Posts tagged ‘Ivy League’

The Evolution of Activism

A couple of years ago I wrote:

Activist: A person who believes so strongly that a problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to "¦ getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or government limitations on choice.

So now, we have the next step -- advocating that others spend their time convincing government to use compulsion to solve some imagined problem.  Kevin Drum urges:

The only real way to address climate change is to make broad changes to laws and incentives.  It puts everyone on a level playing field, it gives everyone a framework for making their own choices, and it gives us a fighting chance of making the deep cuts we need to.  So listen to Tidwell: "Don't spend an hour changing your light bulbs. Don't take a day to caulk your windows. Instead, pick up a phone, open a laptop, or travel to a U.S. Senate office near you and turn the tables: 'What are the 10 green statutes you're working on to save the planet, Senator?'"

Jackboots seem to be "in" this season.

Postscript: In the language of mathematics (I mentioned before I am in the middle of Goedel-Escher-Bach) if actually aiding someone is "helping," then I guess organizing people to help is meta helping, and lobbying government to force other people to help is meta meta helping and so advocating on your blog that people should lobby the government to force other people to help is meta meta meta helping.  Must really warm Drum's heart to be so directly connected with helping people.

Universities are Farther Left Than I Remembered

It is not at all surprising that an Ivy League University professor does not recognize a difference between rationing by individual choice based on price signals and rationing based on government mandate.  What is surprising to me is that I remember this particular professor, Uwe Reinhardt, as the only person who would ever take the free market side of campus debates.  Kind of depressing.  I guess he must have seemed free market just by contrast, or else he has evolved a bit.  Is it ironic to anyone else that radicalism of the 1960s, which purported to be based on individualism and freedom, has led to campuses where it is normal not to even consider individual liberty as part of a public policy equation?  It just reinforced my sense that no one really wants to get rid of "the man," they just want to be "the man" themselves.

In particular he writes:

As I read it, the main thrust of the health care reforms espoused by President Obama and his allies in Congress is first of all to reduce rationing on the basis of price and ability to pay in our health system

We actually have plenty of examples of the government ending rationing by price and ability to pay.  Gas price controls in the 1970s are one very good example.  Anyone remember the result?

Or more recently in China, where gas prices were controlled well below world market levels:

We substituted gas rationing by willingness to pay the posted price with gas price rationing by ability to waste four hours of one's day sitting in lines. (I had never thought of this before, but there must be some interesting economic implications of preferentially routing fuel to those least likely to have a full-time job).

Perhaps worse, Reinhardt equates criticism of the current health care system ( and particularly its productivity) with support for socialization of the system.  Really?  There are perfectly valid free market reasons to criticize health care, where any number of government policy decisions over the years have disrupted the efficacy of price signals and created terrible incentives.

More here from Doug Bandow of Cato

Postscript: Farther left?  Further left?  Sorry, I try, but your scribe is an engineer at heart and sometimes struggles with the native tongue.  When I was in fourth grade, I remember doing a battery of achievement tests, and getting 99+ percentile scores on every test but spelling, where I got something like a 25th percentile.   I think this score put me down mostly with kids for whom English is a second language  (or maybe even worse, with Russian kids for whom ours is a second alphabet).  Only technology in the form of spell-checkers has bailed me out of my personal handicap.

*Sigh* Something Else I Will Have to Subsidize

Via TJIC:

It took decades and, at times, antagonistic battles, but Harvard's gay community says it has finally cemented its academic legitimacy at the nation's oldest university. College officials will announce today that they will establish an endowed chair in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies, in what is believed to be the first professorship of its kind in the country.

Can the adults among us agree that a degree in LGBT studies has about zero economic value?  Even a history degree has more economic value, as history studies tend to still be accompanied by some academic rigor.  But the pathetic scholarship standards and non-existant statistical rigor with which most social sciences, and various [fill in the blank with oppressed group] studies departments in particular, are taught make the economic value of such a degree at best zero and at worst a negative.

I have no problem with anyone studying whatever they wish using their own resources.  This is one place I diverge with Ayn Rand -- she might say that pursuing non-productive activity is inherently immoral.  I would say that pursuing your own goals, whatever they be and however valuable or valueless they might be to others, is just fine as long as you don't demand that everyone else to support you.

The problem is that a degree at Harvard probably requires a $200,000 investment to complete.  Given that, beyond a few career spots in academia, a LGBT studies degree is unlikely to ever recover enough (versus having no degree)  to pay for such an investment, problems are inevitable.  Either someone (read: taxpayers) will likely foot the bill, or else some student is going to find herself with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt and no realistic way to pay it back.

In fact, this latter situation is a common leitmotif of recent media stories, the college grad unable to handle his or her shocking debt load.  Somehow, stories all seem to blame the capitalist system as a failure point.  Michelle Obama, who similarly pursued [historically oppressed group] studies at Princeton, has expressed just this point of view.

Despite their Ivy League pedigrees and good salaries, Michelle Obama often says the fact that she and her husband are out of debt is due to sheer luck, because they could not have predicted that his two books would become bestsellers. "It was like, 'Let's put all our money on red!' " she told a crowd at Ohio State University on Friday. "It wasn't a financial plan! We were lucky! And it shouldn't have been based on luck, because we worked hard."

Is this problem really so hard to diagnose, or have we gotten so politically correct we cannot state a fact out loud that everyone understands -- that is, some degrees have more economic power than others.  LGBT studies degrees likely have very little economic utility.  So it is fine to pursue such a degree, but don't be surprised when you are not offered a six-figure income at graduation, and don't come to me expecting that I pay for your choice.

Massive Campaign to Bring Back Indentured Servitude

On several occasions I have have lamented the declining standard of activism:

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a
problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ...
getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists
sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some
semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated
at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees
in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were
they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So
activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not
solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to
help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the
supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of
government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's
issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or
government limitations on choice.

It seems that there is a surprisingly large coalition ready to take this to its logical extreme:  A group called Service Nation is set to spend a ton of money lobbying the government to create a program to force every young person into servitude by 2020.

Not satisfied with taking 20-40% of our income to spend as they see fit, the government hopes also to be able to order around the labor of millions of young adults.   I feel like I am reading some bizarre historical re-enactment of the Soviet or Chinese youth programs.  This whole program, which I am tentatively going to label "happy face fascism," makes me so sick I can't even address it further tonight.  More later.

PS:  This is, not coincidentally, exactly the idea Obama has been pushing (here and here).  I say not coincidentally, because this is how one skirts stupid campaign finance laws - you get your supporters to take your top campaign planks and run with them as "independent" efforts that are not subject to campaign finance restrictions.

PPS: Just to head off an argument that came up last time in the comments, I have been a consistent opponent of the military draft as well.

Update:  I know the allusion is over-used, but we are in 1984-land when people keep using the term "voluntary universal national service" as do the leaders of this effort.  By universal, they mean that everyone has to do it.  So they are calling for "national service that everyone is required by law to perform but is voluntary." I do not think that word means what you think it means.

The solution is to develop a system of voluntary universal national
service for our country and for the world. To call upon all young
adults to take at least one year to learn the hard and rugged skills of
practicing idealism.

Yes, lets teach them the "hard and rugged skills" of being forced to do labor that no one is willing to pay for voluntarily, so must be performed by slaves instead.

Another thought:  TJIC made a relevant observation to this the other day:

I'm seeing more and more grudging praise for the efficiency of the Chinese dictatorship these days.

It tends to go something like this:

Sure, sure, they're horrible, and democracy is better, but if they
decide that they need to put in { more mass transit | a factory | a new
canal | an Olympic village }, they just tell everyone in the village
"move!", and the job gets done.

I get the same impression.  Service Nation is the end result of such thinking.

Clarification:  Service Nation denies they support mandatory service, and have removed the word "universal" from their site.  However, it should be noted that many of the prominent supporters and board members of Service Nation have individually advocated for mandatory service.  Also, no denial that they are seeking to create a new, massive government beauracracy.

I Wonder if This Is Related?

Megan McArdle had a stat the other day that was pretty depressing, related to the number of kids of middle class African-Americans that appear to fall back into poverty:

A chapter of the report released last fall found startling evidence
that a majority of black children born to middle-class parents grew up
to have lower incomes and that nearly half of middle-class black
children fell into the bottom fifth in adulthood, compared with 16
percent of middle-class white children

That is not good, though I am always suspicious of income statistics (for example, income statistics show me as close to or below the poverty line over the last few years, a function of an entrepreneurial startup).

Then I saw all the silly to-do about Michelle Obama's senior thesis at Princeton (I can't say I honestly even know what my wife's thesis was about).  But what got me to thinking was the fact that as an African-American Ivy League student, she felt compelled to study and write her thesis about race.  I started to remember a disproportionate number (but by no means all) of my middle-class African-American Ivy League acquaintances studied and wrote on the same thing - race.  This means that while I was studying engineering, which had obvious value in the workplace, many blacks are studying a topic that has no marketplace value except to get a very low paying job in a non-profit somewhere.  Which is all fine and good if that is what people want to do, but if blacks are worried their kids are not financially successful, they should consider whether its smart that, while other kids are studying subjects that will get them ahead, their kids are studying a subject that seems to focus mainly on explaining to them why they will never get ahead.

Update:  I want to be careful not to call race / gender / group identity majors "worthless."  Worthless is in the eye of the beholder, and if a student values such a course of study, then it has worth.  However, by the same token, the student should be prepared for the fact that most of the world, particularly the subset called "hiring managers", does not value degrees in majors that have little practical application outside of academia and which have a reputation in general for having low academic standards.  The student does not have to accept the rest of the world's judgement of her degree, but in turn the student can't demand that the rest of the world adopt hers.

In fact, when I made these comments, I didn't know Ms. Obama's choice of course of study.  Knowing that now, it is even more amazing to me that she sees her student debt experience as an average data point indicating a structural flaw in the economy instead of the fact that she chose perhaps the most expensive college in the country and then chose to dedicate four years of study to a major that is nearly impossible to monetize in the job market.

Oops, There Goes Another Bridge

I probably shouldn't criticize a curriculum that I have not observed, but as someone who studied engineering the old-fashioned way (ie with lots of math and equations) this looks kind of worrisome:

Today's Christian Science Monitor profiles Glenn Ellis, a professor who helped develop Smith's innovative engineering curriculum, which emphasizes context, ethics, and communication as much as formulas and equations.

We know that when the goals in public schools were shifted from education to graduation and retention (e.g. social promotion), the results were disastrous.   So one has to be a little wary of a curriculum aimed more at retention than, you know, designing bridges correctly:

Smith, the first women's college to offer an engineering degree, graduated its first class of engineers in 2004, and since the program's creation, in 1999, has attained a 90-percent retention rate.

Hmm.  Well, if they are teaching the same material in a more engaging manner, fine.  But lower degree retention rates in hard core engineering programs is not a "female thing."  I know that we had a lot of attrition from the harder engineering degrees (mechanical, chemical) at Princeton even among Ivy-League-Quality students and even among the males. 

Hat tip: TJIC

Go Tigers

Sorry, but we don't get to celebrate this kind of thing very often:

The Class of 2008's No. 11-rated inside linebacker Jonathan Meyers
spoke with ESPN's Billy Tucker about his recent commitment to Princeton
over Division I powers Florida and Michigan.

"When it came down to
it, Princeton just offered so much more besides football; it just fit
really well with me. Its academics are number one, the football program
is highly-respected [2006 Ivy League Champions] and I have a chance to
play lacrosse as well."

Additionally, Meyers received some helpful advice from Princeton graduate and current Washington Redskin Ross Tucker.

Definition of an Activist

Activist:  A person who believes so strongly that a problem needs to be remedied that she dedicates substantial time to ... getting other people to fix the problem.   It used to be that activists sought voluntary help for their pet problem, and thus retained some semblance of honor.  However, our self-styled elite became frustrated at some point in the past that despite their Ivy League masters degrees in sociology, other people did not seem to respect their ideas nor were they particularly interested in the activist's pet issues.  So activists sought out the double shortcut of spending their time not solving the problem themselves, and not convincing other people to help, but convincing the government it should compel others to fix the supposed problem.  This fascism of good intentions usually consists of government taking money from the populace to throw at the activist's issue, but can also take the form of government-compelled labor and/or government limitations on choice.

I began this post yesterday, with the introduction above, ready to take on this barf-inducing article in the Washington Post titled " Fulfillment Elusive for Young Altruists In the Crowded Field of Public Interest."  Gee, who would have thought it difficult for a twenty-something with no real job experience to get someone like me to pay you to lobby the government to force me to pay for your personal goals for the world?

Fortunately, since it is a drop-dead gorgeous day outside, TJIC has already done the detail work of ripping this article apart.  Here is one snippet, you should read the whole thing:

So the best they can imagine doing is "advocating".

Here's a hint: maybe the reason that your "sense of adulthood"
is "sapped" is because you haven't been doing anything at all adult.

Adults accomplish things.

They do not bounce around a meaningless series of do-nothing graduate programs, NGOs, and the sophisticated social scene in DC.

If you want to help the poor in Africa, go over there, find
some product they make that could sell here, and start importing it.
Create a market. Drive up the demand for their output.

Or find a bank that's doing micro-finance.

Or become a travel writer, to increase the demand for photography safaris, which would pump more dollars into the region.

Or design a better propane refrigerator, to make the lives of the African poor better....

One thing that disgusts me about "wannabe world changers" is that
mortaring together a few bricks almost always is beneath them - they're
more interested in writing a document about how to lobby the government
to fund a new appropriate-technology brick factory.

Special mutual admiration bonus-points are herein scored by my quoting TJIC's article that quotes me quoting TJIC.

I will add one thing:  I have to lay a lot of this failure on universities like my own.  Having made students jump through unbelievable hoops just to get admitted, and then having charged them $60,000 a year for tuition, universities feel like they need to make students feel better about this investment.   Universities have convinced their graduates that public pursuits are morally superior to grubby old corporate jobs (that actually require, you know, real work), and then have further convinced them that they are ready to change to world and be leaders at 22.  Each and every one of them graduate convinced they have something important to say and that the world is kneeling at their feet to hear it.  But who the f*ck cares what a 22-year-old with an Ivy League politics degree has to say?  Who in heavens name listened to Lincoln or Churchill in their early twenties?  It's a false expectation.  The Ivy League is training young people for, and in fact encouraging them to pursue, a job (ie 22-year-old to whom we all happily defer to tell us what to do) that simply does not exist.  A few NGO's and similar organizations offer a few positions that pretend to be this job, but these are more in the nature of charitable make-work positions to help Harvard Kennedy School graduates with their self-esteem, kind of like basket-weaving for mental patients.

So what is being done to provide more pretend-you-are-making-an-impact-while-drawing-a-salary-and-not-doing-any-real-work jobs for over-educated twenty-something Ivy League international affairs majors?  Not enough:

Chief executives for NGOs, Wallace said, have told her: "Well, yeah, if
we had the money, we'd be doing more. We can never hire as many as we
want to hire." Wallace said her organization drew more than 100
applicants for a policy associate position. "The industry really needs
to look at how to provide more avenues for young, educated people," she
said.

Excuses, excuses.  We are not doing enough for these young adults.  I think the government should do something about it!

Update:  Oh my God, a fabulous example illustrating exactly what universities are doing to promote this mindset is being provided by the University of Delaware.  See the details here.

Giving to State Universities

A few weeks ago, I discussed how Ivy League schools came under fire from some leftist for not spending their endowments fast enough.  Obviously this guy has been a succesful adviser to Congress.

Anyway, one of the differences between private and state schools is not just that many private institutions get a lot more per alumnus giving.  Another big differentiator is how the money gets spent.  Here is a great example of private giving taking on the, uh, most critical challenges in public education.  Via Market Power.

When an Ivy League Degree is a Handicap

Megan McArdle writes:

Why is it so much fun to hate Ivy Leaguers? In part, because they
(well, we*) can often be so hateable. For years, I toyed with the idea
of offering a prize to the first Harvard grad I met who did not, in the
first ten minutes of conversation, manage to work that fact into the
conversation somehow.

OK, I have a couple of Ivy League degrees, so now I have fallen into the trap as well.  But I say that mainly to tell a story about running a small business.

Running a service business that is dispersed across many locations in 12 states, I cannot personally be on top of everything.  Not even close.  I depend on my employees taking the initiative to tell me when they think the company should be doing something differently or better.  However, many of my employees do not have college degrees at all.  This is not a problem for their job performance, as most have a lot of life experience and they do their jobs quite well.  Unfortunately, if or when they find out I have a Harvard B-School degree, the very likely outcome is that they stop making suggestions.  They make the assumption that because I have a more expensive piece of paper on my wall than they do, that I must know what I am doing.  They are embarrassed to try to give me suggestions.  Which is a crock.

I constantly have to hammer home two messages to my employees, both of which are hard to get people to believe despite the fact that they are true:

  1. Most of my employees do their job better than I would do their job.  They tend to assume they are somehow an imperfect proxy for me, when in fact, because their skills and interests are different, they usually do what they do better than if I focused on the same job myself
  2. If the company is doing something stupid, it is probably not because I want it that way.  It is probably because I am ignorant, either of the problem or of the better way to do it. 

How Princeton Uses Its Money

Everybody is always trying to spend someone else's money.  This kind of thing would really make me sick, except it is a little funny to see the kind of class warfare and redistributionist economics preached by elite universities come back to bite them:

Dr. Gravelle points out that endowment wealth is concentrated in the
upper ranks, much of it at 62 institutions with endowments larger than
$1 billion. But just three years ago only 39 schools had billion-plus
endowments. That's a 38% increase in just a few years. In 2006, 125
schools had endowments over $500 million"”a third more than in 2002. The
number of schools that can count themselves as endowment-rich or
super-rich is growing rapidly....

What the data shows is that endowment wealth is everywhere"”except in
the hands of the students who need it today. Last year endowments
increased 17.7% on average"”those larger than a billion increased 18.4%.
Yet, despite double-digit increases stretching back a decade or more
"”endowment spending is at a nearly all-time low of 4.2%--down from 5.1%
in 1994, 6.5% in 1982, and 5.2% in 1975....

Tuition has been going up so rapidly for so long it has reached nearly
ungraspable levels. So let me put today's tuition cost in concrete
terms. Senators, what would your constituents say if gasoline cost
$9.15 a gallon? Or if the price of milk was over $15? That is how much
those items would cost if their price had gone up at the same rate that
tuition has since 1980.

I believe that skyrocketing tuition is
undoubtedly the biggest "access" problem in higher education. What can
possibly be more discouraging to a capable student whose parents are
not wealthy than a school with a $45,000 price tag on the door?...

Congress should not hesitate to consider a minimum payout
requirement"”and 5% should be considered a starting point. The 5% number
is a dated one"”even for private foundations. Many schools have been
rolling over so much money for so long that they should easily be able
to accommodate a higher rate of payout. Possibly the most significant
challenge for policymakers will be to make sure that any newly directed
monies actually go toward aid or tuition reduction and don't become
part of a shell game.

Seriously, is there no pocket of private money that socialists won't stick their hand into?  In effect, at the same time Americans get lambasted for saving too little, this guy is going after private universities for saving too much?  And note the implicit assumption about government intervention he holds and expects all of Congress to hold in the third paragraph above:  It is just assumed that if prices go up enough to upset the constituents, then it is Congress's job to act.

Far be it for facts to get in the way of good populism, but I do know what Princeton does with its 2nd or 3rd largest endowment:

  • Every student who gets admitted gets a financial aid package from the University that will allow them to attend, no matter what their finances are.  Yes, the student may have to work his butt off, but if he really wants to go to Princeton he will be able to go.  Princeton's wealth also allows it to be much more friendly in these financial assessments.  For example, many assets like the parent's house are taken off the table when assessing ability to pay
  • If a student graduates normally, then all of her debts are paid off at graduation.  Every student graduates debt-free, giving them far more flexibility in what jobs they choose our of college.  No longer must they eschew non-profit or low-paying jobs due to the burden of debt.
  • Princeton has accepted that applying more money to increasing the educational intensity of its existing 4000 students by an additional 0.1% is not the best use of its investment.  It has committed (in too small of a way for my preferences, but that is another matter) to using its fortunes to increase its size and bring Ivy League education to more people.  This year, it increased its entry class size by 250, which may seem small to those of you from large universities but is about a 20% increase for Princeton.

Since all Princeton students get whatever aid they need and graduate debt-free.  So the tuition number is irrelevent.  And statements like "I believe that skyrocketing tuition is
undoubtedly the biggest "access" problem in higher education" are virtually meaningless. 

Trying to Hold Up the Ivy League's Honor

Scored 58 of 60 on the Civic's Quiz that apparently 40% of Ivy Leaguer students don't seem able to pass.  Missed the Jamestown founding date and Just War Theory.   Now I can be the crotchety old Princeton alum:  "Well in my day..."

I Must Have Everyone's Verbal Response

This policy at Antioch College, which apparently will soon close its doors due to low enrollment, sounds like the speech I get when I sit in an exit row:

  • Consent is required each and every time there is sexual activity.
  • All parties must have a clear and accurate understanding of the sexual activity.
  • The person(s) who initiate(s) the sexual activity is responsible for asking for consent.
  • The person(s) who are asked are responsible for verbally responding.
  • Each new level of sexual activity requires consent.
  • Use
    of agreed upon forms of communication such as gestures or safe words is
    acceptable, but must be discussed and verbally agreed to by all parties
    before sexual activity occurs.
  • Consent is required
    regardless of the parties' relationship, prior sexual history, or
    current activity (e.g. grinding on the dance floor is not consent for
    further sexual activity).
  • At any and all times when consent is withdrawn or not verbally agreed to, the sexual activity must stop immediately.
  • Silence is not consent.
  • Body movements and non-verbal responses such as moans are not consent.
  • A person can not give consent while sleeping.
  • All
    parties must have unimpaired judgement (examples that may cause
    impairment include but are not limited to alcohol, drugs, mental health
    conditions, physical health conditions).
  • All parties must use safer sex practices.
  • All
    parties must disclose personal risk factors and any known STIs.
    Individuals are responsible for maintaining awareness of their sexual
    health.

I don't know much about Antioch, despite the fact that I think my mother and father-in-law both attended (are there more than one?).  I will observe that for a private institution nowadays with decent name recognition, it really takes some effort to drive away all the students.  Today, good-but-not-Ivy-League schools like Rice and Vanderbilt get nearly as many great applicants as Ivy League schools did when I attended.  The US is virtually swamped with top-notch kids looking for a private university with a good rep.

Increase Ivy League Capacity

There have been a number of articles of late about college admissions and Asians.  For example, my alma mater Princeton is getting sued by a young man who says the school's admissions standards are discriminatory against Asians  (he was forced to go to Yale instead, which in my mind represents substantial pain and suffering).  David Bernstein at Volokh also had this:

Liming Luo is a high school senior who is both a math prodigy and received a perfect 2,400 score on her SATs.  New York Magazine
asked Katherine Cohen, CEO and founder of IvyWise, a school-admissions
consulting company, about her [and other students'] prospects for
admission to MIT, the college of her choice. The answer:

Her perfect SAT score is truly outstanding but not a free ticket.
She is applying to many technical colleges, so she will be competing
against a lot of other high-achieving math/science kids (and a lot of other Asian students in particular). While she may be admitted to MIT early, I am not convinced she's a shoo-in"”I'd want to see more evidence that she's giving back to the community.

I don't know enough to comment on the Asian issues, but I wanted to make a couple of other points.  First, Bernstein is probably correct in wondering why there is such a focus on "giving back to the community" for an 18-year old girl who appears to be a math genius.  But his question is naive.  I can say from experience that everything on an application for college may be negotiable (e.g. good athletics allows for lower SAT scores) except for community service.  That has become inviolable.  Every college prep school I know have elaborate programs nowadays to make sure their kids get lots of community service hours.  My son, at the age of eleven, missed on his first shot at National Junior Honor Society because he only had about 20 hours of community service.  I can tell you that for college-bound high school kids, community service is longer about volunteering and giving back but about grimly checking off one of the most important boxes for college applications.

My other thought is that you don't have to be Asian to worry nowadays that near-perfect SAT's and grades are not enough to get one into the Ivy League.  As you can see here, placing in the 99th percentile on SAT's only gives one a 1 in 5 shot at getting in to Princeton.  The other thing you can see is that top Ivy's are being honest when they say they want more than just good grades -- you can see at Princeton and Harvard that moving from 91st to 99th percentile on SAT's does little to improve a person's prospect of getting in.  (On the Asian discrimination issue, that means that more than half of the kids in the top 1 percentile of SAT's will get turned down by Princeton, and some of these will be Asians.  Whether that is discrimination or just brutally tough admissions is hard to say).

Which leads me to my main point -- the Ivy League needs to find a way to increase capacity.  The number of kids that are "ivy-ready" has exploded over the last decades, but the class sizes at Ivy schools have remained flat.    For years I have been campaigning at Princeton for this, and I am happy to see they are increasing the class size, but only by a small amount.  Princeton has an endowment larger than the GNP of most countries.  To date, it has spent that money both well and poorly.  Well, because Princeton is one of just a handful of schools that guarantee that if you get in, they will make sure you can pay for it, and they do it with grants, leaving every student debt free at graduation.  Poorly, because they have been overly focused on increasingly what I call the "educational intensity" or the amount of physical plant and equipment and stuff per student.  In this latter case, we have got to be near the limit of spending an incremental $10 million to increase the education quality by .01%.  We should instead be looking for ways to offer this very high quality of education to more people, since so many more are qualified today.

By the way, one of the reasons Ivy League schools don't take my advice is because of the faculty.  The very first thing that the faculty wants is more endowed chairs, more equipment, more office space, etc.  The very last thing most faculty wants is more students that would force them to actually teach more rather than publish and do research.

Postscript:  OK, I will make one comment about the Asian kids thing.  I don't know if what Ivy admissions offices are doing is discriminatory or not.  But I do know that among the white parents of college-bound high school students that I know, there is real undercurrent of anti-Asian resentment.  I can't tell you how often I hear stuff like "Oh of course he does well, he's Asian" or "I don't know if my kid can get into X, all the Asian kids get the spots."  Its a strange, resentful sort of racism I see all the time from parents who would never be caught dead uttering anything untoward about blacks.  There is this funny feeling I get in some of these conversations that it's OK to dislike Asians in a way that would never be perceived as OK for blacks.

 

Please Stop

Jennifer Britz, the Dean of Admissions at Kenyon College reports that she is sad to say that she is admitting boys who are less qualified than female applicants in order to maintain gender parity.

Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any,
hesitation to admit. The reality is that because young men are rarer,
they're more valued applicants. Today, two-thirds of colleges and
universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and
more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women.
Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate
degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men.

I have four reactions.

One.  Yeah!  Lets take a moment to celebrate a victory for women.  Its great to see us talking about "too many" qualified women flooding colleges, just a few years after feminists were still writing books about schools failing girls.

Two.  I finally get to say something that I have wished for decades to hear from members of various minority groups that have been the benficiary of affirmative action:  Stop giving us men a special break.  Boys in high school are falling behind girls in their achievement, and are not going to get the message as long as you keep taking less qualified boys instead of more qualified girls.  The colleges I attended 20+ years ago survived fine with 2/3 men, they can do the same with 2/3 women.

Three.  This just reinforces my advice I have been giving to Ivy League and other great schools: Find a way to grow!  The new challenge for the 21st century is not to spend an incremental 5% more on the same top students, but to recognize that there are so many more great, polished graduates that are Ivy ready than ever before.

Four.
  In this article you can get a little peek at how the college admissions process has turned volunteerism from, well, volunteerism to a grim requirement.  Among eleven-year-olds in my son's class, I saw kids get turned down for an honor society despite having 4.0+ grade point averages, playing multiple sports at a very high level, and doing about 20 hours of community service over the year.  Apparently, this level of community service was not robust enough -- people with lower grades make it, people with no sports make it, people with no leadership activities make it, but NO ONE makes it without a lot more than 20 hours of community service - at the age of eleven.  Believe it or not, my son now keeps a log book of time spent on activities he can count as service -- we have better documentation of this work than we do of his grades!  Volunteerism has become nearly the one minimum requirement that of all the various components is never waived in college admissions.

Taliban at Yale, and Advice for Princeton

Everyone seems worked up about Yale admitting an official of the Taliban as a student.  While I find the guy in question pretty bankrupt, I'm not sure I am very excited about starting down the path of vetting potential college applicants against some political extremism standard.  I am sure there are any number of Ivy League freshmen whose beliefs I would find horrifying, but I don't feel the need to start culling them out.  I do find it odd that Yale would have recruited this guy like he was some kind of rock star, and celebrated his choice of Yale as if he was some prize. 

As I have written to my Alma mater Princeton on any number of occasions, I think that Ivy League schools are making a huge mistake which is tangentially related to Yale's Taliban student.  If the University of Texas had accepted him as one of 10,000 or so in their freshman class, there would not be so much outcry.  But this is an Ivy League school, with 20,000 or more kids competing for 1500 freshman spots.  Every parent tends to think, "so my kid with straight A's and a 1350 SAT and 200 hours of community service got turned down at Yale so a misogynist fascist with a 4th grade education can attend?"

Instead of arguing about admitting one less Taliban guy, I urge Ivy League schools to find a way to bring their higher quality of education to many more people.  Princeton, Harvard, and Yale each have endowments over $10 billion each, and they use this money every year to increase the education intensity to the same 1500 people per class.  Every time I go back to visit campus, I see more buildings, equipment, facilities, professors for the same 1500 folks.  Enough!  At some point there has got to be a diminishing return.  It is time for someone in the Ivy League to take the leadership to redefine their mission away from the current facilities arms race with the other Ivy's and towards a mission to broaden their reach in the country.  Instead of yet more molecular biology equipment for the same 1500 people per class, lets find a way to bring a Princeton education to, say, 6000 people a class.  Lets quadruple the size of the Ivy League.

Of course, the Ivy League conservatives (which means, in this context, everyone who graduated before this year and all of the faculty) fear this change.  The last thing the faculty, who we know to be in charge of the asylum from the whole Sommers affair, want is to have more students to teach -- they want the toys.  And alumni fear that somehow the "essential essence" of the university might be lost, though everyone made that same argument when these schools went coed and few today would argue to reverse this decision.   Administrators argue that the freshman pool would be diluted, sort of like the argument about pitching in baseball after expansion.  But one only has to look at admissions numbers to see that quadrupling the freshman class size would cause the Ivy's to lower their standards to... about where they were when I got in!  (If your SAT scores are in the 98th percentile you still have only a 10% chance of getting into Princeton or Harvard.)  The fact is that the pool of high school students in the upper echelons and Ivy-ready has grown tremendously in the past few years, causing Ivy's to narrow their admissions qualifications to near ridiculous levels, with average SAT scores in the stratosphere, hundreds of hours of community service, multiple sports letters, and consultant-aided choices of special activities to differentiate students from the crowd (e.g. bagpipes or falconry).

I understand that this is difficult -- just the issue of physical space is daunting.  But these are the leading Universities in the world.  Surely there is enough brainpower to figure it out if the mission is accepted.  The University of California has of late been doing a lot of interesting things to bring college education to the masses, and dealing with the fact that the number of people who can afford the cost and time of a college degree has increased exponentially.  I think the Ivy League needs to work through the same exercise at the top end of the bell curve.  They need to address a similar near exponential expansion in the number of students who are "Ivy-ready."

Alito and Princeton

I generally stay far away from the back-bench spitball fights that seem to go with Supreme Court confirmations (except for Harriet Meier's, but she was so spectacularly bad a choice I felt the need to chime in).  So I am late to the party in noting that apparently Alito came under some fire for being a member of the Concerned Alumni of Princeton.  Apparently, he has been tagged as a racist, sexist, blah, blah, blah for being a member of this organization.

First, it is worth observing the the Republicans asked for this guilt-by-organizational association stuff.  Long before the Federalist Society membership attack by Democrats was the attack on Dukakis as "a card carrying member of the ACLU".  This is just as dumb as can be.  I, for example, support the ACLU in a number of their endeavors at the same time I have grave problems with certain aspects of their work, particularly their refusal to acknowledge property rights as on equal footing with speech and privacy (which I guess is not surprising since they were founded by a Stalanist).  I am sure it is possible that Alito supports some of the goals of CAP without wanting to make Princeton all-male again.

My second reaction is just to laugh.  While at Princeton, it was always fun to take a shot at CAP for being racist or sexist, since their most public positions always seemed to be about opposing women on campus or affirmative action or similar stuff.  Then and since, though, I have gotten to know a bunch of folks in CAP and have found its really just a bunch of very conservative (little c) folks concerned that Princeton isn't the same as when they were there.  I sometimes agree with them, for example when they oppose political-correctness driven speech limitations, and sometimes disagree with them, particularly when they oppose any sort of dynamism in the school.  In general, I classify them as humans were classified in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:  Mostly harmless.

My problem with CAP is that Princeton, like most of the Ivy League, needs to be more dynamic, not less.  Princeton has done a good job adjusting themselves to many challenges over the last 30 years:  Princeton has gone from no women to being majority women.  It has good representation from most ethnic groups, and it has all the money it could possibly need to make sure any student it wants in the University can afford to go.  Its got every building and piece of equipment a student could ever need, plus a few more.

But here is the real problem, as I see it:  Over the last 30 years, the undergraduate population at Princeton, as with all of the Ivy League, has hardly grown.  The University has become hugely wealthy over this time, has built tons of facilities, but it has all gone to increasing the educational and capital intensity for the same 5000 students.  The challenge as I see it is how do you make this same education available to say 15,000 people at a time instead of 5,000 without changing the heart of the institution. 

Because they aren't creating any new Ivy League schools, while an ever larger portion of the population has the wealth and basic education background and the drive and expectations to want an Ivy-League-quality college experience.  The result is that the admissions process has gotten to be crazy.  Ask any Ivy Leaguer who went to college 20 years or more ago, and ask them "Could you get admitted today" and they will probably answer "no" or at least "I'm not sure".  Education consultants - I have met these folks - are making fortunes coaching kids from the age of 9 or so on how to get a resume built that is Ivy-League-admittable, complete with an oddball hobby selection aimed at catching the admissions board's eye.  Everyone plays piano, so kids started trying the harp and banjo to be different, but even that is overdone so now its probably the bagpipes or something.  Football is out, and lacrosse is probably overdone now, so how about falconry?  Out west, private universities like USC are thriving by being able to offer top educations to much larger numbers of people.  The Ivy League needs to figure out how to do this as well.

Of course, every time I raise this idea at any Princeton forum, I get only negative reactions, being accused of trying to change the very fiber of the university.  You don't have to be born in 1930 to be conservative about the the university and change.  But I keep at it, noticing that the responses I get are identical to those heard when the University went coed.

update:  Well, Joe, I'm not really a big Joe Biden fan.

You Readers are Getting a Bargain

Apparently Yale's Econ 109 Microeconomics class has been assigned my post on Business Relocation and the Prisoner's Dilemma as part of this week's reading.  They are paying tens of thousands of dollars to read this site, while my 17 regular readers are getting it for free!  I'm not sure I am a huge Yale fan, given I attended Princeton and later Harvard, but I may have underestimated them now that I know what discriminating taste they have in blog reading.

Interesting Arcana:  The actual reason I think the professor found my article is probably because he used the spelling "dilemna" rather than "dilemma" when Google searching, as I did in the post title.  For some reason, I have always gravitated to this funny spelling with an "n" rather than a second "m".  I don't seem to be the only one - Google has hundreds of thousands of hits for dilemna.  What is the deal here?  I can't find dilemna as an alternate spelling anywhere in a dictionary, but it gets used a lot.  Hell, its in a CNN headline here.  A bunch of the Google hits for "dilemna" are in articles written by university professors.

So here is where you really have to love the web.  It turns out that this has actually been a discussion board topic in a number of places.  Here is part of a thread, for example, on dilemna vs dilemma.

John's note about being certain the word was spelled "dilemna" really hit home for me. It's almost as though at some point in my life I learned that was indeed the correct spelling and somehow had an edge on the masses. As with John, when I write I tend to pronounce words in my mind the way they are spelled - ie. FebRUary, WedNESday, etc. And as a champion speller in my younger days, it only seemed natural that I would be in the know.

As it happens, I'm writing a book right now, and the word came up. Though I spelled it the way I always knew was correct, I decided to double check with the dictionary and suddenly it was as though I was in the Twilight Zone. It was gone. Since dilemna is not as the word sounds, I can't figure out how the situation developed. I'm still convinced the spelling has changed somewhere along the way (ha!). I also recently had this same revelation with the word "pom-pom" (as in cheerleader's) which I always thought I was so smart in spelling as  "pompon." At least pompon is in the dictionary, though it has a slightly different meaning as the head of a chrysanthemum.

The only thing I can conclude is that I must have been living a parallel life in which these words were indeed spelled this way, and somehow made a crossover in recent years ....  (Twilight Zone Theme: do-do-do-do do-do-do-do)

There is a whole string of conjectures like this, but no real answer.  I will admit, now that this guy has, that I too had a certain Ivy-League-smarter-than-the-masses confidence that I had it right.  Ooops.

Grade Inflation in the Ivy League

The Boston Globe has an article on John Kerry's recently released Yale grades.  Humorously, after all the sturm and drang of him supposedly being an intellectual titan to George Bush's dim-wittedness, his GPA was actually a notch lower than George's at Yale.  Personally, I could care less - grades are important for getting into grad school or that first job out of college.  I can't even imagine GPA coming up much in assessing one's suitability for a job in his forties or fifties.

Anyway, the point I take from this is more about grade inflation that suitability for the presidency.  Both Kerry and Bush got a selection of D's, C's, and B's, and no A's.  And while these may have not been standout grades, they certainly didn't seem to be out of the norm for the time.  My question:  Does any student today who can fog a mirror in the Ivy League today get grades this low?  My guess is no.

Postscript: By the way, Kerry released his military records (which were the source of the Yale grades) and there does not appear to be any ticking time bombs in it.  In fact, there are several pieces of information that would have helped him in the campaign, including commendations from several of his swift boat vet critics.  Why in the hell did he drag his feet on this and give the Republicans a free campaign issue?

Getting Into Ivy League Schools

Since I went to two Ivy League Schools (Princeton undergrad, Harvard MBA), I get asked by parents a lot about how to get their kids into an Ivy League school.  My answer is the same one that I think many of my friends from college give:  "I'm not sure I could have gotten into Princeton if I did it today, rather than 20 years ago".  While the number of bright, qualified students seems to have gone up tenfold over the last decades, the number of admissions spots at Ivy League schools has hardly changed, and few new schools have emerged as Ivy League equivalents (if not in fact, at least in the perceptions of the public).

I have recently discovered this really nice blog by Kurt Johnson, who recently got accepted to attend Wharton business school next year.  He has several good posts about school rankings and admissions, including this one here.  The curves showing that only about 20% of applicants in the top 1 percentile of test scores get into Princeton is scary.  Yes, I had good SAT scores, somewhere in the 1500's  (I would never have believed at the time I would have forgotten the number, but I seem to have).  At the time, that was pretty much a layup for getting into the Ivy League, though I had some decent sports and activities as well.  Now, the odds are I wouldn't make it.

Today, parents are downright crazed in trying to figure out what it takes to get in.  For example, any of the 11 year olds at our elementary school do community service, which I guess is fine though it seems to be driven more by setting up early resume wins rather than saving the world.  Things like piano and violin are out:  Parents are pushing their kids into more unique, differentiated instruments like bagpipes or the xylophone.  My old college roommate, whose kids go to a college prep school in DC, joked that he planned to send the other school parents into a jealous hysteria by telling them his kids were competing in falconry.

Kurt also makes a good point about one of my pet peeves of performance measurement:  that is, measuring a process based on inputs rather than outputs.  You see this all the time, for example, when the department of homeland security talks.  They say things like we have xx thousand agents making xx checks with xx equipment blah blah.  Yes, but are we safer?

Postscript: By the way, after reading Kurt's work, he is basically going to Wharton for a piece of paper.  He already appears to be at least as thoughtful an analyst of business issues as most poeple I know with Ivy League MBA's.  OK, this is a bit unfair.  I learned a lot that was useful in my first year of busienss school, then I entertained myself in the second year with a lot of material that was interesting but I never used much.  My MBA was sort of a 1-year technical degree with an extra year in "business liberal arts".  I have talked to lawyers that say the same thing about law school.

Diversity at Princeton

When I attended Princeton about 20 years ago, it was always considered the most "conservative" of the Ivy League schools.  Once I attended the school for a while, I thought that was a hilarious description, given how leftist and socialist viewpoints seemed to dominate much of the campus discussion. 

Over the years since, I have come to understand that "conservative" in academia means that some non-leftist voices are allowed to remain on campus.  The line I used in the first paragraph accurately describes why Princeton was considered conservative - note that I said "leftists and socialist viewpoints seemed to domintate MUCH of the campus discussion".  In most academia, instead of "much" I would have said ALL.

LGF has a nice pointer to an article in the NRO on diversity at Princeton.  Again, the debate is not about how to balance the mix of professors.  The debate is whether there should be one conservative non-socialist non-hate-America professor on the Middel Eastern Studies staff, or zero.

Sam Spector, who wrote his senior thesis under Doran and also worked as a
research assistant to him while an undergraduate at Princeton, explains that
"the controversy really blew up because Doran's publications were seen as to
some degree supportive of the Bush administration's policies, which are needless
to say not popular with the majority of academics, particularly academics who
specialize in the Middle East and who believe that the U.S is the single
greatest force for bad and instability in the region."

Yet, while Doran's publications do challenge academic orthodoxies, they
hardly reflect the work of a far-right ideologue, and he is generally well
regarded among centrists. If anything, the overriding themes of his articles are
a qualified defense
of American power
and a view that Arab politics, and Arab problems, are more
about Arabs themselves than about Israel: As he argued in one ,
"Palestine" has become a generic symbol of resistance to the West. These may
sound like fairly uncontroversial propositions to you, but in academic Middle
East studies they're far from it. If, as Michael Young has
suggested
, the major dividing line in the field is where one stands on the
"substance of Western power and its historical impact," Doran clearly takes a
minority "” and often-derided "” position.

Note what the other academics really want - total intellectual conformity and therfore avoidance of any disagreements:

More recently, several anonymous history professors told a student reporter that
Doran's getting tenure would create a rift between the NES department and
theirs.

"We don't want him," said one professor, quoted in Princeton's daily student
newspaper, The Princetonian, in December. In the future, the professor
asked, are the two departments "going to be mutually supportive or are they
going to be antagonistic?"

...Sethi continues, "Several history professors said they consider a decision to
tenure or not to tenure [Doran] a litmus test for future cooperation between
Princeton NES and the history department. If Doran is tenured, two history
professors said relations between the departments could be severely damaged."

I am embarassed that my University has professors that appear afraid of intellectual challenge.  They want to create an echo chamber where they are surrounded by people who agree with them.  This is pathetic.  As an engineer, I was generally sheltered from all this professor-as-political-figure-rather-than-educator stuff, but one of my favorite liberal arts professors was Uwe Reinhardt.  In most every campus debate I can remember, Reinhardt was the token defender of free markets and private property against, well, most everyone else in the liberal arts faculty.  Reinhardt always seemed to revel in the challenge of pitting his ideas against others.  Today, academics seem to shrink from this challenge.