At Least One Punch For Free

The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a law supporting free speech at the University of Wisconsin System campuses.  It would still need to be passed by the WI Senate and signed by Governor Walker.  NPR reports:

Students who disrupt campus events at University of Wisconsin System schools could be expelled under a bill approved Wednesday by the state Assembly.

Under the proposal, students who are found guilty of engaging in “violent or other disorderly conduct that materially and substantially disrupts” others’ free expression would be suspended after two offenses and expelled after three.

The measure is sponsored by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who has said he believes it to be “one of the most important” bills to be taken up by lawmakers this session.

“One of our fundamental rights, one of the most important parts of being an American, the right to free speech, is under attack,” Vos said during debate. “On far too many college campuses, different points of view are not even allowed.”

The bill would allow any person to report another person for disrupting free expression. A formal investigation and disciplinary hearing overseen by the UW System’s Board of Regents would be required for anyone who has been reported twice for such disruptions.

The proposal also requires UW System institutions to provide training and orientation on the new speech policies to students and employees.

We are not big fans of handling free speech at the state level but this looks to be extraordinarily weak tea.  It seems to give protesters one or two free punches.  We think, depending on the circumstances, penalties for one violent disruption of speech should include suspending or expelling a student.  Naturally, the left is in a tizzy as indicated by a Facebook comment:

Making Wisconsin safe for the right wing nazis. “ve muss haff order.”

The opportunities for left wing Nazis was unspecified.  More troubling is the attitude of elected Democrats as reported by NPR:

“The problems with this bill: it is an unconstitutional bill, it is a gag order,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison. “It basically gags and bags the First Amendment.”

Representative Taylor seems to be unfamiliar with the First Amendment.

The potentially useful part of the bill is in the last paragraph of the first quote.  First Amendment training might be useful to students and employees at UW System.  Perhaps we can sign up elected officials too.  We do not expect much from this bill in the event that it is passed.  The same folks will still be running the schools.


Teaching Universities A Lesson

There is a clamor to teach public universities a budgetary lesson for their behavior towards free speech and intellectual diversity.  A few weeks ago Tiana Lowe at NRO recommended that we defund Evergreen State University in Washington:

Public funding constitutes 46 percent of Evergreen’s annual revenue — $55.2 million from state appropriations and $32.3 million in state and federal grants. A public college that cannot defend the First Amendment or even the basic safety of its professors doesn’t deserve a cent of the taxpayers’ money.

Republicans in the Washington legislature have introduced such a bill.

In North Carolina it is about the UNC School of Law as Frank Pray reports:

The North Carolina Senate’s budget proposal, now being debated in the House, includes a $4 million reduction in funding to the law school, constituting nearly a third of the school’sbudget.

We agree with Frank when he says:

Instead of incentivizing greater intellectual diversity, in the long run it could endanger the school’s academic standing and embolden campus radicals. Case studies in other states show why legislators should think twice about this kind of meddling.

We think that such moves will drive all of the state schools to the left in support of their colleagues.  It might feel good to conservatives to batter the crazies financially but it will not lead to conservative results.  We need to  find ways to stop explicit behaviors and create incentives for free speech and intellectual diversity.  It is hard legislative work to create such incentives but that is the direction that we need to go.  As in most situations, the conservative solution takes time and effort.


Assessment At The University

We have often made the point that we, the faculty, are our own worst enemies in making us look bad in public.  Usually, we can blame it on the left but the right is not immune at George Leef proves at the NRO Corner:

In the not so distant past, college professors graded their students’ work (tests, papers, and things) and that was that. But then along came one of those ideas so typical of American education “experts,” namely that while grading might measure how well students had performed in the course, it didn’t necessarily measure their learning. Naturally, that opened the door to the growth of a new movement with campus bureaucrats eager to impose “learning standards.”

George approvingly quotes an article by Erik Gilbert at the Marin Center that starts off with this:

Universities have been assessing students by grading their work since the Middle Ages.  Sometimes students complained that the professor wasn’t fair, but nobody thought the system was fundamentally flawed.

We quoted both George and Erik to make it clear that they are fundamentally opposed to assessment from a conservative view point.  It is Colbert Conservatism and should be roundly mocked.  The difference between inputs and outputs is not nearly as complex as Arthur Thomas and arbitrary allocations.  It should be obvious to everyone that learning is different from teaching.

Sidebar One: There is a real issue of who assesses that both George and Erik mention but, as the quotes show, they are against assessment and the who problem is a just a by-product.  Part of the problem of who assesses is that some faculty members refuse to assess. It is amazing that academics, people who think for a living, can’t distinguish between inputs and output.  Why are they not interested in evidence of the outcomes of their teaching?  End Sidebar One.

Sidebar Two: Many of them also distrust student evaluation of instruction or SEI.  SEI scores, like assessment, are evidence of what goes on in the classroom.  Many faculty members seem to be evidence averse to what goes on in the classroom.  When confronted with the evidence like, “In our department SEI scores are unrelated to grades,” they will continue to believe the opposite.  End Sidebar Two.

Where George and Erik go wrong is that faculty use grades to assess overall learning.  Universities are now, correctly, being held to higher standards.  We expect the school to investigate if students are learning.  We expect that the faculty have a strategy for getting students to learn and that they evaluate its effectiveness.

Sidebar Three: For an extreme example, there were three tests and all students got 98 percent on the first and third tests and 44 percent on the second test for a nice B minus average of 80 percent.  Do you think all students have a B minus knowledge of the course material?  End Sidebar Three.

For a real example, we had a research oriented faculty member that had students write a 30 page research paper.  Did it prepare our students for the type of writing assignment they would get in the accounting profession?  It influenced their writing skills but, unless they went to grad school, they would never write anything like it ever again.  What it did, however, was to improve their research skills with various data bases and that they would need again.  There were excellent outcomes that the department supported but they were not exactly what the faculty member envisioned.  It is difficult but we should all be evidence driven in our teaching.

There are serious questions about who should assess but assessment is something that conservatives should insist on.  We want to know what students are expected to learn and if they are learning it.  Every faculty member should support assessment and that will reduce the overhead.


Tuition And State Support

Preston Cooper from American Enterprise Institute has an interesting article on tuition and state support at the WSJ.  He has some interesting data from his new study but we think he or the headline writer is overstating with the title of What Causes High Tuition.  We are sure he is absolutely wrong about the competitive nature of state schools.

Let’s start with our basic agreement on the main point.  He uses data from 2004 to 2015. Our experience in Wisconsin during that period leads us to agree with Preston’s main point that the real reductions or lack of nominal increases in state subsidies was only tangentially related to tuition increases.  Preston puts it like this in the WSJ:

Colleges do tend to cut spending when state funding goes down. But the expenditures they cut are usually in areas unrelated to instruction, such as research and administration. When funding goes up, colleges largely plow that money into higher spending rather than return it to students through lower tuition.

Sidebar One: We think there might be a problem with aggregate data Preston uses.  Flagship campuses tend to be large financially in most state and tend to have the most flexibility whereas comprehensives tend to have less flexibility.  We would like to see the data on comprehensives only.  End Sidebar One.

Our experience was a little more complex.  One thing the legislature in Wisconsin liked to do was pit the students versus the faculty.  Thus, faculty salary increases would be the last item in the budget and be predicated on tuition increases.  Because there is a national or international market for new faculty, real reductions in state subsidies led to compressed inverted salaries for faculty.  Senior faculty, especially in business, are often paid less than new faculty.  Still the basic point that universities spend everything they can is valid.

We have bolded Preston’s major error in this paragraph:

Tuition goes up no matter what state legislators do. Public colleges, with state boundaries insulating them from competition, and generous federal student aid programs at their disposal, charge as much as they can get away with. Changes in state funding are largely irrelevant.

State boundaries do not insulate schools from competition.  The market for faculty and administrative talent is at least national.  The reductions in state subsidies put pressure on administrators to find creative ways to hire and keep new talent.

Sidebar Two: Old talent could leave but it is less likely.  The nature of defined benefit pensions and other post-employment benefits make the financial incentives less intense for senior faculty.  End Sidebar Two.

The in-state competition among schools is intense.  It is also intense within schools.  One crucial area of competition is for quality (in-state) students.  Quality students allow institutions (the university, college, or department) to meet state measurements like graduation rates and student credit hours per faculty (SCH/FTE) that can have an impact on funding.  Changes in SCH/FTE leads to reallocation of funding, changes in offerings, and changes in class size.

Quality students create the demand that allows institution-specific or major-specific increases in tuition.  A second area of competition is for quality out-state, usually international, students.  Out-state students pay full tuition that supports in-state students.  Failure to meet out-state targets can be a firing offense.  Preston doesn’t mention out-of-state tuition but it is a crucial budgeting item.  It follows its own cycle that doesn’t match US cycles.

The in-state competition among schools, colleges, and department may not as intense as the private sector but it is still intense.  We would suggest that the solution to state funding is to increase the rewards of winning and losing the competition for students and faculty by increasing support to the quality programs and reducing support to the failing programs.  In the state of Wisconsin that means having the administrators from Wisconsin System down to the individual campuses rather than the legislature making the tough decisions

Hope Or Defeat?

Elliot Kaufman, writing on NRO, has a story of a ray of hope at a university.  Do read the whole thing and check out the video that it links to.  A cynic might conclude that the cloud of the mob means that hope is forlorn at our universities despite a few brave folks.

The story: The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington describes itself as, “A progressive, public liberal arts and sciences college.”  It has a day of absence each year on April 12 when students and faculty of color meet off campus.  It also has a day of presence but that is not part of this story.  This year, allegedly because of the recent election, folks wanted reverse the situation and evict all the whites from the campus.  Elliot reports what happened first:

One liberal biology professor, Bret Weinstein, took issue with this change. Weinstein wrote a powerful e-mail to his colleagues on March 15. Deeply respectful and generous in tone, he made a simple point: There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and underappreciated roles . . . and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away. The first is a forceful call to consciousness which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself. You may take this letter as a formal protest of this year’s structure, and you may assume I will be on campus on the Day of Absence.

You will not be surprised how these folks reacted to the professor.  Elliot says:

Students occupied and barricaded the campus library, and accosted Weinstein outside his classroom. As you can see in this video, the mob surrounded him, yelled at him, swore at him, and openly admitted they did not want to allow him to respond. In the video, Weinstein nobly seeks to engage in “dialectic” with the student protesters, hoping to use “disagreement to discover the truth.” For a professor of biology, this is rather impressive stuff. But he misjudges the mob. “We don’t care what terms you want to speak on,” one student explains to supportive cheers. “This is not about you. We are not speaking on terms — on terms of white privilege. This is not a discussion. You have lost that one.”

Elliot concludes by asking what the students, faculty, and administration will do about this injustice.  He reports that two students stood with the faculty member.  There is no report of the faculty or administration supporting him.  Eugene Volokh reports that an administrator confirmed that it would be safer for the professor to stay off campus.

Professor Weinstein and the two students are a small ray of sunshine.  The inaction of the faculty and the administration in response to mob violence against free speech and especially reasoned speech are an enormous cloud of gloom.  Universities exist for reasoned speech.  We know exactly why universities are currently held in such low regard.


Faculty Fail Again

From Tyler O’Neil at PJ Media discussing Mike Pence’s graduation speech at the University of Notre Dame:

But just as Pence began speaking, about 150 people, half students and half faculty members, walked out of the speech. [italics in original]

Sidebar: We could not find confirmation of the faculty walk out at commencement.  We did find this:

More than 1,700 University of Notre Dame alumni, faculty and staff had also signed an open letter protesting Pence’s commencement speech gig on similar grounds, claiming the veep “actively opposes this sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good.”

That’s enough to bring the faculty to account.  End Sidebar

Students can be excused for behaving badly with regards to freedom of speech.  They are still learning.  Faculty do not have an excuse.  This kind of faculty behavior hurts all universities.  It is a perplexing problem because faculty, like everyone else, have and deserve freedom of speech.  Unfortunately, they keep using it to identify themselves as nasty, intolerant, and committed to opposing freedom of speech.  It is not a platform to encourage university funding.

Two Tales Differing By Three Zeros

Recently we went to our old school to see some of the presentations of Money Smart Week.  One was from Adam Carroll about student loans.  Another was from Billy Corben on his documentary Broke about financial failure among professional athletes and especially successful ones.  They were great speakers with interesting stories to tell.

Upon reflection, Adam and Billy’s stories only differed by three zeros.  The athletes were typically in their early twenties when they found ways to destroy millions of dollars and wreck their financial well-being.  The students were in their late teens and early twenties when they laid waste to their financial futures by mounting up thousands of dollars in student debt.

Billy and Adam tell the same story.  Young people have been asked to make complex decisions that few people are equipped to make.  They often over borrow or over spend or both.  The usual cause is failure to understand compound interest and it is exacerbated by poor or dishonest advice.

The actions by the students were less catastrophic for them because most of them could survive their bad decisions but more catastrophic for the rest of us.  When a few hundred athletes wreck their lives it is a disaster for them but not for us.  When a generation has to put off having children and buying houses it hurts everyone.  There is lots of money in fixing the athlete problem.  There is less money in fixing the student loan problem but it is more important.  The first step in fixing the student loan problem is getting good data.  We know about the overall numbers but how do they come about?  Are they just for tuition?  How much is accumulated living expenses.

Adam talks about playing offense (making money) and playing defense (not spending money).  Because tuition has gone up everyone seems to think that that is the sole cause of student debt.  It might be.  It surely is part of it but it seems likely that once you borrow a large sum adding on a non-trivial sum is easier.  We would like to have better evidence.

Student debt is another reason for teaching financial literacy in college.  It might be a required course like personal finance, presentations like Adam and Billy, woven into the curriculum, or all three.  Money Smart Week is a great idea but the turnout at the sessions we attended were disappointing.  It is another area where colleges need to do better.