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Job-Skill Trends and the College-Wage Premium


A Response to Supporters of Legacy Preferences

September 24, 2010, 10:59 AM ET

A Modest Proposal: Searching for an Academic Bottom Line

Does much learning occur at the University of Michigan, Colorado College, or the University of Texas at San Antonio? Do students at Duke University fare better in the job market than their counterparts at Northwestern or Cornell? There are so many important questions like these regarding higher education for which we do not have answers, and colleges have generally resisted providing that information in a uniform matter that would allow comparisons of performance at colleges and universities by consumers, funders, and taxpayers generally.

I have a modest proposal of three ways that we could get immensely important information that would make for more informed customers and donors, stimulate healthy competition between schools, and promote greater concern for undergraduate education by the schools themselves, particularly the national research universities. Moreover, these proposals are not inordinately expensive, nor would proceeding with them impede in any major way institutional autonomy.

Proposal One:

Require all schools receiving federal funds to require newly entering students to take one of the following tests: ACT, SAT, Critical Learning Assessment, or the National Assessment of Educational Progress Test administered at age 17 in English and Mathematics. Require those schools to administer the same test to those student shortly before receiving the bachelor's degree. Provide information on the test results to the federal government or a private not-for-profit agency so that changes in test scores can be disseminated to the public. Did student performance on these academic measures improve during the college years? Finally, require graduating students to take the Graduate Record Examination in the major subject, if such an exam exists, and to report the tests scores to the federal government or the private agency. Average "value added" on the tests of basic skills/general education (as well as the raw data) would be reported to the public as well as student performance on subject exams.

Proposal Two

Require each year that every college or university provide to the Internal Revenue Service the Social Security numbers of students receiving bachelor's degrees in the preceding 12 months. Require the IRS to publish, by school of graduation, average and median employment earnings data for graduates 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years after graduation, based on federal income tax returns. Since employability in good paying jobs is a major goal of many college students, this would be very useful information.

Proposal Three

When I served on the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education, Boeing executive Rick Stephens told us about a fascinating thing his company did: categorize employees by college attended and do some assessment of those schools based on the job performance of the workers. Rick knew that some schools rather consistently provided workers that met or exceeded expectations, while others did not. Why should we not expand the survey to hundreds of employers and make the results available to the public (on average performances, of course, not individual workers)? Why should not companies receiving more than $5 million in federal contracts annually and employing 1,000 or more workers be required to fill out a very simple standardized form on all employees assessing job performance, classified by colleges attended? And why should not the Department of Labor, Department of Education, Census Bureau or some agency provided summary data from this information on any school for which there are at least 25 employees? This would be a good way of gathering some good data on which schools seem to turn out young adults that are useful and productive.

There are all sorts of objections to these ideas, and some of them are quite legitimate. Obviously some laws would have to change to allow these proposals to be fully operative. Statistical methods exist to mesh together schools using, say, the ACT test with those using the CLA. Schools that argue, for example, that the SAT is not really a good instrument to measure learning or understanding in core disciplines can opt for another test, say the CLA that purportedly measures critical thinking. The gains of disseminating this information are potentially so great, that we should  try to minimize the problems and move in the direction of doing at least one, if not all three, of the ideas above. This would allow us to rely less upon published magazine rankings (full disclosure: I direct the computation of the rankings used by Forbes), force schools to emphasize important outcomes rather than inputs (thereby reducing the academic arms race), perhaps increase price competition, etc.


1. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm

More government, more bureaucrats, more administrators, more regulation, more paperwork, more gaming the system, more wasted money, more misleading indicators of performance, more Garbage In, Garbage Out.

It is one way create jobs for university graduates.

2. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Proposal 2 would value a K Street lobbyist ahead of a General Patton or a General Marshall. A life of pocket-lining ahead of a life of honor, valor and service to the nation.

Is the W-2 truly the measure of a person?

BTW, graduates could also be put to work copy editing my posts.
I meant "It is one way to create jobs for university graduates." in post 1. But shouldn't I have learned this in high school or grade school?

3. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 12:27 pm

What will these proposals make of a Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.?

He dropped out of law school to join the Navy.

He died in action in 1944. He had volunteered yet again, after having completed 25 combat missions.

4. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Wouldn't this be a better proposal?

Report on the:

- 2005-2010 ROTC participation rate

- 2005-2010 % of those accepted but who chose active military service instead

- 2005-2010 % of enrolled who dropped out for active military service

- 2005-2010 % of graduates who then entered active military service

The importance of 2005-2010 is that it is more difficult to game the past. 2005-2010 also increases the elements of voluntary sacrifice, risk and duty.

5. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Proposal 2 would value a deserter/AWOL black-marketeer, in stolen Army supplies, in Paris, ahead of:

- A dog-face at Bastogne

- A "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition" chaplain

- A conscientious objector stretcher bearer

- A combat medic

- A nurse

- A USO volunteer

Assuming that the blackmareteer would ever file complete info with the IRS.

6. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 01:14 pm

"The only infallible criterion of wisdom to vulgar minds-success."

- Edmund Burke

7. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 01:19 pm

The 3 proposals provide further evidence in support of this part of Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France":

"But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators, has succeeded"

8. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 01:26 pm

Wouldn't this be a better proposal?

Report on:

* 2005-2010 Student Loan default %

* 2005-2010 % of Student Loans 100% paid, principal and interest, at the 10 years mark

* 2005-2010 % of Student Loans, 50% or more of principal paid off and payments current, at the 10 year mark

9. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 01:35 pm

I was disappointed that there was no USDA long pork grading system proposal. No "How to Serve Bobcats", not even "How to Serve Buckeyes". Some "Modest Proposal".

10. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 02:04 pm

Not even a modest proposal for the:

Jeffrey Dahmer Center for College Delectability and Serviceability.

Key is tasteful leverage of the name of one of the more famous residents of Ohio. Too bad he went to Ohio State. Maybe he thought Buckeyes were the Kobe beef of collegians (remember the reputed beer diet of both (apparently not true of of Kobe cattle)). Maybe it can be fudged. Maybe people will be easily confused; both start with Ohio and end with University.

11. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 02:16 pm

It might be better to first think carefully about material like:

Ivar Berg's "Education and Jobs: The great training robbery"

which was first published in 1970.

Or Alison Wolf's "Does Education Matter?: Myths About Education and Economic Growth" from 2003.

12. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 03:04 pm

It might be better to consider the extensive literature on the relatively poor predictive capability of various metrics.

SAT alone has been shown to be a relatively poor predictor of first year marks, let alone anything beyond that.

Undergraduate GPA has been shown to be a relatively poor predictor of success in business or in getting a Ph.D., let alone making important discoveries or being a successful entrepreneur.

Then there are the studies that seem to show that being accepted to a highly selective college is predictive, not so much the actual going to that particular college. The college's important role is as selector and aggregator of those selected, the "teaching" doesn't seem to add much, if anything.

Parents are quite reasonably paying for prestige and selectivity. Of course, this increases the very important odds of having the right room-mates, right friends, right network and right social circle. But that is what you paying for to join a particular "club" (and maybe finding a suitable future spouse).

An earlier blog entry title "Colleges as Country Clubs" exactly captured the true value of the selective college, which is why students have realized that studying is a waste of time, once you have been accepted.

The marketplace is working. The marketplace is delivering what the majority want. The market provides an enormous range of colleges and universities that cater to a variety of tastes and motivations. Do we really need or want more "require" or "force"?

Then there are the studies that show that picking the right parents is very important.

Ecclesiastes tells us "of making many books there is no end", so no doubt there are competing and contradictory studies.

13. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 04:27 pm

It might be worth considering the impact of the findings of the ISI's report "Failing our Students, Failing America":

Finding 3, names 4 universities that were in the top 12, in one set of ratings. These 4 universities had seniors who did worse than the freshmen on a simple civics quiz. It suggests that the university experience resulted in worse outcomes. It calls it "negative learning".

Finding 1, includes the interesting tidbit that the best average was among Harvard seniors who got a D+!

It is interesting that there does not seem to have been a rush away from the 4 top-rated universities that were named as having freshmen who did better than seniors.

There also doesn't seem to have been a rush away from the additional 4 colleges and universities listed with a negative "value added" (total of 8 with a negative value) at:

which has a chart of 50 colleges and universities with the scores and the "value added".

Unfortunately, there was no testing of 8th or 5th graders. It would have been fun to see which elementary schools did better than Harvard seniors.

14. bscmath78 - September 25, 2010 at 04:53 pm

I shouldn't presume to believe that people understand allusions to Jonathan Swift's satiric "A Modest Proposal". Nor should I presume that people will Google or Wiki to look up what might be an allusion or a famous person. Nor should I presume that people will realize (eventually) that Swift is being ironic.

Nor should I presume that the use of the phrase "A Modest Proposal" by others is such an allusion. However it is amusing to do so.

It is amusing to know something that is not tested on SAT, that generates no income, that does not get you a good job, that hardly any employer will value, let alone aid in promotion.

"Virtue is its own reward"

15. bscmath78 - September 26, 2010 at 01:39 pm

Wouldn't it be better to identify those institutions that help create/inspire/assist those entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors, scientists, programmers and Venture Capitalists, who generate Schumpeter's "gale of creative destruction"?

16. bscmath78 - September 26, 2010 at 01:45 pm

Wouldn't this be a better proposal?

Report on the:

- 2005-2010 % of those accepted, but who chose instead to found a startup or join one

- 2005-2010 % of those enrolled who dropped out to found a startup or join one

- 2005-2010 % of those enrolled who founded a startup or joined one, while still enrolled

- 2005-2010 % of graduates who then founded a startup or joined one within 1 year

17. bscmath78 - September 26, 2010 at 02:09 pm

How would Proposal 2 rate those who one might call the "wealthy downwardly mobile"? These are people who were born to wealth and privilege, yet chose: military service, public service, religion, science, medicine or some other form of service. They chose service instead of the big pay check.

How would Proposal 2 rate TR, FDR or JFK? Their paths were greatly smoothed by family wealth. Continued family backing probably played an important role during their political careers. Yet their careers were ones of financial sacrifice. There were much bigger pay checks available to them. Is this the "fault" of a university education?

18. bscmath78 - September 26, 2010 at 02:15 pm

What credit should the college get when a person becomes an executive in the family business or the family business of a friend, relative or spouse? Maybe only if the friend or spouse was acquired at the college.

What credit should a college or university get for the income from a family trust or from inherited investments?

The college deserves credit if the college's "old boy/girl network" got them the job.

19. bscmath78 - September 26, 2010 at 04:43 pm

"Paths to Professions" is a Wall Street Journal series of articles, published September 12-14, 2010, based on a survey of corporate recruiters.

With articles like:

* "Penn State Tops Recruiter Rankings"

* "Rankings by Major"

* "Employers Favor State Schools for Hires"

the series seems to be at least a first step in producing some potentially useful information, without involving more government, more regulation etc. No doubt there are problems, concerns and issues.

How likely is it, that Proposal 3 will produce better results?

20. trendisnotdestiny - September 26, 2010 at 10:03 pm

@ bscmath

This is truly a great achievement! I appreciate the time, effort and scholarship....

21. 11196496 - September 27, 2010 at 09:57 am

It is futile to try to create measures for what students learn until there is some agreement, at least at the college or university level,about WHY students are learning whatever students should be learning. To what end are they attending College X or University Y? If it is to produce specific intellectual skills, perhaps some test akin to those mentioned in Proposal #1 might be appropriate--providing such could indeed be measureed accurately. If it's simply to enrich themselves financially, Proposal #2 makes some fine sense. If it is to enrich the commonwealth, i.e., what makes the world go round, perhaps the assessment might be keyed to thee goals of thee school as expressed in its mission statement amd might include such questions as: how have the students of College X or Unviersity Y contributed to ameliorating world hunger, providing non-violent conflict resolution, reducing the national debt, improving the health of children in a particular area, something parallel to Proposal #3. The goals of education should determine the measures. Getting clear on the goals is step #1.

22. janeer1 - September 27, 2010 at 10:19 am

Re #2: Following the Swiftean allusion: and if after 2-5 years, the income has declined or stagnated in real terms, we should check the majors of those people, and if there is a pattern, stop admitting them into college. Teachers and artists and social workers and even country doctors might fall into this category. If their income has disappeared, for example due to layoff or a decision to become a mother or stay-at-home father, we should perhaps stop admitting women, or anyone of child-bearing age, or pass a law saying no one can be laid off or fired. We should spend zillions of dollars to make sure that someone's higher income is not in whole or part attributable to inheritance, investments, illegal activity, etc, or their lack of income due to lower aptitude, discrimination, organizational politics, or choice. Even Gary Becker acknowledged some of these problems.

23. 153584ods - September 27, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Honestly, I have enjoyed these comments more than anything else I have read in a LONG TIME! One thing is for sure, some of these folks got their money's worth from college writing intensive courses...

24. 11191210 - September 27, 2010 at 01:44 pm

And all these varieties of tests and arguments about tests ignore one basic thing: if there is nothing at stake, students required to take tests will blow them off and not do a job indicative of their actual knowledge or understanding. And why should they? As in every other level, it's a waste of their time.
The only undergraduate test that matters in the GRE, which has a wholly different purpose than measuring whether a person is educated and could never be used for comparative purposes - again, because the only people who would give a usable answer would be the people who are trying to go to graduate school.

25. drj50 - September 27, 2010 at 03:46 pm

I agree that we need better information on schools. Unfortunately, this proposal is too simplistic.

#24 is correct. Students have considerable incentive to do well on SAT, ACT, etc. to get into college, but no incentive to do well as graduating students. In addition, seniors in many majors would have had little practice in the more advanced math skills in the last couple of years of study -- skills that were fresh when they were seniors in high school will be stale 4-5 years later. (I haven't done any recreational geometry in years.)

The earnings data would be interesting, but would needt to be interpreted carefully. We would need to adjust for military and public service. We would need to take account of parents (most often, but not exclusively, women) who step out of the workplace to care for small children or family members with serious illnesses. And we would need to be very careful about apples and oranges comparisons: would be penalize schools that have historically graduated lots of teachers for their graduates earning less than universities with large business or engineering programs? Not a bad idea in principle, but a host of devils in the details.

Employer data would be interesting, but it will only come from larger employers. Entrepreneurs, doctors/lawyers/accountants in private practice will be missed. Again, lots of devils in the details. And I find the government mandate problematic.

26. 11274135 - September 28, 2010 at 02:44 am

Why is Vedder published in the CHE? Prop # 1 suggests gross misuse of tesing instruments. Props #2 and #3 propose that college is the only thing that significantly contributes to a person's success in his or her job. Thanks, Richard. We'll call you, maybe.

27. diehl - September 28, 2010 at 08:08 am

The colleges that have the highest graduation rates and some of the lowest tuition rates have invested in their full-time professors over the long run. They have few part-time, adjunct faculty members and most of their operating costs go to instruction. A high percentage of their total salary budget goes to full-time instructors and not to a highly paid administration. Their operating budget is heavy on instruction salaries and instructional support costs.

The public should have easy access (Front & Center) to:
1. Graduation Rate
2. % FT faculty
3. % salary budget that goes to instruction

Right now this data is hidden in IPED and institutional records if it is available at all.

28. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 01:15 pm

@ 11191210, in post 24, you make the point "...students required to take tests will blow them off...".

Exactly, I think it is useful to know the % of students who have no guilt, shame or embarrassment over not being able to answer simple, multiple-choice questions about their own country (see my post 13 referring to "Failing our Students, Failing America"). Who are they, who are content to bring disgrace to themselves, their parents, their schools, their college and their country? What colleges do they flock to? Who wants to join them? Some might consider it most informative.

They should only get 7 minutes to do the quiz, so as not to waste their time, but also to capture what is readily accessible to their minds, without giving them time to game the multiple choices.

Too many of them have only learned the ability to do the rapid "academic pump and dump" of information that was largely meaningless to begin with and then is gone when "dumped". Do they retain the ability to game the test and game the system?

But then there are those who are less instrumental, who choose to do things well when no one is watching, because it feels good or right to do things well or even because it is amusing to do so.

And there are those who might be instrumental in the sense that they think it useful for them as citizens and voters to know something about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

29. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 01:31 pm

@ 11196496, in post 21, you suggest the need for "...some agreement ... about WHY".

I suggest that it is up to the student, with some parental guidance, to decide their own goals, what they want to learn and why they want to learn it. Freedom, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are, at least in part about the individual making their own decisions. There is no need for us to agree or approve of what they decide. We are free to try to persuade them.

Equally, colleges and universities, have the Freedom and Liberty to engage in their Pursuit of Happiness, by choosing their goals and what they want to teach and why.

A variety of different institutions with a variety of different goals, provides choice for students with a variety of goals. It seems better than the central committee making the decisions.

I have provided some alternative goals and alternative metrics, because different people value different things.

The totalitarian, authoritarian or theocratic regime does not believe that the individual should be free to make their own choices.

30. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 01:55 pm

@ 153584ods, in post 23, you wrote "...some of these folks got their money's worth from college writing intensive courses..."

* In college
- Not one minute in:
* English
* English Comp
* Other writing intensive courses

*Not one minute
- On the "5 paragraph essay"
*In any class, including high school
- On Swift or the others
* In any class, at any level

*No one penny for my writing
- Ignoring anything I did in later life in
* Rudimentary PowerPoint
* Rudimentary PowerPoint-ese
- But you can tell it couldn't have been much

BTW, if you were referring to my contributions then I am pleased that you enjoyed them. I hope you also consider their applicability.

31. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 01:57 pm

My indentations were lost in my post 30, but hopefully you got the basic point.

32. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 02:01 pm

@ janeer1, in your post 22, you have nicely expanded on the defects in the blog entry's Proposal #2.

33. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 02:31 pm

@ 11274135, in post 26, you question the editorial choice of the particular blogger.

Let me propose some reasons, which might be provided:

* We are providing a variety of opinions.

* We are providing freedom of choice.

* We are providing insight into the thinking of a visible player in this policy context.

* We are providing entertainment via providing discussion and controversy.

Someone else might think (keeping in mind the ironic, satiric and parodic nature of this blog entry, every word is probably meant to be absurd):

* It is an illustration that education is too important to be left to the professors (apologies to Clemenceau).

* It is an opportunity to exercise critical thinking on the work of a professor.

* It is an opportunity compare the quality of thought of various professors.

* Always be alert to professors being ironic or pulling your leg.

* It is an opportunity to make some amusing posts.

Remember, "That which does not kill us, makes us stronger" (at least if you are Nietzche with tenure, combined with teriary syphilis or are Conan the Barbarian).

34. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 02:56 pm

I meant "tertiary syphilis" in post 33. I haven't had much need to get the spelling right, having neglected the Humanities
(BTW, "Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub" is about a syphilis cure). There isn't much call for it in PowerPoint.

35. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 03:37 pm

@ diehl, in post 27, you wrote: "The colleges that have the highest graduation rates...".

Why is a high graduation rate desirable? Given the constant drumbeat of articles about how poorly prepared many students are, how little time and effort they invest in their studies (see the early blog post "Colleges as Country Clubs") and how little they seem capable of doing once they graduate, it would seem they deserve to fail in large numbers.

The only reasons that seem argue against it are those of the student consumer ideology. They have paid to get a credential, they have paid for an "A", they want luxury, they don't want to do any work plus they want their hand held and their nose wiped for them. Well, there is also the idea of maximizing revenue, minimizing university undergraduate teaching expenses and minimizing student/parent complaints.

Eliminating all the remedial classes and associated supports would help reduce the number of adjuncts, administrators, luxury dorms and chefs. The classrooms would only contain those who were actually interested in the subject and willing to work at it. Full professors would probably find it more congenial to teach those motivated survivors.

To continue a Swiftian position, shouldn't one (or at least the taxpayer) prize the college with the highest 1st year failure rate, with the lowest average grade among the survivors? Student debt would be so much lower since many would be out of class in less than a year and working productively (or at least better paid than adjuncts in English).

Didn't used to be claimed, that once upon a time, the average at the University of Chicago was a "D" or a "C"? Very few got an "A" and as a result it meant something.

Your metrics would be of interest, whichever way you regard retention.

36. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 05:03 pm

I have a somewhat contradictory response to my own position in post 35. MIT's Ben Snyder's 1970, "The Hidden Curriculum" reveals an environment where professors talked about valuing creativity in students, but the reality of the assignments was that creativity was crushed in the desperate struggle for survival.

The "hidden curriculum" crushed idealism, curiosity, creativity, exploration, thoughtfulness and critical thinking. This was not the goal of the professors, but it was the result. That was the situation for MIT engineering students more than 40 years ago, but it illustrates that the pendulum can swing too far.

37. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 05:39 pm

Further to post 36 (and continuing off track).

I wonder if some aspect of the "hidden curriculum" was at work at Caltech 1961-63 when Richard Feynman was lecturing undergraduates. The lectures were later published as the "The Feynman Lectures on Physics". The future winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize for Physics, wanted to make physics more interesting by covering new developments and describing them in a creative fashion.

Page xx in the April 1989 Special Preface to "Six not-so-easy pieces: Einstein's relativity, symmetry, and space-time" says:

"Many of the students dreaded the class...attendance by registered students started dropping alarmingly"

It further reports that grad students and professors filled the vacated spots and the room stayed full.

"The Feynman Lectures on Physics" continue to be famous and well regarded in the Physics world to this day. But it is a troubling reminder that a great researcher and great teacher may not be a great teacher for all. It also may indicate that creativity may not be welcomed by all.

It suggests that special care, with options, is needed to get the most from the top xx% of students in a particular area.

38. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 06:44 pm

In partial contradiction to my own post 37 (and continuing further off track).

Matthew Sands' "Physics Today" article of April 2005, "Capturing the Wisdom of Feynman", tells a different, contradictory, story.

A different angle is that he mentions that he told Feynman that the class average was around 65% which caused Feynman to say "...I am a failure." Pointing out that the "average grade was very arbitrary" didn't convince Feynman. For more, please see

These contradictory assessments illustrate how difficult it can be to judge success or failure. It also illustrates the importance of fine grain segmentation. What happened in one course, in a particular subject, with a particular type of student, with a particular professor, doesn't necessarily tell you much about anything else at the institution. This is especially true since this was the first and last time that Feynman was "teacher of record" for an undergraduate course (it was a two year course).

BTW, my past 36 quotation was slightly off:
"Many of the students dreaded the class...attendance by the registered students started dropping alarmingly.

39. bscmath78 - September 28, 2010 at 06:52 pm

I meant " post 37 quotation...". Sigh.

40. bscmath78 - September 29, 2010 at 02:39 pm

Those who enjoyed my posts in response to this blog entry might be interested in my earlier posts in response to some earlier blog entries with similar themes:

* "The Public Be Damned"

* "Colleges as Country Clubs"

You might also be interested in my posts in response to some of Professor Bauerlein's Brainstorm blog entries:

* "Lincoln, History, and Ideology"
Which seems to illustrate deficiencies in civics knowledge among at least a few professors.

* "The High-School Picture"

41. bscmath78 - September 29, 2010 at 02:51 pm

I made a grievous omission in my post 10 modest proposal.
I failed to identify the sponsor of the:

Jeffrey Dahmer Center for College Delectability and Serviceability

It would be the American Eating Institute, publisher of the acclaimed AEI Caveat Lector series:

* "How to Serve Americans"
* "How to Serve Bobcats"
* "How to Server Buckeyes"
* "The Richard III Childhood Education Plan"

"Prime Grade!" - Dr. H. Lecter

42. bscmath78 - October 01, 2010 at 11:16 am

Is the blog entry title, an explicit hint, that the whole entry is a wonderfully ironic and satiric: hoax, parody or both ("A Modest Proposal: Searching for an Academic Bottom Line")?

Is it also a bold hint, that some related blog entries, for example:

* "The Public Be Damned"

* "Colleges as Country Clubs"

are part of a sequence of brilliant public policy parodies of the absurd? Is this reinforced by the fact that the blogger has chosen not to respond to some earlier posts suggesting this was his intent?

Has the blog entries' seasoning of:

- Anti-Freedom
- Anti-Liberty
- Anti-Pursuit of Happiness
- Anti-Freedom of Choice
- Anti-Free Market
- Anti-Free Enterprise
- Anti-the rights of individuals
- Anti-the rights of not-for-profit corporations

- Pro Big Brother
- Pro Government interference
- Pro centralized control
- Pro regulation, bureaucracy, administration and paperwork

seduced those with an: authoritarian, apparatchik, "useful fool", "fellow traveler", demagogic or bureaucratic streak?

"birthright for a mess of potage"?

Are the gullible, the foolish, the superficial reader, the "skimmers" and the "scanners", susceptible to this wonderfully clever hoax? Is it a somewhat elitist, snobbish, Humanities academic hoax, because you do need to apply some knowledge about Swift or some civics and history, to get it? Is that the point? When will they be let in on the joke?

To echo the ad tagline: "Priceless"

43. bscmath78 - October 05, 2010 at 01:32 pm

For those interested in irony and some considerations for deciding whether something is intended to be ironic, you might consider starting with Wayne C. Booth's "A Rhetoric of Irony". It has an extended discussion of irony in Swift's "A Modest Proposal". It also provides the whole text of "A Modest Proposal".

Apparently, back at some point before 1974, "A Modest Proposal" was still being studied in some high schools and colleges. What is its current fate?

44. bscmath78 - October 05, 2010 at 01:38 pm

One might also consider the more general issues of interpretation. I.A. Richards' 1929 "Practical Criticism", is a fascinating case study exposé of the literary interpretative capabilities of elite, upper-crust, Cambridge University students, back in the good old days of the 20's.

They had to evaluate short poems without knowing the author or other hints. This meant they had to interpret and evaluate without knowing the "right" answer. They could not parrot the answers expected of them. They had to think for themselves. Very revealing.

Consider testing yourself on some of the poems before reading what the students wrote and before checking who wrote the poem. It might be revealing. Don't worry, each line of poetry is less than a tweet in length.

William Empson "Seven Types of Ambiguity" explores ambiguity in poetry in his 1930 book. Interestingly, in 2010, Louis Menand's "Marketplace of Ideas" gives both these authors a passing mention along with a footnote that lists these two books.

An interesting aspect of Menand's book is how frequently he gives credit to non-Harvard scholars and institutions. One is left constantly with the impression that, historically, original thought and action occurred elsewhere. Harvard's role, historical, has been to eventually adopt the insights of others and then to be copied, by lesser lights.

45. bscmath78 - October 05, 2010 at 01:44 pm

"To Serve Man" is a 1962 episode of the "Twilight Zone". Space aliens bring wonderful gifts to Earth. They have a book. An Earthling team decodes the title. The title is: "To Serve Man". They stop decoding. Everyone is very happy. Later, a lone cryptographer, because she is curious, continues decoding and discovers it's a cookbook.

This might help in appreciating parts of posts 9 and 41.

46. bscmath78 - October 05, 2010 at 02:22 pm

With apologies to those who already understand and to those of the "Ignorance is bliss" crowd, here are some more notes relating to post 41.

Richard III is the infamous villain in the play by Shakespeare and the film of the play by Olivier. He sends his young nephews to a very expensive and selective institution known as the Tower. They never graduate. They pay a very high price. ;-)

Caveat Lector is Latin. It means: "Let the reader beware".
See also Caveat Emptor.

Dr. H. Lecter is the infamous villain of several novels and films. He is better known as Hannibal Lecter. Please note the slight spelling difference between Lecter and Lector.

US Prime is the top USDA beef grade.

Bobcats and Buckeyes are the names of the sports teams of two universities in Ohio that have similar names.

I incorrectly wrote "Server" instead of "Serve" in one case.

I know. If I have to explain it, it's not funny. Oh well. Sigh.

47. bscmath78 - October 06, 2010 at 11:38 am

Don't these policy ideas threaten the nation's military, scientific, technical, medical, industrial and innovation strengths?

48. bscmath78 - October 08, 2010 at 07:02 pm

"Beware of Greeks bearing gifts"

Can a hoax, parody or satire be a Trojan Horse? Can a hoax, parody or satire infect the mind with a host of virulent, mutant memes? Can a host of mutant, toxic memes subvert virtue? Can fashionable phrases disguise the threat within? Can the self-defence mechanisms of the mind be tricked, by those of the many tricks? Can the guardians be seduced or lulled into complacency?

Was the Serpent convincing in the Garden? Wasn't the Serpent offering Knowledge? Wasn't Lucifer at least a little bit convincing in "Paradise Lost"? What was the English Homer saying about Cromwell, the Commonwealth and its fall? Did it depend on whether you were a Roundhead, a Cavalier or a Puritan?

Caveat Lector.

49. bscmath78 - October 08, 2010 at 08:21 pm

The recent NRC rankings nicely illustrate some of the high level issues with the 3 proposals. I especially like the reported examples of incorrect data resulting in "Garbage In, Garbage Out". It appears not even the basics were handled properly.

This is independent of the issue of whether particular data elements were worth collecting. Is an academic job at a small liberal arts college that is ranked 4000, really worth counting more than a non-academic job at Los Alamos? Does an academic job as a part-time adjunct count the same as other types of academic jobs?

It is also bizarre to rank university programs instead of ranking at an individual professor level. The individual professor is the one who does the research, publishes papers (often co-authored by professors at other institutions), runs a lab, does the thesis supervision etc. Graduate students and funders should be picking the professors that are doing what they are interested in and checking if they do it in an effective fashion and largely ignore the university itself.

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