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.

Good Advice Depends On Circumstances

John Taylor has a fun column about opportunity cost, curriculum, and Tiger Woods.  As it happens Tiger was one of John’s students during freshman year at Stanford.  John says about Tiger:

With Tiger Woods just winning the Tour Championship, I have a wonderful example today of opportunity costs. Tiger took my course in 1996. He was the best economics student: As I have often said, he learned opportunity costs so well that he left Stanford and joined the pro tour.

As John says, it is about the choices people make when faced with scarcity.  The stock answer to, “I am a good student.  Should I stay in school or follow my dream?” is stay in school.  But the back story matters.  If you have the proven skills of Tiger Woods

In 1995, he successfully defended his U.S. Amateur title at the Newport Country Club in Rhode Island[46] and was voted Pac-10 Player of the Year, NCAA First Team All-American, and Stanford’s Male Freshman of the Year (an award that encompasses all sports)

Then leaving school in 1996 looks to be the right choice before the fact and obvious after the fact.  Here are two of our experiences about advice and opportunity cost.  A student comes to our office and says she has a local offer that she likes because it requires less hours but she wants as much money as her classmates that will be working in bigger cities and working more hours.  Our answer is that that is the trade-off she wants.  She should jump at it.

Another student comes to our office and asks for a couple of days off.  We ask why.  Our expectations were a wedding or a senior vacation.  Instead we hear that he has been invited to the NFL combine.  We said yes and he went to the Combine and played in the NFL for several years.

Trade-offs matter.  Tiger and the other folks are in the best position to make their own decisions.  Those of us that give advice for a living should always recognize that the stock answer isn’t always the best.  We need to find out about the individual when giving advice.  Exceptional golfing skills, a need to stay local, or ability to make the NFL all change the typical answer.  Then, sometimes, we wander beyond the economics to all that other stuff.

 

Research Basics

After we commented on Cass Sunstein’s article about The Problem Of All Those Liberal Professors we recognized that we failed one of the standards of archival research.  You should aways check the original document(s).  The original document that Cass referred to is: Homogenous: The Political Affiliation of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty by Mitchell Langbert.  It was posted on the National Association of Scholars (NAS) website.  NAS is:

[A] network of scholars and citizens united by our commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. Membership in NAS is open to all who share our commitment to these broad principles. We publish a journal and have state and regional affiliates.

Yup, that basically makes them conservatives. It is not a surprise that Mitchell’s article showed up at NAS.  Other outlets might not be interested.

We were concerned that Cass understated the impact of the lack of conservatives on faculty because the faculty run the place.  They set the curriculum and the related courses.  They determine the research standards.  They hire (sometimes with a little help) administrators.  Most administrators were former faculty.  These administrators set accreditation standards.  In short, faculty run the place although not all faculty are equally involved in such activities.

So let’s see what Mitchell said about the impact of the lack of ideological balance in colleges and universities:

So pervasive is the lack of balance in academia that more than 1,000 professors and graduate students have started Heterodox Academy, an organization committed to increasing “viewpoint diversity” in higher education.4The end result is that objective science becomes problematic, and where research is problematic, teaching is more so. [Site added]

To an academic it is reasonable to include curriculum development in teaching but we don’t think that the general public does.  We think it is important to understand that faculty have somewhere between an extensive to exclusive say about what classes are taught and how, what research is acceptable, what outside speakers come to campus, and almost everything else that happens on campus.

Mitchell notes that West Point and Annapolis are two outliers in that they are more balanced that almost all the other schools.  We took a look at the history curriculum for Annapolis (US Naval Academy) and a local school that we have access to.  It should give you a feel for the differences between a school with balance (Annapolis) and one without balance.

Examples of history themes from the US Naval Academy:

Examples of topics include piracy, the development of national identities and the growth of capitalism.

Sidebar: We really, really want to take the course on the history of pirates.  Especially on International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  End Sidebar

Here are some selected history course titles from a regional state school (yes we are aware that Mitchell was surveying Liberal Arts schools):

Women in the Modern United States: 1890-Present

History of Motherhood in the United States

U.S. Reform Movements

You can check the sites and see if you agree with us that the curriculums are very different.  Even when the titles are similar, Peace and War versus History of The Technology of Peace And War, we are willing to wager that the courses are very different.  Mitchell recognizes the connection of balance to research.  Without approved research a faculty member is highly unlikely to earn tenure.  If Military History is not part of the curriculum then military historians need not apply.  Too bad Victor Davis Hanson.  But the impact of the lack of balance is even more.  It is what happens in the classroom.  But it is also the classes that get taught, the speakers that come to campus, and the other services offered by the university.

Cass and Mitchell are right to identify the problem.  It is just bigger than they think.  It has an impact on every student in every major in every way.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

College Cartel Tofu Edition

Frederick M. Hess and Grant Addison are at NRO discussing some trends in employment.  They start out with:

Earlier this month, the job-search site Glassdoor compiled a list of 15 major companies that no longer require applicants for certain posts to have a college degree. The list included an array of entry- and mid-level jobs —everything from barista to “Apple Genius” to “senior manager of finance”

It is worth reading the whole thing.  We are generally in agreement with Fred and Grant but we find that they go a bit overboard with the red meat.  That’s why we call this tofu edition.

Fred and Grant point out an important reason why lots of employers require a college degree when there isn’t a compelling reason to do so.  They have a useful term for it, degree inflation:

There are multiple factors to blame for degree inflation, but a big one is the unintended consequences of federal anti-discrimination law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited employers from discriminating against workers or job applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It did, however, allow the use of “professionally developed” ability or employment tests, insofar as they were not “designed, intended or used” to discriminate.

Trying develop an entry level test independently  has been a magnet for lawsuits.  Requiring a degree has not although Fred and Grant don’t see why.  It is OK to disagree with the courts but there is no reason to expect they will suddenly change their minds and agree with us or Fred and Grant.  Here is where some of the red meat comes:

And colleges, of course, reap the outsize benefits of acting as the gatekeepers to employment. It’s an arrangement which allows campus bureaucrats to pull in six-figure salaries while tuition costs soar ever-higher and schools feast on billions in federal student loans and other taxpayer funds.

The actions by the employers in the first paragraph will have precious little impact on highly competitive colleges.  We are not going to name names on who is worried about those employer changes  but we are sure the Ivy League and the Big Ten are not.  Fred and Grant recommend:

While there are policy changes that could help, businesses have a chance to do well by doing good. They can take the initiative to cultivate new partnerships, expand apprenticeships, charge HR departments with reexamining outdated assumptions, and find ways to move beyond routines that close the door to qualified workers who lack the right piece of paper.

We are with Fred and Grant that it is not a policy problem.  We are with them that employers should cultivate and expand partnerships.  Paid apprenticeships, internships, other on-the-job training should be expanded.  The partnerships might be with colleges, high schools,  vocational schools, or on their own.  These programs at the various schools and businesses might be run by highly paid folks.  They might be bureaucrats.  Let the markets sort out the prices.

The Purpose Of Public Subsidies

The NRO article by Frederick M. Hess and Cody Christensen on college dropouts and what can be done is worth reading in its entirety but here we want to look at one sentence to discuss the nature of public subsidies.  The sentence comes early:

As 2 million students drop out of college each year, the costs should give everyone pause — including a half-trillion dollars in unpaid student debt and public subsidies wasted on college-goers who never graduate. [Emphasis added]

The unpaid student debt is an interesting issue but we will focus on the part in bold.  Are public subsidies wasted on college-goers who never graduate?  We think no for two reasons.  First, students can get something out of college without getting a degree. Sometimes they learn something in college while other times they learn something about themselves.  There is, or at the very least, can be, a significant value to college without graduating.

Second, and more important, it is reasonable for the government (local, state, and federal) to take reasonable risks with tax receipts.  Two examples are basic research, mostly at the federal level, and college students, mostly at the state level.  There doesn’t appear to be an effective market mechanism for subsidizing college students.

Sidebar One: Students often change their major in US colleges.  This is one of the reason it was hard to get hiring organizations like accounting firms to support freshman scholarships.  They wanted their scholarships to go to students that had made substantial progress towards a degree.  The state and some other foundations were willing to take such a risk.  End Sidebar One.

Instead, the state subsidizes a wide variety of students and a substantial number fail.  It would be easy to reduce failures by increasing entry standards but that would reduce successes too.  Fred and Cody’s article is well done but they are wrong about subsidy waste.

Sidebar Two: The subsidy loss might be compared to bad debts.  In a for profit organization we try find the level of bad debts that maximizes profits.  For the state the computation of subsidy losses versus graduates is hard to conceptualize never mind trying to compute it.  End Sidebar Two.

It is not a waste to subsidize students that don’t graduate and we don’t want to entirely eliminate students not graduating.  It is, properly, a political decision.  What are the risks necessary to provide the labor force needed?