Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Cost" of education?

This article, in a nutshell, argues that the percent of a university's budget spent on faculty salaries = percentage dedicated to education, and it's too low.

1) First, faculty salaries are not the only component of higher education costs that go directly toward educating students. We can argue, for sure, about lots of university expenses. But a science program that doesn't spend some money on beakers or a humanities program without library books would not provide what most people consider a satisfactory education.

2) There are costs that don't go directly to education that I don't have an issue with, and I don't think most people do. There are colleges in Minnesota. I think students and faculty alike have a right to be sheltered from the winter snows during the educational process. Therefore, I'm okay with building a classroom instead of making students stand around in the frigid Northern equivalent of an agora.

3) It's always hard to quantify, but students and student affairs professional tend to argue that extracurriculars as well as a residential campus environment increase student learning outside the classroom. I am certain that I would have had real trouble finding a job after graduating with an English and history major if it weren't for my experience on the student newspaper. Number of faculty involved? Zero. But you can't convince me it wasn't educational.

I'm not sure the author of the original post would even argue with these point (at least one and two). The conclusion: "The point being made here is that the ostensible principal raison d'etre of most universities—the education of our youth—is really a small part of university activities," but this conclusion is reached on the basis of faculty salaries. Well, yes and no. I think faculty salaries are a pretty inaccurate tool for estimating the cost of educating our youth for all of the above reasons.

(And a quick reminder to non-industry people that this argument is really only about universities - not colleges or community colleges, which have very different budget profiles, and may not even focus on youth.)

That being said, I would agree that it's hard to look at Harvard and believe that its main purpose is to educate kids - but where I'd take issue here is that educating kids is Harvard's "ostensible raison d'etre." I think Harvard is pretty up-front about the fact that "generating world-class research" is an equally major component of its mission. If that's the issue - and it seems to be, given the author's digs at the "100th article" on an obscure topic in an obscure journal - and if you think the mission is inappropriate, don't distract us with all these red herrings about costs not reflecting the mission, where costs are poorly estimated.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Translated shortlist, part III

A few months back, on my way out of Vanderbilt's Central Library, I stopped to check the sale shelf. The library sells used books, mostly donated, for $1/paperbacks and $2/hardbacks. One paperback with that '70s look had an author's name that sounded vaguely familiar, although I wasn't sure why. The book was Zero by Ignacio de Loyola Brandao, and it promised bleak, near-future, authoritarian-state black comedy, plus the sex and drugs that were forcibly bundled with all literary fiction of the era. Naturally, I bought it.

The book completely lived up to its promise, and I figured out where I had seen Brandao's name before; his more recent Anonymous Celebrity was on this year's translation shortlist. AC isn't as radical in form, although it's a long way from a traditional narrative. It's the notes of a man who is almost a famous actor, but for whom fame is denied because he looks exactly like another famous actor. The narrator's thirst for celebrity makes Paris Hilton seem shy and retiring. But what is really going on? Details start to not add up. In the end, as one review said, things are slightly overexplained. But it's a fun ride to get there. I've put Brandao's other major translated book, Teeth Under the Sun, on my wishlist.


So there's an Austrian author, Wolf Haas, who is best known for a series of detective novels. He wrote a book called The Weather Fifteen Years Ago (based on a true story) about a young man who falls in love with a girl in the village his family spends their summer vacation in. After a tragedy, he doesn't see her for 15 years but can tell you the weather in that village for every one of those 15 years. Then he returns - and this is where the novel opens, with their first kiss after all that time apart.

This is not that novel.

This novel is the record of an interview between Haas and a book reviewer about that novel.

Except the original novel doesn't exist. Nor does the true story.

I'm a sucker for non-traditional narrative formats, so I loved this from the outset. It's a quick read, in spite of the ungainly conceit of the novel. (It takes longer to explain than it does to understand.) It's also amusing, and probably the closest thing you'll get to beach reading out of the short list.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Overdue linkdump

"It is only from a Marxian standpoint that the recent credit bubble can be understood in terms of the structural problems it affected to solve as well as those it has created": Interesting thesis.

Ivy League boys breaking strikes.

Meat lobby overreacts to a joke.

Who needs a hatchback when you can have a cargo bike?

Sherman Dorn: "Schools simultaneously serve as a vehicle for hoarding privilege and also for breaking it down."

"Wanted: a white woman to pretend to be me in public."

Horrifyingly wrong things that people think.

Will the Glen Canyon dam hold?

Short story about prenatal care.

Teach for America "has nothing to do with permanent investment in our schools, or thoughtful reform of education."

Wacky librarians.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Overhead costs and certain causes

It's a familiar story: "Oregon's attorney general, John Kroger, is seeking to shut down a nonprofit organization that awards honorary medals to veterans, saying most of the cash the group raises goes to a commercial telemarketer." The courts have held over and over that it is not illegal for a large percent of funds raised to go to overhead or to a service provider, such as a telemarketing firm. As such, I doubt Oregon has any ground to stand on here, however bad "charities" like this make the rest of the nonprofit sector look.

I wonder, why, though, it seems that these dubious charities always seem to raise funds for veterans or police officers. I've not familiar with any cases like this where the organization in question raised funds for the environment, for example. Certainly, I don't think it's the fault of legitimate charities that work in these areas. Is it because providing relief for these folks is a cause almost everyone can get behind? Is it because there isn't a well-known name-brand charity in this area?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Wow, jobs for next fall are already starting to show up. So here goes:

Open-rank tenure-track position at Texas Tech, specializing in community colleges.

Assistant professor at the University of Hawaii.

Non-tenure track assistant position at Michigan State University. State also has open-ranked tenure-track positions open, but these don't seem to be posted (they're on the ASHE listserv).

Research scientist at the University of Illinois, studying graduate student issues.

By the way, I promise to eventually do a round-up of this year's job search. In the meantime, you can read someone else's.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

NCLB is failing our children, at least in math

Young American: You guys probably remember Rocky Horror when it first came out in the 70s, right?
YA: You're what, 30?
Me: Close. But I don't think my parents were taking me to Rocky Horror at that point.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Endowment shocks have variable effects

Now this is the kind of higher education research I find fascinating: "We find that universities with larger negative endowment shocks are relatively more likely to: (1) reduce support staff (e.g., secretaries) and maintenance, but not administrators; (2) among less selective institutions, reduce expenditures on tenure-system faculty while increasing the average salary of adjuncts/lecturers; (3) make larger cuts to tenure-system faculty and secretarial support when their endowment portfolio is less liquid (i.e. higher allocations to alternative assets such as hedge funds); and (4) among more selective universities, reduce financial aid for students the following Fall and enroll fewer freshmen. We also find that universities increase hiring when there are negative endowment shocks to their peers."

I think it's important in the area of finance to remember that one dollar is not equal to any other dollar. Where it comes from influences how it is spent. (And I don't just say this because I've co-authored a paper on the topic.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Becoming professional

I had a meeting this morning about two policy papers I'm going to be writing for a higher education group. I'm excited about these papers because they should be interesting (and I think one might be able to generate a peer-reviewed article), but that's not all. I realized this is the first project I've taken on that didn't come out of a class, work for a professor, or my dissertation - the first thing I've done as an independent professional. Woot!