Theater Three-For-Three

We spent the weekend at various forms of the theater with the Lady deGloves and went three-for-three.  We went to Madison and saw the touring version of Beautiful- the Carol King Musical.  It is interesting because it is not just about Carol King.  It is about the music industry of the 50s, 60s, and early 70s.  They have great music (and The Loco-motion) to create a story around and they do it well.  The singing and dancing is the quality you expect from a national tour.

Sidebar: We sat near a number of young folks and there was laughing when The Drifters first came on.  We are not positive but we think they we reacting to the groups choreographed moves.  It was a generational thing.  End Sidebar.

Beautiful is a beautiful show.  It starts with interesting songs but adds characters, sets, and presentations to make it a quality show.  We completely enjoyed it.

Our second stop was at American Players Theatre for The Unexpected Man.  This visit had the challenge of high expectations as it was a two person play with Brian Mani and Sarah Day, two of our favorite actors.  The show still far exceeded our high expectations. It is a wonderful story about characters of roughly our age dealing with opportunities to connect as well as the experiences of death and disappointment that come with being past the midpoint of your life..  Brian and Sarah are perfect and the simple set becomes a bit more with lighting and sound.  It is worth the trip to Spring Green.

Our third stop was to see Wonder Woman at the local cinema.  It was worthy of its positive reviews.  It introduced characters worthy of a franchise.  We hope they get back to them.  It, almost surprisingly for a summer blockbuster, had an interesting story.  And it did have enough action to be an action flick.  For us, one of the most interesting parts is the training of Diana (Wonder Woman).  Often in movies characters become expert warriors in too short of a time.  Diana, on the other hand, wants to become a  warrior at a very early age and begins training then despite her mother’s disapproval.  It is not epiphany that leads to her lethal skills.  It is mostly hard work.  You need to see the movie to fill in the missing piece.

It was a great weekend.  Our next experience will suffer from comparison.

How Can This Be Right?

Kevin Williamson is his usual perceptive self at NRO when he says:

The Republican apparatus may be cowardly, craven, and more than a little corrupt, but it is not the main obstacle toward achieving meaningful conservative reform. The main obstacle toward achieving meaningful conservative reform is the same as the main obstacle to the success of the Libertarian party: Americans do not want what they are selling. The tasks of conservatives is to explain to Americans why they should. It will not be easy.

What is amazing is that he is right.  It has not been easy and it seems to get harder.  Kevin covers the the positive side of what Deidre Mccloskey calls the Great Enrichment.  Although he knows it well, in this article he does not bother to take the time to cover the failure of the alternative that we see so starkly in Venezuela.  Here is the December 2016 Venezuela travel warning from the US Government.  Here are some stories on the economic disaster in Venezuela.  Remember that Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves.

So we know that capitalism works and socialism doesn’t.  Why were the 2016 presidential nominees from both parties so repulsed by capitalism?  Why is capitalistic success a hard sell and the hope that socialism won’t fail for the umpteenth consecutive time an easy sell?  We try to stick at it but it is a challenge to point out the obvious over and over again.  We give Kevin credit for creating new and pointed ways to make the obvious obvious.

Local Virtue Signals

Sigh!  One of the local mayors is virtue signaling as reported in the La Crosse Tribune recently:

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat supports La Crosse state legislators urging Gov. Scott Walker to commit Wisconsin to a state-based plan for combating climate change.

“It is essential that local and state legislators present a united front in the face of the president’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement,” Kabat said. “I commend these legislators for their dedication to the environment and join them in their commitment to combating climate change. In La Crosse, we have made substantial progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and will continue working toward our goals, regardless of the president’s actions.”

One of these things, the Paris agreement, has nothing to do with the other, local carbon emissions.  Should we be reducing carbon emissions in La Crosse?  Well we ought to reduce costs.  We certainly hope that the city is not increasing costs to battle carbon dioxide.  Why it would be essential for local and state legislators to present a united front is anybody’s guess.  If there happened to be a united front it would be nice to have debate about what it should be.  Our guess and hope is that he will have opposition for his next term.


European Pedestrians

Jay Nordlinger, in his Stockholm Diary at NRO, notices Swedish pedestrians:

Swedish pedestrians wait patiently at stoplights — when there are no cars coming. My American legs can’t. They just can’t. (See? It’s not me, it’s the legs.)

We have not made it to Stockholm but have found this behavior in England, France, Germany, and Poland.  In fact, when our American legs walk against the “red man” there is likely to be comments from the Europeans.

Sidebar: In Europe the pedestrian walk signals are red and green as opposed to the white and orange we have in the states.  In Europe, we signal our spouse with “green man”, meaning it is time to cross.  The American alternative can be a little tricky in the big cities.  End Sidebar.

In our experience, only the Irish are immune from total allegiance to waiting for green man.  We look forward to additional investigations.

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

Boston Rocks

Boston is back on tour and we accompanied the Lady and our sister to see them in Topeka, KS.  In fact, the Topeka crowd picture is on their Facebook page.  It was worth the trip.  The band was razor sharp, the vocals with the new lead singer (Tommy DeCarlo) were excellent, and the video and lights were way beyond expectations for medium size (c. 5,000) venue.  We are big fans of these midsize venues.  You can see, hear, and feel the band from every seat.

They have gotten away from the Corporate America disaster and have gone back to their classic stuff and added in a cover or two as well as a couple of new songs including a lead vocal for their female band member Beth Cohen.  She gives them a lot of flexibility.  If you agree that there can never be too many guitar solos and like the classic Boston stuff then you ought to see the new tour.