Academic Freedom And …

Jay M. Smith from the University of North Carolina has an interesting article at the WSJ about “How Sports Ate Academic Freedom.”  We agree with Jay that NCAA Division I sports do pressure academic freedom but the battle to maintain academic freedom has many more fronts.

Jay is the co-author, with Mary Willingham, of the book Cheated: The UNC [University of North Carolina] Scandal, The Education Of College Athletes, and The Future Of Big-time College Sports.  Based on his book Jay tells us:

As these events unfolded [an NCAA investigation and the UNC reaction], I co-authored a book that chronicled UNC’s handling of its scandal and placed the story in the context of the relationship between academics and athletics. Later, I developed a history course on big-time college sports. In that course, students learned about the conflicts of interest that had defined intercollegiate athletics from their beginning in the 19th century. They read about how the prime beneficiaries of college sports—coaches, university presidents, alumni and governing boards, the NCAA—had created a system that kept money rolling in but kept athletes always disadvantaged. They learned about the long-term origins of the systematic educational fraud that the UNC case exemplified.

The course Jay had developed did get taught once:

The course had flown under the radar of academic administrators in 2016, but when they discovered that I planned to teach it again in 2017, they intervened to suppress it.

We find it amazing that the course was taught once.  Jay’s book was published in 2015 and, usually, courses are approved by curriculum committees at a variety of levels.  At the university level there would be input from the relevant parties and the Athletics Department would be one.  There would be no surprise is what Jay was teaching on athletics.  Perhaps, this was what we call an umbrella course that can be taught a couple of times before it is approved for the catalogue.

The administrators were able to override faculty objections and remove the course.  Jay concedes that (emphasis added):

Controversial courses will remain vulnerable to suppression.

Jay is right but, as is rarely true, it is more general than the example at hand.  There are several areas of that cause controversies for academic freedom.  Mark Perry reports that the University of California – San Diego now requires all applicants for faculty positions to submit a diversity statement:

All candidates applying for faculty appointments at UC San Diego are required to submit a personal statement on their contributions to diversity. The purpose of the statement is to identify candidates who have the professional skills, experience, and/or willingness to engage in activities that will advance our campus diversity and equity goals.

Departments and search committees should consider a candidate’s statement as part of a comprehensive and transparent evaluation of their qualifications.

The hired faculty will have academic freedom if they really meant what they said in their statement while others won’t be considered if they are honest.  We wonder if Jay would appeal to them.  We were thinking of applying and using an example of educating a student at a Polish university wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt [We are not making this up.]  It might have been fun for us and the search committee.

Faculty have also given away their academic freedom to a variety of other folks on campus by letting them create required activities without faculty oversight.  Faculty have given up academic freedom cheaply and now folks like Jay lament that it is gone.  It is a major reason why universities are in such a precarious position.  If you don’t think so read Instapundit and check out the recurring Higher Education Bubble post like this one:

HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE UPDATE, SELF-DESTRUCTIVE IDEOLOGY EDITION: Montana State’s Faculty Senate narrowly votes down proposed economics research center to be funded by an active Charles Koch Foundation grant.

Balancing the restoration of academic freedom with the becoming a welcoming place for students, faculty, and staff on the right and center too is the challenge of the 21st century.  It is going badly so far.




RE: The Atlantic

Earlier this week we were praising The Atlantic for hiring Kevin Williamson and discussing his first article there.  Unless you have been off-planet you have heard what has happened.  Here is how Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt  put it:

Jeffrey Goldberg’s announcement that The Atlantic had “parted ways” with our old friend Kevin Williamson — what a gutless way to announce you’ve fired someone, a week or so into the job — represents a successful effort to redefine “beyond the pale” in the political debates of 2018, or to close the Overton Window, if you prefer that metaphor.

This is an event that tells us more than we want to know about the left and The Atlantic.  Well, you might say Kevin’s firing confirms what you already knew.

Sidebar: We are really curious about the contract between Kevin and The Atlantic.Will he be a kept man for the next year or two?  If not, why did he go to The Atlantic?  End Sidebar.

The question becomes should we boycott The Atlantic?  The answer is no.  Their claim, however, that you should:

Subscribe to The Atlantic and support 160 years of independent journalism.

rings hollow.  We know there won’t be much interesting there but cruise by from time to time.  To buttress our point on independent journalism, nobody at The Atlantic has taken to defending Kevin yet although we don’t think he will need any help.  This turn of events is unlikely to make a man sometimes referred to as “Mad Dog” mellow.

Answering Jordan’s Question

The Morning Jolt alerted us that the left was concerned about Kevin Williamson joining The Atlantic.  In fact, Jordan Weissman at Slate has the memo that Jeffery Goldberg, The Atlantic editor sent out about Kevin.  It is a long memo so here is the start of it:

I first came to know Kevin’s work several years ago; he’s incredibly prolific, and, over time, I have probably read a few hundred thousand of his words. I have disagreed with him more than I have agreed with him (an irrelevant metric when you’re the editor; not when you’re a reader), but I recognized the power, contrariness, wit, and smart construction of many of his pieces. I also found him to be ideologically interesting: anti-abortion, pro-gun rights, anti-death penalty (his anti-death penalty writing, of course, shaped my understanding of his most objectionable tweet). I was struck, as many people are, by the quality of his prose. I was also struck by the fact that many people I admire on the Left have expressed admiration for his writing on issues of race and class. Over the past couple of years, I’ve also read carefully his critical coverage of Donald Trump and the people who voted for him.

You can read the rest of it at the bottom of Jordan’s article.  Jordan’s article is Why Would the Atlantic Hire Kevin Williamson?  The subheadline calls him a conservative troll.  Well, that was a short honeymoon!  We think that Kevin would understand because he is not one to take prisoners.  And, of course, Kevin is more libertarian than conservative.

The reasonable answer to Jordan’s question is that they want to have one of the best writers around.  Beyond that, Kevin is, as Jeffery emphasizes, stridently anti-Trump.  We are sure that he will fit in.  It should be fun.


Free Speech And Diversity

We are back from vacation and catching up on a variety of things.  One is David French’s excellent article at NRO recognizing that free speech empowers marginalized groups rather than the opposite.  Do read it all but here is the paragraph that is crux of it:

The true tension in the First Amendment isn’t between freedom and diversity or freedom and inclusion. History teaches us that the tension is between freedom and power. Free speech, by its very nature, leads to questioning, debate, and — eventually — accountability.

David is exactly right.  What we see at almost all universities is that the power is on the left and they want to keep it.  David explains and we agree that the best way to keep power is to limit speech.  The right agrees on the usefulness of such a strategy.

Vacation In Venezuela

We provide transportation to four-year-old kindergarten for one of the grand-deGloves. The letter of the week was V and one of the teachers said today’s subject would be Vacation In Venezuela.  In fact, they liked Vacation In Venezuela so much that they extended it to two days.

Of course, our immediate thought was why are you glorifying that hell-hole? Yet we refrained from comment despite the facts.  On the Heritage ranking of economic freedom it is 179 of 180.  Six countries are not ranked.  To put it kindly, it is a violent place without a reliable government.  About a year ago the LA Times said:

Venezuela’s violent crime epidemic appears to be escalating into a full-blown humanitarian crisis. The precise dimensions are hard to know, however, because along with the collapse of the economy and widespread hunger has come a near blackout of reliable government crime statistics.

Nothing we have seen suggests the situation has improved since then.  We are convinced that it was appropriate to leave this as a politics free zone.  There are not many countries that start with V: Vanuatu, Viet Nam, Venezuela.  The kids are just four.  The discussion is not about governments but geography and letters.  We are happy with our choice.  The question is when should we speak up?

Those Countries

The Donald has put his foot in mouth again by describing certain countries as shitholes or perhaps some other scatological comparison.  We think some of the reactions are silly and some are overwrought.  Let’s look at two:

A Facebook comment:

My ancestors came from a shithole country, Ireland, looking for a sustainable life, escaping famine.  [Emphasis added]

A comment on Jim Geraghty in the Morning Jolt:

The message from the president – and the subsequent refusal to deny, retract, or disavow the comments – is clear: people from these places have no value.

Wikipedia takes care of the Facebook comment in one sentence:

The famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland,[1] which was then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

So, in fact, those ancestors left the greatest economic and military power in the world to try an up and coming United States.  The folks in Ireland could have gone elsewhere but they were often looking to avoid the British who were near the height of their empire.

Jim’s comment might be more over the top than the one on Facebook.  Jim doesn’t like profanity and we would like to see less of it too but we can’t see how The Donald is saying people in those countries have no value.  He is denigrating the country rather than the people.  Denigrating the a country in a large meeting with both parties is not the height of wisdom.  Yet we do not want to end up as the overflow valve for failed countries.  We want countries to be able to verify their citizens for travel and other purposes.

We got the message.  It was poorly crafted.  It was especially poorly crafted considering the audience.  There is no need to try and create another message.

Tax Cut Complaints

The WSJ is good about bringing in opposing views on its opinion page.  Recently Alan Blinder had a headline of: Almost Everything Is Wrong With The New Tax Law.  We were curious as we have supported it.  We first checked to see his background: Professor of economics at Princeton and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve.  The first qualification makes us nervous about his seriousness but it is probably worth reading.

If you are trying to convince the unconvinced then you start with your best shot.  Here is how Alan starts with specifics after saying it offers mere crumbs to the middle class:

Further, once the phase-outs occur at the end of 2025, even most of the crumbs disappear. The Tax Policy Center estimates that the share of tax cuts accruing to the top 0.1% of taxpayers will rise from 8% in 2018 to an astounding 60% in 2027 if Congress doesn’t extend the expiring cuts. [Emphasis added]

So, Alan is telling us they should extend the tax cuts.  We agree.  In addition he slays his “mere crumbs” argument.  The top 0.1% of tax payers get 8% of the benefits in 2018.  We can’t find an exact figure for the percentage of tax paid by the top 0.1% but we estimate it at 19%.

Sidebar: The top 1% paid 38.1% of income taxes in 2012.  Comparing the top 0.1% taxable income versus the top 1% in table 3 shows it to be about half.   Another table shows that the tax rates for the top 0.1% are slightly lower than the top 1%.  So 38 percent multiplied by a half is a reasonable approximation.  End Sidebar.

So folks the super-rich folks paying 18% of taxes get 8% of the benefits.  We would have liked to see the tax cut be more pro growth but Alan winning the argument against himself.  Next he goes for the trickle down slur and then he complains about process.  In between he brings up a real issue: The deficit.  We agree.  It needs to be fixed.  Part of the fix is increasing economic growth through tax policy and regulation reductions.  Another part is reforming entitlements.  We expect Alan’s support as entitlements will come up soon.

Alan convinces that we should continue to support the new tax bill and the provisions should be extended.  It is not perfect but it is a good start.