Porn And The Regent

We recently wrote about Joe Gow’s, the Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL), failure to protect freedom of expression.  It is not far back if you want to look for it.  We had missed Bob Atwell’s, a Regent in the University of Wisconsin System, opinion piece on Joe and porn.  We have almost nothing in common with Wisconsin’s new governor but we see an opportunity..

We see now that the pressure on Joe was coming from the Regents.  We wish that he had the courage to stand up to them and, if necessary, fall on his sword.

Porn, like alcohol, weed, and gambling, to name a few, has all kinds of bad outcomes.  None of those things can be legislated out of existence.  We have tried and failed with all of them.  We can’t even define porn.  Inviting a former porn star or a current conservative doesn’t mean that the university supports either one.  Few people have been more wrong than Bob when he says:

There is ample scientific evidence that what [Joe] apparently admires as free expression, is in fact a massive public health problem.

I am hopeful this will result in a deep conversation about pornography rather than a shallow one about freedom.

If Bob is suggesting that Joe admires porn then he is dishonest.  He is correct that porn is a big problem.  His preferred solution, ignoring it, is not working.  Preventing a discussion about porn and all of the variants of near-porn is worthy of a deep conversation.  Bob doesn’t want one.  The conversation about freedom is anything but shallow.  Somebody needs to tell Bob that.  We hope Tony will use a pink slip to try and convince Bob about the importance of freedom of speech.  It would be our first opportunity to agree with Tony and a chance for him to show everyone that he is more than an empty chair.

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Porn At The University

There is a big controversy at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL) involving freedom of expression.  The facts are, as we understand them, that UWL invited noted sex educator and free expression advocate Nina Hartley to visit and speak at the campus.  Of importance to the tempest is that Nina is, or at least was, a porn star.  Here is the Wikipedia entry on Nina.  After Nina spoke to 70 students there was controversy and Chancellor Joe Gow took to the local newspaper to defend the decision.  As the answer to why did he invite a porn star to campus Joe said:

My primary motive in inviting Hartley was to help promote the UW System’s “Commitment to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression,” implemented last fall by our Board of Regents.

You can find the Regents document here.  The Regents saw the policy as a restatement of what they said over a century ago:

“Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found.”

Joe’s response did not quiet the concern and he has taken action:

He agreed to personally compensate the university for Hartley’s $5,000 appearance fee, which was initially covered by student fees and interest.  He is also booking a speaker from Fight the New Drug, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit dedicated to “raising awareness (of porn’s) harmful effects using only science, facts and personal accounts.”

One of the strange things about Nina’s presentation came out in the story about Joe’s actions.  They said:

The event [Nina’s talk]did not appear on the university’s online events calendar and, unlike many events, was not made known to the press.

It does seem odd to hide away your freedom of expression speaker.

So what do we have to say about this sad story?  First, we think Joe fails freedom of expression 101.  We could have agreed that refunding the money to the students was a grand but silly gesture.  Agreeing to bring in the alternative speaker was absolutely a failure to back free expression.  The Regents say:

Each institution in the University of Wisconsin System has a solemn responsibility not only to promote lively and fearless exploration, deliberation, and debate of ideas, but also to protect those freedoms when others attempt to restrict them. [Emphasis added]

Joe failed to protect Nina.

Second, how did the initial situation happen?   We have suppositions but only those from knowing how universities work.  We do not have any inside details about what really happened.  We think that the administration was looking at the first part of the Regent quote above and realized they were at risk because they had failed to promote the debate.  The administration is heavily progressive so nobody wants to bring in a conservative and the available conservatives often like to stir up controversy and that can lead to violence.  What are the other choices?

Sex.  We can see the meeting.  The students like sex and having a sexy speaker.  The administration thinks we have met the Regents’ requirement without a big controversy of bringing an Ann Coulter type to campus.  Everyone is happy but it still turns out to be a disaster.  Now they have failed to meet the Regents’ expectation.

The answer is that we need to support Nina and Joe.  Freedom of expression is freedom of expression.  The statement says fearless exploration and deliberation as well as debate.  Debate is only part of freedom of expression.

Yet, at the same time, somebody needs to be responsible for some balance over time.  Let us use a real example.  As chair of the accounting department we had a speaker at the banquet each year.  We kept track of each speaker’s affiliation so that there would be a variety types of organizations (Big Four, other public, corporate, governmental/NFP) and actual organizations.  Some organizations would volunteer every year and we told them no.

It is easy to see why administrators fail at free expression.  It is a tough job.  It is also part of their job description.

Academia And Politics

We know that the the vast majority of college professors are on the left.  Cass R. Sunstein, who at various times in his career has been a professor, is discussing a recent survey of faculty:

A few months ago, Mitchell Langbert, an associate professor of business at Brooklyn College, published a study of the political affiliations of faculty members at 51 of the 66 liberal-arts colleges ranked highest by U.S. News in 2017.

Of course, it comes up with the expected results that almost everyone, everywhere is a Democrat.  Cass says they don’t really mean it:

Such discrimination might take the form of unconscious devaluation of people whose views do not fit with the dominant perspective. For example, young historians who cast Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in a terrible light might not get a lot of job offers.

And says it only matters sometimes:

It is true that in some fields, political affiliations do not matter. In chemistry, math, physics and engineering, students should not care about the party affiliations of their professors. Sure, it’s conceivable that Democratic chemistry professors want to hire fellow Democrats. But that would be surprising. In all likelihood, they are looking for good chemistry professors.

He is wrong on both counts.  What is disappointing is that he has been in academia but did not seem to pay attention to the influence of faculty.

They, the folks on the left, mean it.  They set up curriculum, e.g., Woman’s Studies, and courses, e.g., Women and The US Economy, to attract fellow travelers.  Research works the same way as they create outlets for these areas.  Accreditation and hiring senior administrators happens in a similar manner.

Political affiliation matters in every field for at least three reasons.  First, folks on the left need the support of all faculty to create a leftist environment.  All faculty are involved in running the university.  Curriculum, courses, outside speakers, and senior administrators are largely to entirely selected by faculty.  Second, a big part of picking faculty is collegiality.  Of the folks that can do the job who do you want to spend the next twenty years with?  This is another way they do it on purpose.  Third, the scientists don’t just talk about science in classes.  Students should, as Cass says, be exposed to the joys of markets as well as market failure.  We commonly heard about the latter when scientists made research proposals at the university level.  We are certain that those comments made it to the classroom too.

We are glad that Cass recognizes that the political tilt of academia is a problem.  We wish he realized how serious it really is.

 

 

 

 

Women, STEM, And Accounting

Barbara Oakley in the WSJ asks:

Why do relatively few women work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics?

She is responding to an article by Stuart Reges (here) that she summarizes as:

University of Washington lecturer Stuart Reges —in a provocative essay, “Why Women Don’t Code”—suggests that women’s verbal and analytical skills lead to career choices outside STEM. Mr. Reges’s critics say he is making women feel inferior by implying they aren’t interested in tech. I’m a female engineering professor with decades of experience as well as a background in the humanities and social sciences, so perhaps I can lend some perspective to the controversy.

She thinks there is a missing parameter, professor influence.  Barbara says:

Professors have profound influence over students’ career choices. I’m sometimes flabbergasted at the level of bias and antagonism toward STEM from professors outside scientific fields. I’ve heard it all: STEM is only for those who enjoy “rote” work. Engineering is not creative. There’s only one right answer. You’ll live your life in a cubicle. It’s dehumanizing. You’ll never talk to anyone. And, of course, it’s sexist. All this from professors whose only substantive experience with STEM is a forced march through a single statistics course in college, if that.

Barbara is absolutely right but also incomplete.  We were convinced in our first university-wide committee that faculty in the other colleges resented the business college.  If that wasn’t enough, later one dean suggested that if we came into the building that housed his college that a bullet-proof vest was in order.  We suspect that Barbara is just being kind.

Barbara is right that professors influence students against majors.  As department chair we have brought two departmental colleagues on the carpet for negative comments about majors other than accounting.   She forgets, however, that faculty influence students towards majors.  Students often change their majors in college and faculty have a big influence on those changes.

Sidebar: There is also cultural influences.  Everybody is cheering on women in STEM.  We don’t really need to list all those movies and books do we?  On the other hand, from Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters to Elementary (Our Time Is Up), accountants are always presented in a negative light.  End Sidebar.

Barbara has identified a real issue but not completed the picture.  Professors influence and often recruit students.  Some of them use negative messages while other use positive ones.  What she has missed is opportunity.  Opportunity is part of the explanation why women are now a majority of accountants in the United States, Canada, and Europe.  This is an enormous change over our 40 years teaching accounting that has not happened as completely in STEM.  Why did women surmount the barriers in accounting but not as much in STEM?  Part of the reason is because of university rules accounting faculty got more opportunity to spread the word while STEM got less.

Essentially all universities have requirements at the university level, college level, and department level.  We will call university level requirements general education (GE) and department level the major even though there are minors too.  Most GE programs include science and math but but those requirements are often so broad that students don’t get exposed to those fields or take courses that would not count towards those fields.  In our 40 years of advising students we doubt any of our advisees ever took physics.  Early in our career we advised taking chemistry because in our opinion it and accounting take the same skills.  Our success rate approximated zero and eventually we did not persist.  Students take calculus for social science (no trig), science for non-scientists, and other less technical courses to fill those requirements.  On the other hand, almost every student takes English composition, literature, and a diversity course.  STEM faculty don’t get the opportunities to recruit students that humanities faculty get.  They should accept part of the responsibility because of their course offerings in GE.

Accounting faculty get the opportunity to influence because of college requirement that all students in the business school take two accounting courses. In addition, there are major requirements that have a smaller impact.  For example, departments have chemistry and business or language and business.  These required accounting courses are generally taken in the freshmen and sophomore years so accounting professors get an early opportunity to influence students towards a major in accounting and the courses count towards their degree.  We know from our surveys that faculty are a big influence on students deciding to major in accounting.

We are not ready to conclude that the personal impact of accounting faculty is more important than the cultural sway of STEM yet.  What is clear is that professors have a big impact on majors and it is one of the reasons that women have prospered in accounting over the past half century.  We recommend free speech to Barbara.  Faculty need the opportunity to make their case with students.

Politics And Corporations

Those pesky corporations, allowed by Citizens United, are at it again exercising their right to free speech.  Just to remind you of the case:

The United States Supreme Court held (5–4) on January 21, 2010 that the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for communications by nonprofit corporations, for-profit corporationslabor unions, and other associations.

Really, the vote was 5-4 so we were that close to losing a basic freedom.  Well, we think it really was two basic freedoms: speech and association.  Recently we got this email from Airbnb.  We have only excluded the signatures:

The US Supreme Court decided to uphold the travel ban. We are profoundly disappointed by the Court’s decision. The travel ban is a policy that goes against our mission and values — to restrict travel based on a person’s nationality or religion is wrong.

And while this news is a setback, we will continue the fight with organizations that are helping those impacted. Airbnb will be matching donations to the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) up to a total of $150,000 through September 30, 2018 to support their work advocating for systemic change and legal pathways for those affected by the travel ban. If you’d like to join us, you can donate here.

We believe that travel is a transformative and powerful experience and that building bridges between cultures and communities creates a more innovative, collaborative and inspired world. At Airbnb, we are so grateful to our community who will continue to open doors around the world so that together, we can travel forward.

We are glad that Airbnb didn’t lose their right to speak to their customers and others on political issues. We are glad that the court made the decision on the legal issues rather Airbnb’s mantra of travel is good.   We are travel fans too but it should have nothing to do with the legal decision the court made.  We will continue to use Airbnb despite our differences.

We Have Met The Enemy …

Syracuse University has joined the NFL and then some.  The NFL in this case is the No Fun League.  They have also opposed free speech.  Gregory Germain, a member of the Orange law faculty has the scoop:

A diverse group of 15 students (white, African American, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, Christian) who were pledging an engineering fraternity were asked to do a roast of the fraternity members for their joint amusement. The skits were crude: masturbation jokes; a politically conservative member was made to be an alt-right bigot who formed a competing fraternity to spread racism; a skit about sexually assaulting a fraternity member who was so controlled by his girlfriend that he could not move (patterned after a viral Brandon Rogers YouTube video). They were making fun of themselves and each other in outlandish ways using very crude language.

It is important that Gregory lets us know Syracuse has a free speech policy, because the Orange is a private university:

Syracuse University has a broad free speech policy that promises protection for offensive speech.

Despite that free speech policy the administration reacted as crudely we have grown to expect:

The university quickly expelled the fraternity, and the chancellor issued videotaped messages to the community promising swift student prosecutions, seeking suspensions or expulsions.

Expelling a student for cheating or violently disrupting a presentation is almost impossible but acting privately in bad taste is a hanging offense.

Sidebar: You do understand that we don’t literally mean hanging, right?  We mean that it is an offense that brings an extreme sanction like expelling the fraternity from the university.  End Sidebar.

The only good news here is that a member of the faculty has spoken up for the students who have had their lives ruined by overzealous administrators.  Here’s hoping that the students and the fraternity take the the university and the administrators individually for all that they are worth.  Good luck Gregory and the fraternity as they seek retribution!

Gatekeeping: A Theory

We are supportive of Bari Weiss and her efforts on free speech but we recently took issue with her comment that she wanted to have gatekeepers.  When she was summarizing the Intellectual Dark Web (I.D.W.) she said:

I get the appeal of the I.D.W. I share the belief that our institutional gatekeepers need to crack the gates open much more. I don’t, however, want to live in a culture where there are no gatekeepers at all. Given how influential this group is becoming, I can’t be alone in hoping the I.D.W. finds a way to eschew the cranks, grifters and bigots and sticks to the truth-seeking.

We think that this paragraph could be interpreted in several different ways but Bari seems explicit on supporting the need for gatekeepers.  Before we propose a theory we have some information on Bari, some current examples, and some information about us.

David French at NRO provides information about how Bari got started in the opinion business around 2004.  She was a student at Columbia and David was president of FIRE (consider donating).  There was a dustup at Columbia between the professors and the students.  Read the whole thing but David’s summary is:

In other words, Bari is doing exactly what she did in 2004 and 2005. She perceived intolerance and called it out. She decried an unwillingness to debate and a university that seemed closed off to dissenting ideas. It is not censorship to critique censorship. It’s not bullying to criticize bullying. And it’s most definitely not “racism” to raise credible concerns about anti-Semitism.

She has dealt with bullies before.  It has long been a goal of folks on the left to limit the speech of others.  There are some recent examples.  The WSJ covers the trashing of George Mason University.  Here is part of it:

All of this UnKoch nonsense is part of the left’s attempt to stifle conservative ideas in the guise of an attack on “dark money.” The Kochs are so “dark” that the progressives decided to use their name. And speaking of dark money, UnKoch My Campus isn’t a nonprofit and doesn’t file regular financial disclosures.

In addition, several of the folks in Bari’s story on the I.D.W. are attempts by the left to silence dissent.  We worry about meeting our standards in putting forth a theory on gatekeepers.  Expertise is important and we can’t be expert in all the areas necessary for our theory.  Still, that is the nature of theories.  They can be falsified or supported by empirical evidence.  Let’s give it a try.

Our theory is that we can compare political information to economic information.  No individual can deal with the either set of information but somehow the market can distill it.  We doubt that the market for political information is as efficient as the market for economic information but we think it is a reasonable description.  Let’s call it the Nearly Efficient Market for Political Information (NEMPI).

Thus, there are an extraordinarily large number of gatekeepers in NEMPI.  Some have large influence and others have close to no influence but enough folks are aware of their history and most of the gatekeepers worry about their history.  Their history causes their influence to wax and wane.  The I.D.W. is waxing in the NEMPI.

Free speech is the key attribute of the NEMPI.  With reasonably free speech we get NEMPI.  Folks want to reduce free speech or designate gatekeepers in order to eliminate the NEMPI.

The one difference we see between financial markets and NEMPI is timing.  Financial markets react quickly while the NEMPI takes more time.  We think that is OK because elections only happen every so often.

So our NEMPI theory is that everybody is a gatekeeper and the influence of each gatekeeper varies over time.  No individual can evaluate all the gatekeepers but free speech allows different individuals with different talents and points of view to provide information over time.  Bari, the I.D.W., legacy media, and all the others contribute information that informs politics.  NEMPI, let’s test it.