The Sorry Position of Faculty

The University of Wisconsin System (the organization that oversee all UW institutions) has come out with a proposal for changing Chancellor search and screen  committees (S&S).  The Chancellor is the CEO of most UW institutions.  Here it is:

The proposed changes to RPD 6-4 are designed to address concerns raised regarding the current policy. The revisions:

 allow for smaller Search and Screen Committees and more opportunities to include members from external constituencies, as committee composition is less prescribed;

 increase the connection between the Search and Screen and Special Regent committees by having a member of the Special Regent Committee chair the Search and Screen Committee; and

 increase Regent involvement throughout the search process by: suggesting Regents visit the relevant institution when considering chancellor qualifications; providing for Regent attendance at semi-finalist interviews; and permitting the Special Regent Committee and the System President to identify additional finalists.

In addition, the proposed amendments clarify the System President’s responsibilities in the hiring process for senior leadership positions within UW System Administration, prohibit consideration of an interim appointee as a candidate for the permanent position without written permission of the System President; and reflect the previously-adopted delegation to the System President of salary-setting authority for UW System Administration senior leadership positions.

In short, the regents are going to take over Chancellor searches from the faculty.  UW System already makes the decision given the finalists selected by the S&S committee.   Being on these high level S&S is a big task.  The one benefit that faculty get is that they can keep the idiots off the short list.  The last clause of bullet three wants to nix that.

An interesting question is why would System do this?  One respondent sees the the impact of of a single state governor in this new process and the faculty are up in arms about a particular governor named Walker.  Faculty morale is at astounding lows.  Everyone is always on the market but now more are serious about it.  System seems to be focused on killing morale.   Who would serve on such a high-work low-reward committee?  Perhaps, System sees that now is the time to act when faculty have no political support.  It is short-sighted but it might be effective in increasing the power of System.

The war has begun.  System has declared war on the faculty.  It sounds harsh but there is no other way to describe it.  We don’t see it ending well for faculty.  We want a different outcome but we don’t predict it.

Why Universities Are In Trouble

Universities, especially public ones, are in trouble because nobody wants to support them.  Democrats don’t want to support them.  Republicans don’t want to support them.  There are lots of reasons but one critical one is the behavior of the denizens.  Take this example from Keith Parsons:

First, I am your professor, not your teacher. There is a difference. Up to now your instruction has been in the hands of teachers, and a teacher’s job is to make sure that you learn. Teachers are evaluated on the basis of learning outcomes, generally as measured by standardized tests. If you don’t learn, then your teacher is blamed. However, things are very different for a university professor. It is no part of my job to make you learn. At university, learning is your job — and yours alone.

To state the obvious, an instructor at a university and a K-12 instructor are both responsible for student learning outcomes.  Their responsibilities might not be exactly the same but they are both responsible.  Professor Parsons polemic could resonate with university instructors because they might have a smaller or at least different responsibility for student learning than K-12 instructors do.  One part of our responsibility for university learning is leadership to encourage students to drink deeply from the fountain of knowledge (yes, yes, I hear the group grousing that learning is more than just knowledge but that was his phase).  We are surely responsible for student learning in other ways.  When a faculty member denies the obvious it is doubly embarrassing because we are supposed to be a place of learning and reason.  Would you support us if we can’t figure out that faculty should have an impact on learning?  Would you support us if we did not try to evaluate faculty (a tricky proposition) on the basis of student learning?

A new faculty member should not be retained if he made such written statements about learning.  Senior faculty are more protected hence the old joke:
What is the difference between a terrorist and a tenured full professor?

Answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist.

It is easy to see why university funding is a problem.  The public rightly has a poor perception of us because of the entitled and illogical behavior of some of our brethren.  It makes us an easy mark for politicians of all stripes.  The politician points out the behavior of some faculty members and the public will support the politician’s attempts to end that behavior.  We are all to blame for such behavior because it is not condemned, in part, because of our commitment to academic freedom.  We need to do better if we are to flourish.

Nice Support

Today at NRO Dr. Krauthammer supported the recent MWG position that the Jeb counterfactual is not straightforward.  Well, he thinks it is straightforward in that he agrees that Obama-Biden-Clinton have bungled the exit from Iraq.  Once you agree to that assertion the 2003 question becomes moot and the 2009-2011 question becomes the interesting one.  As Dr. K puts it:

The current collapse was not predetermined in 2003 but in 2011. Isn’t that what should be asked of Hillary Clinton? We know you think the invasion of 2003 was a mistake. But what about the abandonment of 2011? Was that not a mistake?
Read more at:

Nice analysis.  We couldn’t agree more.

Jeb Bush’s Answer

The question to Jeb Bush was: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion (of Iraq).”  Jeb answered a different question by noting that the Democrats agreed.  If answering a different question than the one asked was a capital crime then all the politicians would be dead. Rich Galen noted when he was a reporter he would often reply, “That was a good answer,” I was known to say. “Now, let’s do the question asked.”  Pols give answers that relate to the question but rarely answer the question asked.

Talking Points Memo describes the question as straightforward.  Perhaps but let’s see if we agree on what we know now.

  1. The invasion was justified
  2. The invasion was handled well
  3. The follow-up was initially bungled
  4. The surge was handled well and left Iraq in a good situation
  5. Obama-Biden-Clinton (OBC) bungled the situation by pulling out too early and led to ISIS success
  6. An important sidebar – the pursuit and improper conviction of Scooter Libby slowed down the surge.

We all agree?  Probably not but unless we agree on what we know now we can’t answer the question.  If we agree on number five does it change what we would do over a decade earlier?  Is it better to have OBC bungle what they did, try some other situation, or get Iraq idiot-proof before they took over?  We don’t see the question as straight-forward.

Income Inequality

Michael Barone writes today on “income Inequality Is Real But Most Americans Still Oppose Redistributing Wealth” as listed in NRO.  Barone did not get listed in Best of Web’s Fox Butterfield Is That You.  Barone’s title would make equal sense with because replacing but.  We know that income inequality is generally a good thing but we don’t know the limits and we don’t know how to change it. Barone’s article showcases those problems.

Let’s start with Social Security.  Barone gives social security as an example of income redistribution.  The problem is the income is generally going from the less wealthy to the more wealthy.  Of course, wealth and income are not the same things.  Government can redistribute income.  The concerns that Barone notes about democracy have some traction.  Seniors vote and seniors get money from their juniors who are less likely to vote.

Let’s suppose that you thought that income inequality is a bad thing.  Or, to make it more palatable, let’s suppose that you thought that the current level of income inequality was too high.  How would you reduce income (or wealth) inequality?  Perhaps you will increase the inheritance tax up to 100%?  You know that inherited money is only a small part of wealth for the truly rich but such a tax if enforced might help reduce inequality.   This tax will make the folks that find ways to circumvent such taxes even more wealthy.  Let’s say you find some effective way to tax the heck out of successful people.  Now you have two problems.  One, you have changed incentives and likely reduced the efficiency of the economy.  Second, you have lots of money for the government to disburse.  The odds are good that you will recreate Baltimore many times.  You can Eat the Rich.  But you can only do it once.  Even then there is no certainty that the Gini Coefficient will, from the point of this exercise, improve.  The behavior of the wealthy and the government has an impact on the poor.

The solution is to ignore income inequality and go for growth.  The problem is we will always have somebody selling growth plus X.  Attempting to get growth plus X will mean that we don’t get growth or X.

Wages and Tuition

It is really a trifecta: Minimum wage, tuition, and Facebook foolishness.  Somebody posted on Facebook that from 1970 to 2014 the number of daily hours at minimum wage to pay Yale’s tuition has risen from 4.8 to 17.3.  The poster suggests that you should support raising the minimum wage based on this.

Yale is a private school so they can charge what the market can bear.  We are not against a little shaming but no price controls.  Public schools have a wider responsibility.  The one public school we have data on has gone up more than Yale. If the data has any significance it points out the  problem of tuition rising too fast.  Not letting kids work by raising the  minimum wage will make paying that high tuition even more difficult.

Picking Nits

Jeffery Goldberg has a great article on free speech at the Atlantic.  Check it out but notice near the end

Islamists—adherents of a politicized, radical strain of Islam—are misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-enlightenment, and possess no tolerance at all for members of religious groups whose beliefs conflict with their own. These are traits one traditionally associates with the far-right … [emphasis added]

It seems to us that the lack tolerance and especially lack of tolerance for ideas is what the article is all about.  Leftists are notably mentioned.  Certainly there are intolerant people all over the political spectrum.  We happen to meet many intolerant leftists because we are at a university.  Right wingers are pretty scarce among the faculty.  We see intolerant rightists in various text-based contexts.  We don’t intend to create an intolerance index (although the academic in us wants to) but we are confident that it is and has been a ubiquitous human trait.  And, yes, we have only provided a few observations to differentiate our assertion from Goldberg’s.

We know our complaint is being persnickety about Goldberg’s case.  It is an excellent exposition about why free speech is important.  We mention his faux pas not to denigrate his work but to recognize the challenges of writing opinion.  In academia we should footnote every assertion.  Blogs and opinion pieces cannot.  Enjoy Goldberg’s piece and recognize the trait comment as a marker of where he is coming from.  It is nice to have a leftist on the side of free speech.

Marginal Tax Rates

When Jim Geraghrty says in the Morning Jolt (an NRO newsletter:

If you’re a married couple with a combined taxable income of, say, $140,000, currently playing the 25 percent rate, the Rubio tax plan is terrific! Your rate is dropping to 15 percent! But if you’re a married couple with a combined taxable income of, say, $160,000, currently paying a 28 percent rate . . . Rubio-Lee’s 35 percent rate doesn’t look good at all!

It is not clear that he doesn’t get marginal tax rates but he is at least misleading.  On second thought, it is clear that he misunderstands marginal tax rates because of the first sentence.  That is, the Rubio plan for married couples, according to Jim, reduces the the marginal tax rate 10% (25%-15%) for income from $74,900 to $150,000.  That is a savings of $7,510 (10% *($150,000-74,900)).  The couple earning $160,000 would pay $700 extra but save 7,510 for a net savings of $6,810.  A childless couple would need to earn over $257,000 to come to a negative outcome.  Childless couples with taxable income between (approximately) $258,000 and $829,000 don’t seem like a major voting block.

There is lots to discuss about the tax plan but we need to get the data right.