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03/04/2005

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» Who Cares What Ward Thinks? from Dean's Journal
I think the interesting issue regarding Ward Churchill is not his right to speak his mind -- he certainly has every right to think, and to express his view [Read More]

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Palooka

"One criticism made is that I am inconsistent because I was willing to offer a radical new proposal for the immigration system even though America has benefited greatly from immigration. But the present immigration system has obvious defects..."

Certainly the two are distinquishable, the less perfect system demanding more attention and reform. It just seemed to be a striking contrast--drastic reform compared to apparent complacency. To tell the truth I was a little confused on both where you and Posner stood on the current beneficence of illegal immigration, but both of you seemed to suggest in your follow-ups it is a net positive, even today. In other words, it seemed you were making Posner's argument about never being complacent last post, and then abandoning it this post. I see now that you are more cautious, than complacent.

David Thomson

Allow me to be blunt and slightly send this discussion into a new direction. I am going to put Judge Richard Posner, the legal expert, on the spot. Arent many schools criminal organizations? Harvard University, for instance, is infamous for widespread grade inflation. Isnt this a con job on the general public? I am utterly against prosecutors pushing the envelope and pursuing RICO investigations of such matters. But havent people been arrested for doing less? Isnt Larry Summers something akin to Tony Soprano? There is a shocking now book just realized, Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Classes, by Ross Gregory Douthat. If there is any justice in the world, morally responsible leaders will be calling for an all out investigation of the scandals occurring everyday at Harvard and other elite schools throughout this country.

Vinay

interestingly enough, Professor Becker and Richard Posner's institution, the University of Chicago, is in now considered thechool with the most specific grading system (minimal clumping of grades, either at the bottom, OR the top- as a tool for outsiders / note that awarding of Degrees is still on standard).

I say this not to poke fun at my Harvard friends, but to highlight how sometimes ideas are glossed over for personal attacks. I think thats the wrong direction.

As for the right direction, we should recognize Prof. Becker's point. Consider a history of different institutions, businesses, governments, practices, even social organizations and political movements, about darwinism in organization conscious-adaptation (free will works after all) and population evolution. To fight to survive, they can self-change, adapt, direct. But beyond micromanagement, the best overall ideas tend to be the most transmitted and people slowly move towards consensus. For most bad ideas, a cultural withdrawl, but for the biggest offenders the people ignore or hate, and history forgets (see megalomaniacs seeking world domination, colorless TV, peeing outdoors).

That for generations, parents and children have held the same occupation is an odd phenomenon. Perhaps its finally going out of style, perhaps not. That it moves slowly is evident of many people deciding at young age that their parents career is not for them, but another group that wishes to continue a tradition.

But we must recognize biased samples when we see them, and history provides one. So when we take evidence of variation in the present types of university governance rules, it may not be evident how every current rule was at some point thought to be the best. On average, the large alternatives will be worse.

David Thomson

There is a shocking now book just realized

Whoops. Lets change that to There is a shocking now book just released. Other than that, I stand behind everything I said in the previous post.

David Thomson

interestingly enough, Professor Becker and Richard Posner's institution, the University of Chicago, is in now considered thechool with the most specific grading system

The University of Chicago is doing the right thing. Grade inflation is immoral---and should also be illegal. How are outsiders suppose to know if a degree is justified if such outrageous behavior is the norm? These graduates are often able to obtain well paying jobs because of their fraudulent degrees. Why are the elites able to get away with such nonsense? Im sure that Judge Posner has sent people to prison for doing far less. A blue collar defendant is rightfully incarcerated for stealing $200 during a burglary. Why arent the graduates and the school officials involved in rampant grade inflation sharing a jail cell? The money involved is far more serious.

Vinay

David-

Do not underestimate the public appetite for important information. Key markets for information exist. I'm guessing on monster.com we see tons and tons of inflated information. Employers are fully aware how grading systems both inflate and have varying degrees of arbitrariness. If they don't, shame on them! But anyone who has looked at a pile of resumes knows which information is the most reliable for them, they know applicants put their best history forward, and they know the real test of performance is performance on the job. Furthermore, Harvard is punishing itself from its decision on internal procedure relative to UChicago, at least according to friends of mine at both schools.

By my previous argument, markets solve this problem over time by 1) conscious decisions by presidents and administrators to defend the quality of their education seals and 2) punishment by users of education seals through confidence loss. Regulation by government is unnecessary.

David, can we agree that its reasonable to expect people to question each other's motives? You certainly do a great job of distinguishing where the problem is- Harvard's grade inflation, and you quite effectively construct private response- giving more credence to high GPAs from other institutions. Furthermore, do you recognize the force to prevent this from staying the norm over time in a society with functioning information markets? That schools are highly rewarded for breaking such a norm, making the norm itself very unstable, and therefore a passing concern not in need of a government beaurocracy to save the day?

PS. Apologies for the unedited text earlier.

David Thomson

Furthermore, do you recognize the force to prevent this from staying the norm over time in a society with functioning information markets?

I completely agree with you. The functioning information markets will almost certainly solve this problem. Harvard University and its graduates will indeed pay a price for the current outrages. Ross Gregory Douthats book should do much to push this inevitably along. Still, you fail to comprehend how few outsiders understand the extent of the corruption. Harvard graduates are often hired by other Harvard people---and therefore only the insiders know what really is going on. Lastly, you are conveniently ignoring my central point: people are constantly sent to prison for committing far less egregious offenses. One can legitimately argue that Larry Summers and the top officials at Harvard are running a criminal enterprise.

Vinay

I'm still unclear why you consider grade inflation to qualify as a "criminal offense." In my opinion, a Mill-style harm principle is the best criteria for regulating behavior between individuas: when that behavior directly harms someone not involved, we can consider intervention by the coercive power of government, but never beforehand. When I contract with my university for certification in an education (specifically based in economics in my case) we both act voluntarily. Similarly for individuals who submit independent certification of their skills, credentials, and knowledge.

I'm confused what standard of egregiousness you use. When there is consent between individuals, I am reluctant to categorize behavior as egregious because third parties tend to be unaffected.

Also, I should be more explicit about why other offenses, such as burglary, deserve prison while self-inflation does not. Prison serves as a method of keeping people from forcing outcomes on others. (I get possession over your car, you get nothing.) Since self-promotion in the act of applying for jobs, and weak-standarsd in the act of certifying students both only involve voluntary parties, I place responsibility on them to sort things out. I think the rush to brand these people as con-artists of society and demanding the force of the majority to come down on them doesn't give due respect to those who might disagree with you. Some people may believe Harvard produces better employees, and the "inflation" is merely representative of a better education. Lets leave it up to individuals to decide for themselves, and take actions which affect themselves.

David, how do you feel about the two of us approaching Harvard honors degrees with suspicion, but tolerate Harvard alum who genuinely believe graduate from their alma mater are all honors material, without getting the government involved?

David Thomson

I'm still unclear why you consider grade inflation to qualify as a criminal offense.

And I am flabbergasted that you dont. My jaw is dropping at this very moment. Phony credentials are an injustice to the overall society. The Harvard graduate who possesses an unearned degree is able to find victims unaware of this deceitful practice. Grade inflation is not a victimless offense!

...without getting the government involved?

Oh, Im sure that you will get your wish. Do you think that Im naive enough to believe that a district attorney like Eliot Spitzer will even dare consider indicting Harvards top officials? No, the private sector will ultimately resolve this issue---and they will. The new media are ruthlessly addressing such matters on a daily basis.

Palooka

I guess it depends what grades are supposed to measure--the relative performance of the students in that particular class or college or something more objective and universal. If the approach resembles the latter, then the fact Ivy Leagues have high grades should mean little--their student body is of higher quality on average. If by grade inflation you mean that grades are intentionally driven up, even for undeserving students, then that is a problem.

Though something is to be said for the benefits of sorting. Going to an Ivy League already sorts one to an extent, and grades (and the type of degree you get) further sort one out from his or her peers. Grade inflation reduces the amount of sorting which can take place. On the other hand, grading on a curve can lead to difficulty in comparing different colleges (GPAs are not comparable). Both systems entail different kinds of informational problems.

I think David Thompson's suggestion it is a crime is silly, however, and I also thinks he underestimates the extent grade inflation is taken into consideration by employers and graduate schools.

Anonymous

What's wrong with Johns Hopkins?

David Thomson

...and I also thinks he underestimates the extent grade inflation is taken into consideration by employers and graduate schools.

And I could care less about the insiders. We should be concerned about the outsiders who are unaware of the scam job. What about the innocent customer who thinks the employer hired the best and brightest? Isnt it funny how some people are responding to my rational call for transparency? Do they have a guilty conscience?

This is why deconstructionism is so popular in academia. Nobody with a lick of sense would give five minutes to the idiocy of Michael Foucault, Jacques Derrida, or a Stanley Fish. But we are speaking of liars and thieves. These corrupt folks feel it necessary to lie to themselves and rationalized away their despicable behavior.

Corey

"This is why deconstructionism is so popular in academia. Nobody with a lick of sense would give five minutes to the idiocy of Michael Foucault, Jacques Derrida, or a Stanley Fish."

And yet, if they did, imagine how difficult it would be for them to construct justifications for war and tyranny based on hidden and unproven assumptions about the supremacy of contractarian freedoms. There is value in being able to deconstruct arguments even if they are coming from one's own mouth.

Harvard graduates are not getting higher pay because they got straight A's at Harvard. They get paid because they got IN to Harvard. It has more to do with commercial branding of the Harvard name than anything else. People everywhere believe that the worst student at Harvard is somehow better than the best student at my schools (USC, Indiana). But I say knowledge is knowledge, and there is no learning at Harvard that is not available elsewhere to similarily motivated individuals.

The value of learning from famous faculty is not tied up in some secret formula to achieving fame that you magically receive, the value derives from name recognition and the power of association. I once had a conversation with Noam Chomsky, do you respect me more knowing that? He made some good points, but I had heard them before from my Dad and from reading Orwell's essay on nationalism during my spare time at work.

Someone asked what the purpose of a university is, perhaps one answer is that a university seeks to forever increase its academic marketability so that its graduates will be preferenced in the job market over those who learned the same concepts at less "successful" schools. To the extent that job market feedback exists, then that is an argument that the most successful schools are the ones that have most completely subverted their programs to the will and desires of the business world.

I suspect many Harvard and Other Ivy students will want to tell me all about the wonderful secret knowledge that only they have access to. Or perhaps one will decide to mockingly impersonate me again. That might be fun.

David Thomson

I once had a conversation with Noam Chomsky, do you respect me more knowing that?

Noam Chomsky is a quintessential example of whats wrong with todays academic world. That you might have had a conversation with him is not particularly relevant. However, it would be tragic if you mistook this second rate mediocrity for a serious individual.

And yet, if they did, imagine how difficult it would be for them to construct justifications for war and tyranny based on hidden and unproven assumptions about the supremacy of contractarian freedoms. There is value in being able to deconstruct arguments even if they are coming from one's own mouth.

What the hell? The above is gobbledegook. How am Im suppose to respond to such idiocy? You oddly mention George Orwell. Why would you that? You obviously fail to follow his urging that one should think and speak clearly. My guess is that you possess an advanced degree. If so, that is truly an outright scandal.

That said, I cannot understand why any university group would invite someone like Ward Churchill to speak, or believe he has anything to say that is worth hearing.

The same holds true for Noam Chomsky. It is painfully obvious to me why such outrages occur. One cannot ignore the deleterious impact of academic grade inflation. This may even be the number one issue which must be addressed.

Jadagul

I don't believe Harvard's grade inflation could truly be considered fraud. Why? Because I got exactly what I said I got--an A from Harvard. Everyone knows--or at least should--that an A at Harvard is different from an A at [insert your local community college here]. Not even necessarily because Harvard's teachers are inherently better--although Harvard certainly should be able to get better teachers--but simply because Harvard can grade more harshly because it gets better students accepted to it.

Once we accept that an A from Harvard is different from an A at a local community college, we see that it's potentially different from an A at USC or, for that matter, at Yale (I'm not going to bother guessing which one is better). So there's no universal standard for what should get an A. Each school sets its own standards (Harvard's standards are certainly higher than some schools', and probably somewhat lower than other schools'). But since Harvard As are all roughly comparable, people compensate for the grade inflation when they're evaluating the quality of different institutions--the same process that tells an employer that a Harvard A is better than an LSU A can also tell him that a U Chicago A is better than a Harvard A, or whatever.

Now, if employers know this and deliberately accept sub-optimal candidates, that's an entirely separate problem. But it's mainly a problem for the employers, since they're paying unnecessarily high wages for unnecessarily shoddy product.

Paul Deignan

Well, there is rational and irrational conservatism.

What was student participation in the 70's meant to achieve other than a sop to radicals (who were never interested in academics)? Perhaps this was just a bad experience. It should not be a reason for not adopting rational innovations.

For example, the cirriculum should have a structure. Core courses should fullfill a corporate purpose and therefore should be the product of a group. Courses should cover what is advertised in the catalogue. In general, a useful textbook should be adopted for all courses where one exists -- and it should be integrated in the instruction. Is it too much to ask for a syllabus that can allow students to be prepared for the presentation ahead of time?

The department should evaluate the instruction of its faculty and make this a criterion for raises in their salary. An infrastructure should be developed (such as an intranet) where researchers may post recent work, problems, and solicit input.

These are all common sense innovations. However, few institutions implement them for a very definite reason. What is that? I think we know.

The department that has the discipline to implement such changes will make all others obsolete in respect to instruction overnight.

SS

I think Becker's comments concerning higher education are applicable to all education.

For me, as for any recipient of poor and, to a lesser extent, biased public education, this should ring especially true.

For those who wish to end the collusive price fixing of teacher's salaries (as Friedman points to), and increase quality of schooling, should our discussion not only include "higher" education, but primary education as well?

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