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Dean of failing law school suggests critic of legal education should have tenure revoked

[ 64 ] April 27, 2015 |

pretenders

Richard Bales, who has been dean of Ohio Northern’s law school for the past two years, wonders just how bad a faculty member’s behavior has to become before tenure should be revoked:

[A]t what point is a tenured faculty member’s public pronouncements, professional misconduct, and/or research methodology, so outlandishly bad as to justify permanent removal of that faculty member from the university?

Academic freedom is rightly a powerful force; it protects the ability of academics to seek and speak Truth to Power. But what if a tenured astrophysicist insists — publicly and at every possible opportunity, that the earth is flat? What if a geneticist claims to find a genetic basis for arguing that members of a certain race are inherently less intelligent than members of another race, and the geneticist’s “findings” both are obviously methodologically flawed and completely ignore counter-evidence? What if a faculty member uses social media or the classroom to denigrate her university, or to make ad hominem attacks against fellow faculty members? At what point does a tenured faculty member become such an embarrassment to the institution, or become so disruptive to its educational mission, that the institution is justified in terminating the relationship?

The proximate cause of this question appears to have been yours truly, or more precisely an opinion piece I published in the New York Times earlier this month. It seems a bit odd that an opinion piece in a newspaper should cause a law school dean to suggest or imply that a faculty member at another school should have his tenure revoked. Now if I were in the mood to argue the merits of the issue, I would point out that no one has identified any factual errors in the piece, and that the objections to it are all based on its critics adopting inherently contestable and controversial positions regarding the article’s subject.

But all this is pretense: Bales’ wish to see me fired has, I suspect, nothing whatever to do with that article, and everything to do with other writing I’ve done. The latter work has, in various academic and popular venues, put forth the view that, given the employment prospects for their graduates, American law schools are far too numerous and expensive, that they should collectively graduate many fewer students, at a much lower price.

To Dean Bales, this theory is reminiscent of an astrophysicist insisting that the earth is flat. But you don’t need to be an astrophysicist to devise a theory explaining why Bales would consider my expression of my views on legal education a firing offense.

Bales was named Ohio Northern’s new dean in the spring of 2013. It’s fair to say he took on a difficult job: the state of Ohio has no less than nine law schools — five of them public — and a far from flourishing legal market. (This NYT piece discusses Ohio State law professor Deborah Jones Merritt’s new study detailing in great empirical detail just how bad that market has been for recent law graduates).

In addition, Ohio Northern is a small university of modest reputation, located in rural Ohio, far from the bright lights of Columbus and Toledo. The law school’s applicant pool was in sharp decline when Bales took over, having shrunk from 1,291 in 2010 to 843 in 2012. Bales, though, had an idea: the school could increase demand by cutting its price. Thus one of his first acts as dean was to announce at the beginning of the 2013-14 admissions cycle that ONU was cutting tuition by 25%, from $33,100 to $24,800.

Unfortunately for ONU, Econ 101 models don’t work very well in the esoteric world of the market for higher education, distorted as it is by its traffic in positional goods, Veblen effects, and heavy subsidization via government loans. Thus despite radically slashing prices relative to its competition, demand for what ONU’s law school is selling has, it’s also fair to say, collapsed: only 466 people applied to the school during the 2013-14 cycle, and, if Dean Bales’ bloggy fit of pique is any indication, applications aren’t looking too good this year either.

A glance at the law school’s parent institution’s tax filings reveals that it too is emitting far from a healthy fiscal glow: the university’s overall expenditures exceeded its revenues for the last two combined fiscal years. As for the law school, the combination of tuition cuts and shrinking class size — enrollment has fallen by a third over the past three years — means the school must be bleeding red ink at a rate that the university’s central administrators consider at the very least alarming. (A back of the envelope calculation suggests that the law school’s current net tuition revenues aren’t even covering faculty compensation. At law schools like ONU faculty compensation usually accounts for about 50% of operating expenses, while tuition represents around 80% to 90% of all revenues).

Anyway, I’m not taking any of this too personally,* as Bales has no ability to affect my employment. The members of Bales’ faculty, of course, should take it personally, since he is making it perfectly clear that taking a critical perspective on the economic structure of their institution is something he considers a firing offense.

*If forced to defend his position, I imagine Bales would cite the passive-aggressive “just asking questions” structure of his post, which doesn’t come right out and say I should have my tenure revoked. I asked Bales via email several days ago what, specifically, he was advocating in regard to my “case,” but he is apparently too cowardly busy to offer any reply.

No depression

[ 105 ] April 23, 2015 |

clintons

Over the years, Bill and Hillary Clinton have been subjected to accusations regarding so many fake “scandals” that it’s easy to dismiss further claims of impropriety and corruption as just more of the same. But as Jon Chait points out, it’s becoming evident that some of the things the Clintons have been doing over the past few years actually smell pretty bad:

The news today about the Clintons all fleshes out, in one way or another, their lack of interest in policing serious conflict-of-interest problems that arise in their overlapping roles:

The New York Times has a report about the State Department’s decision to approve the sale of Uranium mines to a Russian company that donated $2.35 million to the Clinton Global Initiative, and that a Russian investment bank promoting the deal paid Bill $500,000 for a speech in Moscow.

The Washington Post reports that Bill Clinton has received $26 million in speaking fees from entities that also donated to the Clinton Global Initiative.

The Washington Examiner reports, “Twenty-two of the 37 corporations nominated for a prestigious State Department award — and six of the eight ultimate winners — while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State were also donors to the Clinton family foundation.”

And Reuters reports, “Hillary Clinton’s family’s charities are refiling at least five annual tax returns after a Reuters review found errors in how they reported donations from governments, and said they may audit other Clinton Foundation returns in case of other errors.”

The Clinton campaign is batting down the darkest and most conspiratorial interpretation of these stories, and where this all leads remains to be seen. But the most positive interpretation is not exactly good.

Chait notes the most positive interpretation is that, in the post-Clinton presidency years, and especially in the years when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, the Clintons were sloppy about details, greedy about money, and remarkably cavalier about potential conflicts of interest. And you don’t have to be the RNC’s media apparatus, i.e., FOX News et. al., to find more dire interpretations plausible.

For progressives, all this is, to put it mildly, depressing. Working to get someone with Hillary Clinton’s political views elected would require a certain amount of nose-holding even if she and her husband were above reproach, ethically speaking.

Under the circumstances, a race between Clinton and, say, Scott Walker is going to be akin to trying to acquire a sprained ankle instead of a major heart attack.

Law school denialism

[ 67 ] April 23, 2015 |

david irving

Updated below

Denialism, by which I mean the denial or unwarranted minimization of a disturbing reality, usually comes in several forms.

For example, Holocaust denialism covers a spectrum of arguments, ranging from:

(1) The whole idea of a “Holocaust” is a hoax from beginning to end.

(2) While it’s true Jews were targeted for imprisonment in labor camps, and many died there because of harsh conditions, the existence of death camps at which millions of Jews were systematically murdered in gas chambers is a Zionist myth.

(3) While several million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, including millions in the gas chambers at the various death camps, a lot of other people died in World War II, plus what about Stalin and the kulaks, and this doesn’t make the occupation of Palestine legitimate, so shut up already.

Moving on to racism in America:

(1) The blacks were better off as slaves.

(2) While slavery was bad, Jim Crow remains a reasonable social system, all things judiciously considered.

(3) The 1964 Civil Rights Act ended racism in America, so shut up already.

What about climate change?

(1) The climate isn’t changing.

(2) The climate is changing, but sunspots.

(3)The climate is changing because of human activity, but all proposed interventions will do more harm than good, especially to my position in energy funds, so shut up already.

We’re now having our own little bout of denialism in the law school world. It should be unnecessary to say that lying to a lot of college graduates and leaving them worse off economically and psychologically than they would have been if you hadn’t lied to them isn’t as bad as genocide or slavery or wrecking the world’s environment. On the other hand, “it’s not as bad as the Holocaust” isn’t what one would call a spirited defense of a social practice, plus we must all cultivate our own gardens etc.

Anyway, the denialism busting out among defenders of the law school status quo is a bit unusual, in that most species of denialism tend to manifest themselves as a series of rearguard actions, politically speaking. That is, the dominant form of denialism at any one time tends to move from the strongest forms to weaker ones, as the strongest forms become increasingly untenable.

By contrast, in the law school world, denialism has gone in the other direction. Thus when the law school reform movement first started to get cultural traction a few years ago, the reaction of the denialists was to deplore the use of obviously fake employment stats, but to minimize the extent to which schools were engaging in such practices, while at the same time emphasizing that “the ABA” was already cracking down on the handful of schools that had strayed from the path of righteousness.

Now that applications have cratered, the denialists have decided that the whole so-called law school crisis was just a big hoax from beginning to end. Bernie Burk (Burk himself is not in the denialist camp), describes the current party line:

[Michael Simkovic’s] recent posts have taken the strong and categorical view that law schools, NALP and the ABA ought to report law-graduate employment the same way the U.S. government reports on employment generally, and that any other view is ignorant or misinformed. Board of Labor Statistics and Census data (among others) report people as “employed” if they have any kind of work at all, including work that is part-time, short-term, or (in the case of law-school graduates) entirely unrelated to their legal education; and as “unemployed” only those who are actively looking for work. The widely articulated criticism “that law schools behaved unethically or even committed fraud . . . by presenting their employment statistics in a misleading way,” says Simkovic, “comes down to this: The law schools used the same standard method of reporting data as the U.S. Government.”

A correspondent writes:

Does Simkovic actually exist, or is this is all just a big troll job by Brian Leiter or Steve Diamond? I really can’t believe we’re here 5 years later still debating whether “99% EMPLOYMENT AT GRADUATION” is logically or morally justifiable. I thought we’ve moved on to the “transparency will cure all ills” phase of things.

Simkovic’s position is not merely that there was nothing wrong with law schools touting their graduates as “employed,” without further explanation, even when that employment included a large number of people doing things like working part-time stocking shelves at Lowe’s: he actually takes the position that it’s preferable for law schools to use the generic BLS definition of “employment,” rather than confusing potential law school applicants with more specific information, such as how many of a law school’s graduates are getting jobs as lawyers, as opposed to baristas etc. Any disagreement on this point, he claims, is “based on an incorrect belief that law school only benefits the subset of graduates who practice law . . . .”

I mean really, what is there to say about this kind of thing? In the end it should be allowed to speak for itself.

Update: Much pearl clutching and couch fainting at The Faculty Lounge. The important question isn’t how many lives law schools have wrecked with their deceptive practices, but whether somebody wrote something about legal academics that was unfair and hurt several peoples’ feelings.

It’s so simple it’s brilliant

[ 14 ] April 21, 2015 |

merchant banker

I’ve mentioned before that Jeffrey Harrison’s blog Class Bias in Higher Education deserves a wide audience. Harrison, a law professor at Florida, doesn’t write very often, but when he does it’s always worth reading. He’s also very funny. Here’s his suggestion on how to run more efficient faculty meetings:

Each faculty member has a life size photo made. This are all kept in the dean’s office but they could also be in the supply room. That is for each faculty to vote on and I am sure they would insist on doing just that. I’d go with the supply room but I will vote with the committee on this.

The faculty meeting is called and faculty stay in their offices writing very important articles, making their next set of reservations to take an important group of people to South America to hear 5 minute talks, napping, playing online chess, or anything else equally productive.

The dean’s right hand person goes to the meeting room and arranges the life size photos. The dean arrives and calls the meeting to order and moves to the first item on the agenda. Let’s say it’s “should we raise the mean GPA from 3.88 to 3.89.” In their photos, each person has his or hand up and the dean recognizes them in turn. But, and here is the revolutionary move. After calling their names he or she just moves to the next person, They do not talk because they are cardboard. BUT the dean (more likely the dean’s assistant) knows exactly what each person will say because they are like a sentences on infinite loops — same thing every single time:

Person 1: Shouldn’t we check to see what the highly ranked schools are doing because we definitely want to move up the ladder, not down because I actually think it is our job to move up in the rankings. (And, by the way, I getting pretty pissed off if anyone disagrees.)

Person 2: I just want to know if this will hurt the students’ feelings because my feelings were hurt once and it does not feel good.

Person 3: Is there some way we could turn this into some money because I really like money.

Person 4: At (my, daughter’s, friend’s) school they have a 4.00 average and, therefore, we should too because I have no original ideas.

Person 5; (Flipping her hair and acting all flustered): I really think we should do something and I am just wondering [don’t you love the passive-aggressive “just wondering move?] if it is really a good idea to give all the students the same grade but I am just wondering so please don’t mind me because the most important thing is that you not realize this is a part time job for me.

Person 6: I actually have nothing to say but I always use up about ten minutes saying nothing it so here is what I think and that is many schools do one thing and some do another and I . . . . . because I like hearing myself sound important because if I hear myself sounding important it makes me think I am important or at least you will think I am here more than the 4 hours a week I actually am on campus.”

Etc.

Second prize is two $5000 scholarships

[ 13 ] April 18, 2015 |

wc fields

dre

crystals

Choose the one best answer:

At American institutions of higher learning, academic scholarships are:

(a) Need-based

(b) Merit-based

(c) Raffle-based

(d) Require dilithium crystals to achieve warp speed

(e) All of the above

Law School Boot Camp: What to Expect in Law School

Taught by Assistant Professor Adam Lamparello

Please join us on Saturday, April 18, 2015 for a workshop designed to show you how to be prepared for your first year of law school. The workshop will be held from 10:00am to 11:00am, followed by a “What do lawyers do?” panel from 11:00am to 12:00pm, in the Courtroom of Indiana Tech Law School, with a light lunch to follow. Assistant Professor of Law, Adam Lamparello will discuss topics such as how to succeed in your law school courses and which skills are most important to become a successful lawyer. He will also provide mini-outlines for some first year courses.

Attend for a chance to win a $5,000 scholarship!

At this workshop, one person will be awarded a $5,000 scholarship in addition to any other scholarships or financial aid received. One raffle per event, you must be present to win, and scholarship must be used for matriculating in Fall 2015. Other raffles include a Beats by Dre headphone.

Free LSAT Waiver!

Every workshop attendee will have the opportunity to receive a certificate entitling them to one FREE Law School Admission Test (LSAT) registration. Certain conditions apply to this offer, which will be delineated to you at the workshop or upon request.

Via OTLSS

You know who else suffered from paranoid delusions of grandeur as his world crumbled around him?

[ 81 ] April 15, 2015 |

Steiner has surrounded and destroyed Zhukov’s 1st Belorussian Front.

Obligatory embed:

Why is NYU Law School giving Robert Kennedy Jr. a high-profile platform for his anti-vaxx nonsense?

[ 29 ] April 13, 2015 |

anti vaxx

I don’t know, but it’s NYU so I have a guess . . .

Yes, Robert Kennedy Jr. has made headlines again for, as the New Jersey Star Ledger put it in a hard-hitting editorial, “his crazy-talk about a vast government conspiracy to hide the truth that a vaccine ingredient called thimerosal causes childhood autism.” The Star-ledger goes on to correctly note:

He is wrong. Every major scientific and medical organization in the country agrees that he is wrong. Here’s all you need to know about thimerosal: There is no link between it and any brain disorders, including autism. To assuage fears, the government removed it from pediatric vaccines nearly 15 years ago, with the exception of a specific flu vaccine, and childhood autism rates have actually gone up since

.

But Kennedy is as disingenuous as he hyperbolic. Several weeks ago, I attended an event held at NYU’s law school, where Kennedy was appearing on a panel about thimerosal and vaccines. The event was combined with a screening of a documentary called, Trace Amounts, which Kennedy has been promoting. (The movie does not have a distributor, so it is being privately screened at various venues.)

Before the film was shown, Kennedy was introduced by an independent scholar affiliated with NYU’s law school. I took notes. Here’s how he started off: “I am fiercely pro-vaccine. I had all my children vaccinated. I believe that vaccines have saved millions of lives. But it is essential we have a safe vaccine supply.”

Notice the double talk and the inference–that our vaccine supply is unsafe.

Keith Kloor points out that when an elite academic institution gives someone like Kennedy a platform, it puts responsible journalists in a difficult bind:

Let me stop here for a second to point out the danger of media amplification of this tiny fringe element. It is for this reason that I held off on writing about Kennedy’s latest campaign–until now. It is a real quandary for journalists who are obligated to report newsworthy events, but who also don’t want to give undue attention to a tiny minority.

But the more headlines I saw Kennedy generating on his anti-vaccine tour, the more I felt obligated to weigh in on his latest shenanigans.

Slate:

[A]nti-vaxxers turn out in droves. They are few in number—representing less than single-digit percentage points of most states’ populations—but extremely passionate. Their tendency to cluster means they remain a significant risk for supporting outbreaks of disease. They are organized by well-funded groups financed by family foundations. They still gather at rallies and fundraisers featuring disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose claim that vaccines cause autism was later found to be a complete fraud. Their voices are amplified by notorious anti-vax celebrity cranks such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

As a result of this disparity in activism, anti-vaxxers have been successful in defeating pro­–public health legislation that would eliminate some exemptions in a number of states, including Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and most recently, North Carolina. Bills in Texas, New Jersey, and California are still being hotly contested. Well-organized vaccination opponents flood legislators with a near-constant stream of materials of dubious scientific or legal validity. And, of course, Kennedy participates, traveling around to states in contention, promoting a conspiracy-theory documentary called Trace Amounts. This documentary focuses on the manufactured controversy surrounding thimerosal, an ethylmercury-based preservative that was removed from the vast majority of childhood vaccines in 2001. (Autism rates did not decline.)

Shame on NYU Law School for aiding these people.

The first rule of law school employment statistics

[ 40 ] April 13, 2015 |

vitter

Louisiana senator David Vitter gave a very interesting talk last week about how the nation’s capital is grappling with an increasingly critical shortage of high-end hookers who are willing to let their clients indulge in diaper fetishes.

Oh wait that didn’t actually happen.

Why? Because while he may be the most contemptible member of the US senate, David Vitter is not a grade A moron:

How in the world did he survive that hooker business? Not only did he admit he was a client of Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s escort service. She then went and hanged herself. Not over him personally. Over the whole mess, and staring at serious jail time. But still. Extramarital relations are one thing, with a staffer or a woman of accomplishment; politicians almost always slog their way through that. But here we had the guy calling on hookers, and the dead body of the madam. And Vitter skated through it and sailed to reelection two years later. How?

“He hid for a year and a half,” says my operative. At first, when his name was revealed by Hustler in connection to the case, Vitter acknowledged it. He said he’d asked for and received his wife’s and (somewhat presumptuously) God’s forgiveness. After that he would say no more—“out of respect for my family.” Nice touch.

Steve Diamond on the other hand . . .

Diamond just can’t stop writing about the “myth” that, under current conditions, choosing to go to the average law school at the average cost of attendance is at best a very risky proposition for the average law student.

But forget about averages. Let’s talk specifics. Specifically, let’s talk about Santa Clara University’s law school, where Diamond teaches.

Under the circumstances, Diamond’s decision to write repeatedly about how critics of contemporary legal education don’t understand what a great deal American legal education really is can be analogized to David Vitter holding weekly press conferences on the DC high end hookers with no standards shortage, or Bernie Madoff calling for less intrusive SEC regulation, or Bill Kristol lobbying for Dick Cheney to get a promotion.

That’s because the employment outcomes for Diamond’s own students are almost indescribably catastrophic. Almost, but I’m going to give it the old college try:

Ten months after graduation, 93 of Santa Clara’s 261 class of 2014 graduates had a legal job, very liberally construed. Nearly a year out, only 35.6% of the class had acquired full-time non-temporary positions requiring bar admission. Note that isn’t the percentage of graduates who got good legal jobs, i.e., jobs that hold some reasonable prospect of launching a legal career that will justify Santa Clara’s cost of attendance (about which more shortly). That’s every kind of lawyer position, including getting paid $35,000 per year with no benefits to handle a giant stack of penny-ante litigation for a three-person firm that will let you go the second business slows down a bit. (36 of the 68 Santa Clara grads who got jobs with law firms were working for tiny outfits, which typically feature low pay, high work loads, and zero job security.)

And that’s assuming all these grads are working for real firms, as opposed to a couple of grads banding together and calling themselves a firm. As the data from this paper suggest, such arrangements are not rare.

What about those members of Santa Clara’s most recent graduating class that, as of last month, hadn’t gotten legal jobs of any sort? Ten months after graduation, more than one third of the entire graduating class was completely unemployed. This stat includes 77 graduates who were seeking employment, and four graduates who were not, along with four graduates whose status couldn’t be discovered by the school. (It doesn’t include five currently unemployed grads who had future commitments from employers to start work. Nor does it include nine grads who were working in jobs funded by the law school itself, that were both part-time and temporary).

Here I’ll note again what an egregious fraud Diamond’s employer was committing back in 2011, when the US News rankings still allowed schools to exclude unemployed graduates who were supposedly not seeking work from a school’s calculation of its graduate employment rate. That year, Santa Clara categorized 55 of its 61 2010 grads who were unemployed nine months after graduation as “not seeking employment.” US News changed its metrics and started counting all unemployed grads as simply unemployed, and suddenly almost all of Santa Clara’s annual multitude of unemployed grads were looking for work after all.

Indeed, barely half (132 of 261) of Santa Clara’s 2014 grads had full-time non-temp employment of any kind, nearly a year after graduation. Such employment would include working 35 hours per week at Starbucks etc.

The 83% of the Santa Clara class that took out federal educational loans during law school took out an average of $136,990 in such loans. This means their actual educational debt at the putative beginning of repayment, six months after graduation, was much higher. That’s because this figure doesn’t include interest accrued during school and origination fees. Those two factors alone push the average debt above $160,000. Nor does it include private loans to cover summer expenses and bar review courses, or undergraduate debt.

Conservatively, the five of every six non-trustifarian grads in Santa Clara’s 2014 class who have educational debt are probably averaging at least $175,000 in such debt, at an average interest rate of around 7%, which means they will have to pay around $1,000 every month simply to cover the accruing interest on those loans, without even touching the principal. This is going to be fairly challenging, given that a third of them don’t have a job, and most of the rest are probably taking home less than $3,000 per month after taxes. (According to this, the average monthly rent for an apartment within ten miles of Santa Clara is $2,738, although you can get a one-bedroom for just $2,356).

In fact Santa Clara’s employment stats are hardly better than those sported by the infamous Thomas J. Cooley School of Law (there should probably be an equivalent to Godwin’s Law for internet threads about law school employment statistics, with Cooley playing the role of youknowwho). While Santa Clara noses out Cooley in regard to the percentage of grads getting legal jobs (35.6% to 30.0% respectively), Cooley’s graduate unemployment rate is actually better, as only 32.6% of the 2014 class was unemployed ten months after graduation, even counting all 62 of the graduates Cooley wasn’t able to track down as unemployed.

In all seriousness, I can’t understand the mentality of someone like Diamond. Is he simply indifferent to the dire situation facing such a large proportion of the students who pay his salary? Is he in some sort of deep denial? Beyond this, how can he fail to understand that, for someone who teaches at a law school like Santa Clara and who wants to protect the status quo, the first rule of law school employment statistics is that you don’t talk about law school employment statistics?

. . . In comments, Unemployed Northeastern points out that Santa Clara’s enrollment has been cratering, despite a significant cut in admissions standards aimed at stemming the tide. Specifically, over the past five years the school’s JD enrollment has gone from 1001 to 643. Diamond, who styles himself a fierce opponent of libertarian economics, nevertheless loves to talk about how “the market” more or less magically “corrects” itself — and here we have an example of how something resembling such a correction can take place, as a consequence of even a tiny bit of transparency regarding employment outcomes. (That transparency, it should be unnecessary to point out, came about as a consequence of concerted political action, not because some abstract “market” made it inevitable that SCU couldn’t keep defrauding potential admits with fake employment stats).

Of course as UNE also notes, a “market” for law school admissions that didn’t feature the federal government loaning nearly $220,000 to literally anyone not currently in default on an educational loan who Santa Clara decides to admit would have far more devastating consequences for SCU’s already-collapsing admissions.

Middle class

[ 180 ] April 10, 2015 |

h armstrong roberts

The Times has an interesting series on the changing nature of middle class identity in the US, in an age of increasingly precarious economic status, and a widening gap between the very rich and everybody else. One of the themes of the series is that even very well off people in America generally identify as “middle class,” in part because there’s always somebody much richer nearby to compare themselves with. That point makes this statistical error at the end of the latest installment of the series especially unfortunate:

The feeling of comparative deprivation and the ultrarich separating themselves from the rest of society helps explain why only 1 percent of Americans accept the rich or upper-income label. Even most people earning over $250,000 — the top 5 percent of wage earners — identify as middle class. There’s always someone wealthier around.

In fact someone earning $250,000 is at just about exactly the 99th percentile of wage earners, not the 95th, which is a pretty enormous difference, i.e., one in 100 Americans earns $250,000 per year or more, not one in 20. (To be in the 95th percentile you “only” need to earn about half that much). . . To be more precise, these are the percentiles of earnings among wage earners, not Americans, or even adult Americans. Nearly 40% of adult Americans earned no wages at all in 2013. So the statement “one in 100 Americans earns $250,000 per year” is a considerable overstatement, even if limited to adults.

Still, it’s a good series and well worth checking out.

Screening for content

[ 161 ] April 9, 2015 |

american sniper

On Tuesday morning, a University of Michigan undergraduate student, Lamees Mekkaoui, wrote a letter to the Center for Campus Involvement — a university organization that sets up social events for students — about the CCI’s decision to screen the film American Sniper at this Friday’s UMix event. UMix is a Friday late-night social gathering, held at the student union, which has something of an in loco parentis feel, as it features things like Build-A-Bear, bingo, inflatable laser tag, karaoke, and no alcohol.

Mekkaoui had seen American Sniper, and she didn’t think the film was an appropriate choice for this sort of event:

Mekkaoui, who is a a member of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and the Middle Eastern and Arab Network on campus, said she found the choice of film disconcerting because of its depictions of the Iraq War and residents of the Middle Eastern and North African region. . .

“As a student who identifies as an Arab and Middle Eastern student, I feel that ‘American Sniper’ condones a lot of anti-Middle Eastern and North African propaganda,” Mekkaoui[‘s letter to CCI said].

She posted her letter on Facebook at 11 AM, and almost immediately many students reacted by voicing similar concerns. This led Mekkaoui to write a second letter in the form of a petition, which she sent to CCI just two hours later:

Students had the opportunity to edit the content of the letter and sign it on a Google document before Mekkaoui sent the collective letter to CCI at 1:00 p.m. It garnered roughly 200 signatures from students in the Muslim Students Association as well as other students who didn’t self-identify with the Middle Eastern, North African or Muslim communities, but wanted to contribute their signatures in solidarity

In the final version of the letter, students voiced several concerns over the film’s portrayal of Arabs and the Middle East and North Africa regions.

“Although we respect the right to freedom of speech, we believe that with this right comes responsibility: responsibility of action, intention, and outcome,” the letter read. “The movie ‘American Sniper’ not only tolerates but promotes anti-Muslim and anti-MENA rhetoric and sympathizes with a mass killer.”

This petition led CCI to cancel the scheduled showing of American Sniper at the UMix. The CCI statement said that, in light of student reaction, it had concluded that the UMix was “neither the venue nor the time” to screen the film, and that it would therefore replace it with something “we believe better creates the fun, engaging atmosphere we seek, without excluding valued members of our community.”

The CCI also pledged to “screen for content” more carefully in the future, when considering what sorts of films might be appropriate for events of this sort.

Predictably, this decision provoked an almost instant backlash among other students. Law student Rachel Jankowski launched her own petition, asking CCI to reverse its decision:

The movie American Sniper is not about a racist mass murderer or a criminal. It is about a decorated American war hero who served his country valiantly. While we may disagree about the motives and politics of the Iraq War, the movie shows the sacrifice that Chris Kyle made, like so many of his fellow servicemen and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country, including numerous University of Michigan alumni. If the University prevents a movie like this from being shown, it promotes intolerance and stifles dialogue and debate on the subject and goes directly against the atmosphere UMix purports to provide. As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects. Students should be trusted to interact responsibly on a movie no different than any other film depicting the lives of the troops at war, such as Saving Private Ryan.

The controversy was picked up by the right-wing media, who even more predictably framed it as a textbook example of the New PC rampaging across college campuses.

Thus beleaguered, the CCI did a 90-degree turn, announcing yesterday afternoon that it would screen American Sniper, but at a different time and place, and with a panel discussion to follow:

We are planning to screen American Sniper separately from the upcoming UMix event, in a forum that provides an appropriate space for dialogue and reflection. More information will be provided as details are confirmed.

Not surprisingly, this didn’t placate the objectors, and late last night the university threw in the proverbial towel:

It was a mistake to cancel the showing of the movie “American Sniper” on campus as part of a social event for students.

The initial decision to cancel the movie was not consistent with the high value the University of Michigan places on freedom of expression and our respect for the right of students to make their own choices in such matters.

The movie will be shown at the originally scheduled time and location.

We recognize, however, that some students are uncomfortable with the content of the movie, and appreciate that concern.

Therefore, the university also will show an alternative movie, “Paddington,” in another location on campus at that same time and date to provide our students with additional options that evening.

Some observations:

(1) It’s very important to distinguish between a university’s academic and social functions. A petition protesting a screening of a film in a classroom or at a conference would be a completely different matter than the original petition in this dispute.

Mekkaoui’s original complaint doesn’t seem to me to have been inappropriate. I haven’t seen American Sniper, and have no opinion on the extent to which, if any, the petition’s description of it is accurate. The core of her objection, however, was that showing this film in this particular venue was a mistake, given that it could make many Muslim, Arab, and North African students (the University of Michigan has an unusually large number of students, relatively speaking, from these backgrounds, as southeastern Michigan is home to many people of Middle Eastern descent), uncomfortable, and UMix is supposed to be a lighthearted social event:

“The reason why the film was disturbing to be played at UMix is because UMix is supposed to be fun and inclusive, and the movie ‘American Sniper’ raised a lot of controversy from all sides of the spectrum,” Mekkaoui said. “It’s clearly not something that could be fun and inclusive. It just doesn’t go with Build-A-Bear and inflatable laser tag, those things just don’t go with ‘American Sniper.’ ”

Again, making students (appropriately) uncomfortable in academic settings, by forcing them to confront difficult questions in pedagogically useful ways, is a much different thing from this sort of objection, which goes to the social atmosphere the university is promoting outside academic settings.

(2) While nothing is easier than to play the role of Captain Hindsight, in retrospect the CCI should have anticipated that canceling the screening would end up exacerbating their original mistake of scheduling it to be shown at a UMix event. Doing so has almost surely stirred up exactly the sorts of prejudices whose existence made Mekkaoui uncomfortable when she saw the film originally.

(3) Jim Harbaugh should be spending his time finding a serviceable quarterback.

Appeasement is strength

[ 76 ] April 8, 2015 |

ayn rand

rr

cargo cult

Rand Paul was named after Ayn Rand, [edit: it turns out this probably isn’t true, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to treat it as “constructively” true, as lawyers say] which is arguably less creepy than naming your kid “Hubbard.” Arguably.

Negotiating from a “position of strength” is a fairly vague term. Since the American military is and always has been vastly larger than Iran’s, one might argue that every American negotiation with Iran, including President Obama’s, have been from a “position of strength.” If there is such a thing as negotiating with Iran from a position of weakness, though, it would probably take the form of a deal in which we promise to give Iran more weapons in return for it letting some of our captives go free.

But a Reagan skeptic fails to grasp the higher truths of the Reagan cult that are apparent to the Republican Party. It is a truism for the faithful that all of Reagan’s beliefs were correct, even the Reagan beliefs that contradicted other Reagan beliefs. Likewise all of Reagan’s actions projected strength and are worthy of emulation, even his underhanded appeasement of a radical regime that led to a massive scandal. Even Reagan’s appeasement projected strength. That’s just how great he was.

Who should go to college and who should pay for it?

[ 60 ] April 5, 2015 |

McMansion

Those are the real underlying issues that need to be addressed in any comprehensive discussion of the extraordinary increase in the cost of higher education in America over the past half century.

I argue here that purported cuts in legislative funding of American higher ed have ultimately little to do with that increase, in large part because these “cuts” are, subject to some exceptions and caveats, mostly imaginary.

Data

Average public school tuition in 2014$

Average private school tuition in 2014$

How do these rates of tuition increase correlate with legislative appropriations for higher ed? Read more…

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