Cracks in the Ivory Tower

The Moral Mess of Higher Education

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Fun fact: I've been involved with "higher education" off and on, mainly on, since 1969. An undergrad for four years, a grad student for … too long a time, a non-tenure-track instructor for seven years, and winding up as a diligent employee geek for 25 years. I won't say I'm an expert, but I kept my eyes open.

Another fun fact: my separation agreement with the University Near Here allowed me to keep my library borrowing privileges, including Interlibrary Loan. And when I requested this book via Interlibrary Loan, the library responded: "Nah, we'll just buy it, and put it on hold for you."

I can't help but think that was a gutsy move on their part. Even though this book is published by the Oxford University Press (respectable!) and has two academic authors, Jason Brennan (McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University) and Phillip Magness (American Institute for Economic Research), it's fundamentally subversive of most features of the modern American university.

The authors make the following complaints about higher ed:

  • Faculty, administrators, and students face bad incentives that cause them to advance their selfish interests instead of working for the common good of their institution.

    One description of administrators particularly rang true: "Administrators respond [to the demand that they appear "busy"] by filling their schedules with meeting after meeting, with a large percentage of those meetings being little more than administrators reporting to each other about what happened at other meetings."

    I can report that this behavior filtered down to those lower on the totem pole.

  • Universities promote themselves shamelessly with gauzy websites, self-advertisements, festooned with meaningless slogans. UNH's "on the edge of possible" is mentioned as a good (by which I mean: bad) example. (I commented on this dreadfulness back in 2016.) Worse, universities don't even deliver on even their nebulous promises; students don't learn much that's useful.

  • Student evaluation of teaching is garbage.

  • Calculating GPAs is an inherently incoherent methodology; the results are meaningless.

  • Academics relentlessly seek their own self-interest while cloaking themselves in the language of morality.

  • Gen eds don't work; they're mostly established to serve the needs of the influential faculty and their departments, instead of students.

  • There are too many low-quality PhD programs which (inevitably) oversupply low-quality PhDs. This wastes everyone's time and money.

  • Students cheat. A lot.

  • Universities waste a lot of taxpayer money; justice demands reform.

Brennan and Magness acknowledge that their treatment only scratches the surface. They don't even touch some topics, most notably athletics and leftist political activism. That's OK; what they do discuss should (but probably won't) cause some serious soul-searching in academic halls.

[And another fun fact: Jason Brennan is a UNH alumnus.]

Last Modified 2024-06-03 6:43 AM EDT

URLs du Jour


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Amazon has an amazing amount of pro-Mao merchandise. Commies apparently have no problem buying and selling stuff on Amazon. I had to skip over a lot to get to our Product du Jour.

  • You might have heard that the Boston Red Sox are moving their triple-A team from Pawtucket, RI to Worcester, MA. At Reason, Eric Boehm is flabbergasted by one feature of the transition: it involves $100 Million for a Minor League Ballpark?! .

    To clear space for a new minor league baseball stadium, the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, is using eminent domain to condemn and seize two successful businesses. City officials then plan to put Worcester's remaining taxpayers on the hook for more than $100 million to build the ballpark and do some adjacent redevelopment. It's hard to say which part of the plan is worse: stealing private land or wasting public dollars.

    Worcester initially tried to buy out the owners of an auto glass repair shop and a cannabidiol retailer, but the businesses turned down offers of $310,000 and $265,000 respectively, according to court documents. When the property holders refused, Worcester officials resorted to eminent domain to get their way.

    I wonder how long it will take the announcers to convert from saying "PawSox" to "WooSox", apparently the designated new nickname. They took awhile to master the transition from the insensitive "disabled list" to the woker "injured list".

  • At AEI, James Pethokoukis takes issue with Trump's tweeted 70th anniversary "congratulations": Please, no congratulations for China’s communists. He quotes Yaqiu Wang of Human Rights Watch:

    Today is the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule of China. The CCP killed tens of millions of Chinese people, plundered our resources, forbids us from speaking our mind, and jails us if we criticize it, thus is arguably the biggest anti-China org in the world. … The CCP didn’t lift 80 million out of poverty. First, it plunged the country into utter destruction by its crazy policies, then it became less crazy and ppl [sic] started to lift themselves out of poverty through hard work. Chinese not ruled by the CCP (HK, TW) are still richer today.

    James compares Trump's kowtowing rhetoric to Reagan's. Can we have a president who will call China an "Evil Empire", please?

  • David Harsanyi, writing at the Federalist, is not in a congratulatory mood either: Actually, China's Communist Government Can Rot In Hell.

    Donald Trump today tweeted his “Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China!” For diplomatic reasons, it’s become customary for American presidents to praise and commend this depraved totalitarian regime. In a just world, the president would be sending his sympathies to a Chinese people who have endured inconceivable sufferings under the communist regime since 1949.

    As Helen Raleigh, whose family experienced Maoist-driven deprivations, aptly noted, the 70th anniversary of People’s Republic of China marks one of the darkest days in Chinese history. It is also one of the darkest days in mankind’s history. Of all the planned utopian economies during the 20th century, none were more deadly or dehumanizing. No government has murdered, tortured, imprisoned, and terrorized more of its own people than communist China.

    In celebration of the anniversary, Hong Kong police shot a protester at point-blank range.

  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson is perceptive as usual: For Democrats, Taxes Aren’t about Revenue.

    Senator Elizabeth Warren (Democrat, Radcliffe Quad) and Senator Bernie Sanders (Socialist, Further) both want to be the Democratic party’s presidential nominee in 2020. It’s hard to blame them — it’s an excellent grift, and these are grifters nonpareil. (If you think Senator Sanders’s rape-porn columns were embarrassing, try Senator Warren’s Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan, from back in her days as a conservative-ish Lou Dobbs economic populist.) Sure, Senator Warren is the national hall monitor and Senator Sanders is one sandwich board shy of lecturing lampposts about Lyndon LaRouche, but they think Donald Trump is going to be easy pickin’s. (The 2020 election will be, among other things, a dynamic illustration of the principle that you cannot reason a man out of a belief he was not reasoned into.) But you can’t take a swing at the big orange piñata until you win the primary, and the Democrats are huffing out of the same brown paper bag as the Republicans, which means they’re in the market for crazy. And so Senator Warren and Senator Sanders are trading paint at high speed in the Bats**t 500.

    Senator Warren has proposed a 2 percent wealth tax on certain affluent Americans — not a tax on their incomes, but a tax on their savings. Senator Sanders — metaphorically banging a shoe on the podium in his soul while shouting “We will bury you!” — multiplied by four, suggesting an 8 percent tax on savings. There are other countries that have wealth taxes (usually more broadly applied than Senator Sanders or Senator Warren proposes; again, Democrats are very dedicated to the proposition that the American middle class should be exempted from paying very much for the welfare system of which it is the primary beneficiary), but very few of them even reach 1 percent, much less 8 percent: Norway’s wealth tax is less than 1 percent, and Switzerland’s begins at 13 one-hundredths of 1 percent. Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Germany, among others, once had wealth taxes but eliminated them because — this part should matter — they are usually really, really bad policy.

    It's tough to excerpt Kevin D. Williamson. You should always Read The Whole Thing.

    But yeah. If you have "progressive" Facebook friends, as I do, you will have noticed their occasional (or frequent, depending on the friend) veer into hostility and hatred toward "the rich". That's still the kind of hate speech you can get away with on Facebook.

  • Terence Kealey writes at Cato, providing Beefy Arguments for Libertarianism.

    We've long understood chicken and fish to be safe, but a new study has been released suggesting that both red meat (beef, pork, lamb or venison) and processed meat (sausages, bacon, ham, hot dogs) are also safe; and the panjandrums of the nutrition orthodoxy are outraged. "This report has layers of flaws and is the most egregious abuse of evidence that I have ever seen," said Walter Willett of Harvard. "Their recommendations are really irresponsible," said Frank Hu of Harvard. A contrarian would immediately assume, therefore, that the study in question must be marvelous. Is it?

    Well, it represents part of a new wave in nutrition, in which a group of scientists who have no financial ties to the food industry set themselves up, like the justices of the Supreme Court, to adjudicate as a panel on a field of research. And, again like the justices of the Supreme Court, they are not frightened from disagreeing with each other and from voting differently from each other. That represents a useful advance in science, as scientists move away from papers that present a monolithic consensus to papers that admit a more conflicted recognition of doubt.

    My hypothesis: worrying a lot about what you eat will likely shave more months off your life than eating, moderately, what you feel like eating.

Last Modified 2024-01-23 3:23 PM EDT