Bad Rhetoric

Nicole Gelinas is taking aim at James Damore’s argument over at NRO.  She says that James has a right to his opinion but he is wrong:

[Google] claims to encourage internal dissent and debate, and that is what Damore provided. But the contents of his memo are nothing to celebrate: He said nothing that hasn’t already been said, in tiresome fashion, for decades.

Nicole then does what she accuses James of without even a change of paragraph:

Damore, like any novice rhetorician, relies on straw men. He is concerned that in aiming for perfectly equality of the sexes, Google will deplete its financial resources and become less competitive. Google’s tech workers, however, are 80 percent male, and its leadership is 75 percent male. If the company is indeed striving for numerical equality, it is a long way from the danger zone.

She actually does it right in the title: Biology Is Not Destiny.  Nowhere does James make such a claim.  Means are different.  Does Nicole think that the 39 percent Asian-American tech force at Google (her stat) is the result of bias?  The are two differences.  The first is that nobody can accuse Nicole of being an novice rhetorician.  The second is that James is explicit about using the extreme case.

Google has been emphasizing diversity for quite a period and spend lots of money without moving the needle.  Biology is not destiny.  But sexes and races can and do have different means.  Yes, John McEnroe is roughly right about Serena Williams.  If you don’t accept that you end up like universities.  You may remember that the provost at American University denied tenure to Carolyn Brown, who identifies as hispanic, because of her Student Evaluation of Instruction (SEI) scores.  More important for our discussion are the diversity reactions like her chair (well, actually director but it sounds like a chair):

But [John] Watson warned that scholars of her stature, particularly scholars of color, get offers to go elsewhere fast.

“It’ll be a yearlong process to replace her,” he said. “The likelihood we’ll get another woman who is a minority is a tick above zero.”

We understand John’s attitude.  Leadership, including the provost is all over him to get diverse faculty members but then the provost fires Carolyn.  All of the department’s work has gone for naught.  If you asked is there a separate market for diverse faculty the answer would be yes.  The prices are higher because the completion is intense.  Or Carolyn’s reaction:

“They used me as a face of diversity,” Brown said, “and when I went up for tenure, they threw me away. It’s really disappointing. I’m still kind of devastated.”

You can’t fire me because I add the diversity that you crave.  We interviewed for a chair position at another school.  Part of the interview was to meet each of the faculty individually.  One meeting was real short because the faculty member said that her diversity status made her untouchable.  She may have been right.

Nicole is wrong.  The outcome of Google is not going to be a few yoga classes.  Question: does Nicole want to exclude men from those classes?  Google has already spent years and many millions on this.  If they want to meet their goals they will move further towards the university model with different hiring standards and different retention standards depending upon your diversity value.  If you want diversity you can get it because universities do but the cost is high.



Hire Sophie

Sophie Mann is a senior at Scripps College, part of the Claremont University Consortium, and a Bartley Fellow at WSJ.  After discussing the much publicized events this spring at Claremont and elsewhere she concludes her WSJ column:

Even at the University of California, Berkeley, where spring riots shut down speeches by conservative controversialists Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter, administrators now say they’ll allow the College Republicans to bring author Ben Shapiro for an appearance in the fall, a request the dean of students initially denied.

That actions such as these are considered unusual, even courageous, is a sign of just how bad things are on campus today. But colleges and universities across the country should be following the examples being set in California.

Do read the whole thing to appreciate how level headed a college student could be.  Sophie gives us more confidence for the future of free speech than the often uncertain actions of a few college administrators.

A Lesson And An Analogy

Yesterday we accompanied the Lady deGloves to an event at American Players Theatre (APT) and we taught a lesson in a beautiful fashion.  We taught a similar lesson, less elegantly, about 20 years ago.  To explain why we need to explain the analogy between APT and the university.

Brenda DeVita, the APT artistic director, was meeting with a group of supporters ostensibly to plan a season at APT.  The real lesson was: we really appreciate your support but you can’t have the plays you want because of all the constraints.

We faced a similar situation a couple of decades ago when accounting majors were in extraordinarily high demand.  Every firm wanted to be the first on campus so they could get the top candidates.  The Department worked with Career Services to create Accounting Career Expo (ACE) on Monday evening and Accounting Interview Days (AID) to follow immediately.  That way we could avoid no.

The analogy is that APT is very much like a university.  The comparisons are

Brenda is the department chair
The Core Company is the (tenure track) faculty
Other actors are academic staff
Directors are deans, albeit of one production
Supporters are supporters
Financial constraints are that seats must be filled

Brenda’s job is more complicated than a chair’s because almost all university performances are one-man shows while her shows are larger and often much larger.  The nature of the chair and her position, however, is the same.  Both of them have folks with awesome but not unlimited skills and often substantial egos that must be allocated to certain shows.  The Core Company or the faculty gets first consideration.  Other actors or academic staff fill needs and come and go.  Director and deans always have big ideas.  Both of them need to fill seats.  Both need to add new supporters without alienating continuing supporters.  Both need to accomplish much without much authority.  Agreements are reached by discussing, convincing, and cajoling.  We saw these attributes yesterday.

APT provided us with a nice dinner, plied us with alcohol, and brought in some of the performers to meet us (we met James Ridge who is wonderful as Cyrano) before moving into the Touchstone Theatre to design a season of APT.  They encouraged and got lots of input and put together a season.  Then they dropped “the math” on us.  The plays most folks like have lots of actors.  Not every actor can play every part.  Actors can only do a few plays a season.  There must be a Shakespeare comedy because “it is the gateway drug to the theatre”.  We’re not sure if everybody got it but the point was clear: You can’t always get what you want.

We learned the lesson and are more aware of the constraints than almost anyone but still want to see Arsenic And Old Lace at APT.  It only has 14 characters and the new stage will give them access to the Panama Canal.  Our casting is almost complete but we are have trouble with Dr. Einstein.

A Nice University Story

We are preparing a post on the problems with universities but first here is one about a successful university program.  Competition among universities in each state means that students have choices and programs can have an identity.  The identity of  the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL) is about state-wide programs.  The identity of the Department of Accountancy is a 150-hour undergraduate program that emphasizes internships at public accounting firms.  Most of the internships are with firms that are not the Big Four.  All of the internships, with the possible exception of some with the federal government, are well paid.  Internships lead to connections with firms that lead to a variety of positive outcomes including scholarships for students.

Here is the story of McKenzie Hofmann, an accountancy major at the UWL:

So, when Hofmann started college, she heeded her mother’s advice and applied for as many scholarships as she could. Now entering her senior year, Hofmann has earned $13,000 total …

Today Hofmann is glad she switched majors and started on the accountancy path. After a full-time internship at a public accounting firm in the Twin Cities, Redpath and Company, spring semester, Hofmann was offered a full-time career with the firm. She’ll start after her December 2017 graduation.

It is a common success story at the accountancy program at UWL: scholarships, internships, and permanent employment.  So McKenzie made $13,000 from (tax free) scholarships and probably more on the internship but that’s taxable.  The program works for students that make it work.

Tenure Battles

TaxProf Blog has the story from Inside Higher Ed of Carolyn Brown, an assistant professor of journalism at American University, who was denied tenure and promotion.  For those of you who are not academics, this means Ms. Brown was given a one-year contract for next year but she must leave after that.  Academic firing, like almost every other academic thing, is slow.

There is one really important piece of information and two important issues.  The important piece of information is that the Provost’s letter to Ms. Brown is available online.  You can click on at the link above.  One issue is that Ms. Brown identifies as Latina and has been very active in promoting diversity.  The second issue is that the Provost’s letter

Sidebar: It seems odd that the director of the division and others are appealing to the provost.  The letter makes clear that the Committee on Faculty Actions (CFA) voted unanimously against tenure and promotion for Ms Brown.  The beef is with the CFA as it is unlikely that a provost or dean would overturn a unanimous faculty rejection.  End Sidebar.

We will consider the contents of the letter today.  The letter is entirely about what we call student evaluation of instruction scores or SEI scores.  The letter focuses on the number of poor SEI scores rather than the mean score.  For example: 83.3% of the class gave you a rank of 1, 2, or 3, classifying you on the form as “one of the worst.”

We believe that SEI scores are useful but imperfect information.  What is undeniable is that we live in an assessment age.  What will the outside accreditation reviewers think when they see this letter that fires a faculty member over teaching concerns without mentioning assessment?  This document is a smoking gun.  American University could lose accreditation over these four pages.  At best, they have dug themselves a deep hole.  We can’t imagine how the CFA and the provost did this the way they did.  Ms. Brown may not have deserved tenure but the CFA must include assessment in the evaluation.  Ms. Brown is appealing the decision.

Conservatives In Academia

David French has an article at NRO entitled, “Here’s How Anti-Conservative Academic Discrimination Works.”  We think (they are on vacation and we can’t find an example) the way someone else puts it is: Analysis true.  David starts with the example of a UCLA part-timer Keith Finks and properly expands his discussion because part-timers provide much heat but little light.  Part-timers are a small percentage of instructors and have almost zero influence outside of their class.  The discussion of part-timers may help enthuse folks but it isn’t the import part.

The important parts, as David recognizes, are tenured faculty, department chairs, and deans.  These folks make the decisions about hiring, firing, job descriptions, and what students study in grad school. As David quotes from a Harvard ad :

It is understood that applicants will employ forms of analysis that address race, gender, sexuality, and/or other intersecting forms of social power, such as womanist, feminist, and/or queer approaches. [Emphasis lost in translation]

Programs, courses, and research are created or approved by the tenured faculty etc.  The courses, programs, and research opportunities attract folks on the left.  The approval of their research and acceptance of their teaching keeps them.  Today, a budding Victor Davis Hanson (here he is on NRO) faces a much more difficult market for military historians than VDH did.

Well, one might argue, it is a problem in liberal studies but the business school is surely different.  Well, we have had experience with a leftist accounting professor that was listing accounting poetry as an academic publication.  There are 17 sections in the American Accounting Association and most of them are focused on accounting topics like taxes.  Here are four others: Accounting Behavior and Organizations, Diversity, Gender Issues and Worklife Balance, Public Interest.  It is safe to say that the left has substantial influence in the business school although it is not as extensive as liberal arts.

We agree with David that the solution to leftist control of academics will not be quick or easy.  It has taken them decades to gain control.  It will take time and effort to create a more balanced environment.


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.