tuned.