Comments On Kamala

We still think Kamala will be the next president but we are more concerned about our prediction than we were a few months ago.  It seems more likely that the year will be 2024 rather than 2020 but time will tell.   Instapundit cited a Jim Geraghty post in NRO’s Corner that caught our attention.  Jim says and quotes:

The other day Wonkette offered an article with a headline that declares — cleaning it up for your sensitive eyes — “Kamala Harris Doesn’t Have To Explain Herself To Your Dumb [Tushes].”

Infuriated by headlines about a Harris speech declaring that she is defending her record as a prosecutor, Stephen Robinson writes:

Is Harris on trial here? Why is she “defending her record”? Did she lose all her cases like the prosecutor who faced off against Perry Mason each week? That guy needed to explain himself. Harris put [bad words] in prison. She imprisoned [bad words] so well she was the first woman elected district attorney of San Francisco and the first black woman to become attorney general of California. She’s the Serena Williams of law and order.

While she’s undoubtedly better than Hamilton Berger, Harris’s record is a little more complicated than that. [Emphasis added]

Jim concludes that candidates always need to defend their records.  We agree but we have concerns.  First, Stephen can’t be bothered to look up Hamilton Berger like Jim did.  Really, this is not a tweet but Stephen’s article and he can’t be bothered to type in Perry Mason prosecutor.  Go and try it.  We will wait as it won’t take long.  You won’t even need to finish typing prosecutor and you will find that Hamilton Burger has his own Wikipedia site!

Second, what is a good record for a prosecutor?  We are not convinced that Jim is right that Kamala is better than Hamilton.  Hamilton, on our small sample, never convicts the innocent or frees the guilty.  Obviously, life is more complicated than a TV drama but convictions, as Scooter Libby could tell you, might not be the best measure of a prosecutor. Evaluating teachers and prosecutors involves problems because the goals, learning and justice, are hard to measure.

Third, Jim is worried about the need to serve a strong leader demonstrated in the tone of Stephen’s article.  Instead, given the circumstances at Oberlin College, we find Jim’s parenthetical comment is more important:

(Whatever else you think of [Stephen]’s argument, he’s absolutely right when he declares, “it’s insulting to claim that black people can only have an adversarial relationship with the criminal justice system or that a black woman can’t prosecute crimes without betraying her community.”)

Kamala has a mixed heritage but we are not getting into the swamps of what is black in the quote.  The important point is that protecting communities from bad actors is a good idea even if Oberlin disagrees.

Sidebar: We have already said that convictions are not necessarily justice and we would add that police do not always act properly.  Protecting communities without harming them is a challenge and we agree with Jim that Kamala should explain how she did that.  Perhaps she has examples of convicting cops.  We just think that Stephen’s law and order message is the important one rather than the she doesn’t need to explain one.  End Sidebar.

This is the first good news we have seen about a Democrat presidential candidate.  Perhaps more is forthcoming but we are not holding our breath.

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Two Harsh Views Of The University

We still owe you the consolidation piece on university systems but these two comments are interesting and related.  Both take an important issue and overstate the significance of it.

Barton Swaim is reviewing The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission by Herb Childress in the WSJ.  Barton, and many of the folks in Herb’s book have had a tough time in academia.  Barton says:

Unless your child attends an elite liberal-arts institution, during his first two years—and maybe even in his third and fourth years—he will almost certainly be taught mainly by graduate students or contract workers with no permanent connection to the institution.  [Emphasis added]

Over at the Corner in NRO, George Leef is worried about faculty in the North Carolina System being evaluated by students for teaching awards.  We called it Student Evaluation of Instruction (SEI):

For one thing, each of the  system’s constituent institutions selects one faculty member as its best teacher and that individual receives a cash prize of $12,500. But as Hennen notes, exactly how the selection committees make their selections is unknown. Do they just rely on student evaluations, which are of very dubious value since many students give high scores to faculty who are entertaining and give high grades for little effort and low scores for demanding ones. If the way to get yourself in the running for an award is being popular, that would tend to be counter-productive.

In our 40 years in academia we have had exposure to lots of different schools: two year, comprehensive, private, and flagships.  As department chair and associate dean we have looked at data on many more.  We have significant experience with hiring and SEI scores.  Wisconsin has useful terminology of faculty, meaning tenure track, and instructional academic staff (IAS) for those not on the tenure track.  Full-time IAS almost always have a connection to the university.  For business schools and others it is a way to bring in practitioners.

The one place we haven’t taught at is an elite liberal-arts institution so we don’t know if Barton is right about that.  We don’t know if he thinks our undergrad school was one of them but we weren’t keeping track of the contracts of the instructors.  In retrospect, we especially wonder how the contracts with the clergy were constructed.  What is true, if you go to a flagship school with PhD programs you will get many grad students as instructors.  It is also true there are some schools that use a higher percentage of part-time adjuncts.  Quality comprehensive schools don’t.   Accreditation standards ensure that certain ratios of IAS to faculty are met.  Accredited business schools have much more detailed standards.  See here to download.

Sidebar One: We spent time deciding on the adjective “quality” and are not entirely happy with it.  We don’t have the data to say most.  End Sidebar One.

At quality comprehensive schools you will have full-time folks with a connection to the university.  It doesn’t take away from the problem of the treatment of grad students and IAS by some schools but good consumers can avoid it.

One way to avoid these problems are SEI scores.  Students are in the classroom every day and should have a voice in evaluating instructors.  Students aren’t perfect at it but neither is anyone else.  There is little evidence of what George suggests that students are enticed by high grades or little effort.  Our research has found no relationship between grades and SEI scores.

Sidebar Two: Sometimes there are bad SEI questions.  At one school they asked for an numerical response and a written response to “The instructor is enthusiastic about the discipline.”  The written responses showed that the students misunderstood the question.  They thought is was about enforcing discipline rather that the discipline being taught.  End Sidebar Two.

George and Barton point out two serious problems: It is hard to evaluate instructors and some schools treat instructors and/or grad students very poorly.  We think both George and Barton are too harsh.  George needs to recognize that SEI scores need to be part of evaluating instructors. Barton needs to recognize that part-time IAS are going to be part of the instructional portfolio for most departments and grad students will be part for some.  Consumers, accreditation bodies, and oversight bodies (like the Board of Regents or the legislature) need to see that departments don’t abuse them.

Universities have many areas to clean up.  George and Barton have identified two of them but we don’t want to ignore other problems by going overboard on these.

Data And Implications

Zoe Chevalier at US News has an article on per capita drinking by state.  New Hampshire wins with a score of 4.76 gallons per capita.  The next highest are Delaware with 3.72 and Nevada with 3.46.  Tenth place is South Dakota with 2.87 so NH is a runaway winner in alcohol consumption right?

Here is the problem: Zoe tells us that the NIAAA report that her data comes from uses alcoholic beverage sales compared to census population.  Zoe is measuring state sales per capita rather than consumption.  You have probably already noticed one problem state: Nevada.  What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is another way to say that out-of-state folks go to Nevada to drink.  Folks from Nevada are not consuming all the alcohol sold in Nevada.  Thus, the ratio is not a good measure of per capita alcohol consumption in Nevada.

New Hampshire has state liquor stores with low prices and a small population. It ranks 41 of 50 at 1.3 million.   Residents from neighboring states go to buy alcohol in NH.  Here is an example:

The “No Taxation on our Libations!” promotion is the first time that New Hampshire has offered a specific discount to lure out-of-state shoppers. Residents of Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont can receive a discount equal to double their home state’s sales tax. For Mainers, that means 11 percent off a purchase of up to $149.99. New Hampshire shoppers, and those from outside the three-state region, will get a flat 13 percent off.

So NH sells lots of alcohol per capita but we don’t know anything about consumption from Zoe’s data.  We don’t know if there is a reason for Delaware’s rank.

We can’t always measure what we want.  We have to use proxies like sales to estimate consumption.  But you need find really good proxies or control for the problems.  Nevada and New Hampshire are big problems for Zoe.