Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Destroying Higher Education a Conspiracy?

By Professor Doom

     Let’s look at the third fact as part of the supposed conspiracy to destroy higher education:

Step III: Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university.

     Again, this is totally a true fact, but the article neglects to mention the huge salaries those people get (paid for by the student loan scam). Even more importantly, to destroy higher education, this is all you need. The other parts of the “conspiracy” in the article are not necessary.

     The de-funding of higher education wouldn’t be that big a problem by itself and is totally not a problem for non-state schools that never got the tax loot anyway. Unfortunately, the chokehold has given administrators the ability to award themselves pay raises (and bogus advanced degrees, and tenure)…and it’s this huge drain of resources that is a problem for current higher education, not the lack of tax support.

     There’s a glut of Ph.D.’s, because the people running the universities tell graduate programs to reduce their standards and increase the number of students, so that getting graduate degrees is pretty easy (if you’re willing to pay); I demonstrated this earlier when I’ve examined what’s going on in Education and Administration graduate programs, even to the point of taking advanced graduate courses in those dubious programs.

     Since the administrative class cares nothing for education, then, again, it sees no need to treat the faculty with any decency, much less respect. It’s also even more motivated to generate that glut of Ph.Ds. It’s so sad to the new doctorates awarded at my institution come back and apply for, well, those minimal jobs, because there’s nothing else out there. The administrative caste all by itself explains the Ph.D. glut and the horrid treatment of adjuncts.

 Admin announcement: “Congratulations to our new Poo-Bah. He comes from [a thousand miles away].”
--a typical announcement. Maybe not poo-bah, but provost, chancellor, or other fancy title, always it’s someone with no loyalty to the institution.

      So, the moving in of mercenary administrators is a true fact…but not necessarily a conspiracy, just the usual abuses by those in power. In times past, administration was drawn from faculty at the institution. Administration, years ago, wasn’t a stupid-high paying job where you were serviced by a platoon of supporting staff. Instead, you got a few extra bucks, a few extra duties, taught one less course…and returned to a faculty position after a few years. Because administrators returned to faculty, they didn’t treat faculty like garbage, and worked to maintain the integrity of the institution.

     Now, administrators are drawn from outside the institution. It’s called the “Seagull School of Management”. These administrators fly in from far away, crap on everything, consume all they can, act aggressively towards everyone, and then leave to do it all over again elsewhere while the folks left behind clean up the mess. That’s a metaphor, of course, but the fact is, administrators are now a professional caste, do not come from the institution they rule, and have no loyalty to it. Instead, their only loyalty is to whoever hired them (i.e., an administrator further up the food chain)…and so have no qualms about doing whatever it takes, no matter how vile, to get more growth, and then get promoted to go somewhere else.

      The massive sex scandal at Penn State was no fluke…dozens of administrators over the course of a decade independently covered up what was going on in the showers there. Why do I stress the word independent? Because nobody told them to cover up those crimes even though it would lead to an ever devastating scandal for Penn State…they didn’t care what happened to Penn State, they cared about growth and retention, and then moving on to another institution. Those administrators could have been at any other institution, and will do it again cheerfully (many of those Penn State administrators have moved on to other schools…people should really consider the administration at the schools they send their children to. Just sayin’).

    With leaders like this, you need nothing more to destroy higher education.

    Let’s take a look at the 4th step:

Step IV: Move in corporate culture and corporate money.

     This is another true fact; administrators talk in corporate-speak that is laughably stupid, spend stupid-amount of times on retreats and trips, and advanced the “student as customer” paradigm that has done much harm to higher education. But, this came in with the tide of administrators; flush them out, and the corporatism will drop off just as quickly.

Step V: Destroy the students.

     This too simply follows from the influx of administration; they don’t just sacrifice faculty for personal gain, they sacrifice students as well. But I don’t see how this can be part of a plan to destroy higher education—the other steps are ongoing, but if you destroy the students, you’ll just get another crop the next year. That said, the article tries to tie it all together:

Our students have been denied full-time available faculty, the ability to develop mentors and advisors, faculty-designed syllabi which changes each semester, a wide variety of courses and options. Instead, more and more universities have core curriculum which dictates a large portion of the course of study, in which the majority of classes are administrative-designed “common syllabi” courses, taught by an army of underpaid, part-time faculty in a model that more closely resembles a factory or the industrial kitchen of a fast-food restaurant than an institution of higher learning.

     All of the above, while true and very destructive to students, requires no secret cabal running a conspiracy to destroy higher education…just the administrative caste that controls it all doing what it takes to solidify their power and feather their nests. That line about no syllabi that change every semester, incidentally, is wrong, as many courses cover far less material than in years past…administratively designed, after all.

      The article ends by asking how higher education can be fixed, and providing no answers. I’ve addressed this before, but it’s pretty simple to say (if not to do):

      Fire most every administrator and support staffer over the rank of registrar. Fill only the actually useful positions with faculty, but only faculty that have worked at that institution a few years…and change the laws and accreditation so that only faculty that have taught at the institution can be an administrator, and that only active teachers can be administrators. Change the laws so that accredited institutions must have more faculty than administrators/staff (how it used to be, unlike today where faculty are a minority). Then, reduce administrative pay to, at most, twice the average faculty pay at the institution (and that includes the Poo-Bah, who now typically makes 50 times an adjunct’s pay), and restrict administrative tenure to two years or so, at which point the administrator must return to faculty for a few years before serving again (it used to be, administration was “service” not “chance to feather your nest and establish a fiefdom”).

     Just like that, the massive drop in pay to administrators will offset the lack of public funding the article says matters. The professors will be professionals again, the ruling caste of loutish administrators will vanish, corporate culture will disappear, and destroying students will no longer be common in higher education, since no administrator/faculty will want to go back to having to deal with angry, abused, ripped-off students in the classroom that don’t even want to be there anyway.

     My fix is easy on paper, but I admit it has an important weakness: the administrators will have to let go of power. Accreditation will have to become legitimate before that can happen, and refuse to accredit institutions that are unwilling to do what it takes to become legitimate again, but I digress.

     It takes no grand conspiracy to destroy higher education, just a mistake. In this case, faculty allowed for the hiring of mercenaries to control what happens at our colleges and universities. Faculty screwed up. Mercenaries are only in it for the money, which the Federal government supplies in huge quantity. There are numerous historical precedents for mercenaries taking over, or at least trying to…most of which are every bit as disastrous as what’s happening in higher education today.

     That’s a light overview of how to fix things, of course…but it’s an obvious start. Maybe it’s a conspiracy that no institution is making these obvious fixes? Well, University of the People comes close, which is probably why you can get an accredited degree there for $4,000, instead of the $100,000 that is typical elsewhere...and they never had any state funding. Any other places?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Destroying Higher Education: A Rebuttal

By Professor Doom

Assignment 1: “Fill in the names and capitals of the 20 southeast Asian countries on this blank map.”
Assignment 2: “Use techniques of advanced calculus to show how perturbations in the measurements of Mercury’s orbit confirm the relativistic effects predicted by Einstein.”
---both of these assignments are from 4000 level, senior level, courses in state run universities with a reputation for partying, as capstone material for a degree. Assignment 1 comes from around 2014, assignment 2 comes from around thirty years ago. I totally concede neither has much to do with real life…but which of these assignments could a 10-year old complete with a bit of effort, and which takes years of knowledge and skill development before it can be attempted?

     I’m hardly the only one to notice that higher education has fallen very, very far in the last few decades, and I’ve certainly cited a dozen or two articles detailing the current problems. An older article acts as though it was all a plan, and details what steps were taken to destroy higher education.

How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps

     It’s easy to see bad things happen, and see a conspiracy theory. Even when all the underlying facts are true, however, that doesn’t mean there was a plan. It’s easy to overlook simple opportunism as a reasonable explanation. Let’s take a look at the first two steps of the “five step plan” described:

1)     Defund Public Higher Education
     The article begins with a discussion of how funding for public colleges and universities has dropped off, leading to a shifting of priorities for schools, including a drop-off of support for the humanities.
     I acknowledge “put money into education” sounds reasonable, and “for profit education” is basically a scam nowadays, but this first step is a minimal part, at best, to the disaster of today’s higher education.
     Yes, the article is correct that States, desperately strapped for money, have been taking money away from the state run institutions, and I can see how this isn’t taken to be a good thing. But fully state-funded “lower education” (that is, high school and lower) has been mostly a disaster anyway. Throw in that non-profit institutions have also fallen along with for-profit and state run institutions, and the de-funding of public higher education is clearly simply not enough to explain what’s happened. It’s a true fact…but there’s no conspiracy here, because it doesn’t come close to explaining why it’s happening everywhere else.
     The article also tries to indicate how the shift in priorities was used to eliminate leftist thought on campus…anyone even remotely familiar with the political correctness and multiculturalism prevalent on campus knows that if reducing leftism on campus was the intention of reducing funding, it failed horribly. The article’s claim here isn’t even correct—it’s hard to claim it’s a conspiracy when the goal of the conspiracy isn’t even close to being met. You may as well claim all the blimps flying around everywhere are part of a big conspiracy.
     While this de-funding has been bad, realize that federal funding for higher education (i.e., the student loan scam) has replaced much of the money lost, anyway…and this dirty money has infected the non-profit and for-profit schools as well. The article would have done better to claim the student loan scam has destroyed higher education, since that would cover all schools, instead of just the publicly funded ones…and, for what it’s worth, the student loan scam is a big part of what destroyed higher education.
     Let’s look at step II:

Step II: Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s).
    Again this is a true fact, most professors on campus are poorly paid adjuncts, paid almost nothing, with no job security. And, absolutely, there is a huge surplus of Ph.D.s.
     This is putting the cart before the horse: if higher education was legitimate, there wouldn’t be mills churning out Ph.D.s for very dubious “research” or that the Ph.D.s themselves don’t even understand. A century ago, you didn’t need a Ph.D. to teach on campus, and in fact most professors had a master’s degree at best—what you really needed was competence in your field.

Admin: “The committee found that your paper, ‘A Statistical Confidence Cone Technique for Improved Error Estimation in Geological Surveys’ could not count as research in your field because they could not determine if the research was mathematical in nature.”
Me: “But…one of the committee members has a Ph.D. in Mathematics, right?”
Admin: “In Math Education, yes.”

     Nowadays, many faculty are simply incompetent. They teach empty courses via PowerPoint presentations, ask nothing of their students, and are incapable of even coherently answering questions not already covered on the PowerPoint. I’ve seen many “Math Education” degree holders teaching college math courses, and doing so in an incompetent manner…they can’t even correctly answer questions in their own courses. There’s a reason for this, but it doesn’t involve the low pay and lack of job security.

“Vice-President Joe Biden…said that the reason tuitions are out of control is because of the high price of college faculty. He has no idea what he is talking about…At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts…earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work…”

     Not all such faculty are incompetent, and I agree treating people like this is rapacious…but I still don’t buy that doing this to the faculty is part of a plan.
     Over a century ago, scholars did what they did not for high pay, but for the love of knowledge and wisdom. Heck, in the Far East, poverty was nearly considered a necessity for a scholar. I’m not saying we need to go back to that, but, again, there are more than enough examples of scholars with little interest in money that I just can’t accept this fact, albeit true, as part of a plan to destroy higher education.
      The third step of the plan is actually the key step, the only one necessary to destroy higher education, without any need of a conspiracy. I’ll discuss that in detail next time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Keynesianism in Three Charts

By Professor Doom
     In public school, I was trained to think fiat currency, creating money out of slips of paper, was an excellent thing. I was trained to think that “a little” inflation was actually good for the economy. I was trained to think great quantities of money printing was a great thing, since everyone got a share of the money.

“There is no god but fiat, and Keynes is its prophet.”
--I joke, it’s not taught that blatantly in school.

     The branch of economics that preaches this stuff is Keynesianism; when Nixon severed the dollar from gold in 1971, making it explicitly a fiat currency, he said “I am now a Keynesian in economics.

     Keynesianism was the only form of economics I was ever told about in school and it was presented as the best thing ever, without flaw. It wasn’t until I developed the initiative to study on my own that I learned that there are, in fact, several economic schools of thought. While many believe that economics is comparable to mathematics in rigor, it is not, not even remotely. It really is just a collection of theories representing a certain point of view. 

     It’s very insidious to only teach one form of economics in school, because it prevents people from even thinking about the possibility that there may be another way…I can’t help but compare this to NewSpeak from 1984, a language developed to keep people from even expressing the concept of freedom, the better to keep them under control.

     There are other forms of economics, and, of course, none represent the absolute truth. While all versions have weaknesses, one can still judge them by comparing how well they predict outcomes from economic behavior. My personal favorite school of economic thought is Austrian. Unlike Keynesianism, it doesn’t promise utopia from centrally planned economies…while it takes courage to accept that utopia is impossible, I like Austrian economics because it just seems to do better with predictions.

      These predictions are borne out through empirical observation. On the other hand, Keynesianism seems to ignore empirical evidence and push on regardless of what people endure from it.

--note the USSR totally collapsed in 1991, revealing an infrastructure that in many cases had not been upgraded since the communists took over in 1917, despite over 70 years of textbooks saying how economically great communism was, and implying that the US would likewise be better off economically with socialist policies and centrally planned economies.

      While Keynesianism, for example, predicted incredible economic power from USSR’s centrally planned economy right up until the point the USSR collapsed, Austrian economics from the get-go said the USSR was economically doomed…and it never shifted this prediction, even when bogus reports claimed the USSR was really, really, economically powerful, year after year. Good predictions, and courage of its convictions…I like that. Despite this, Keynesian fiat systems and centrally planned economies still devastate much of the world.

     What has Austrian economics done lately? Well, nothing, since no government, certainly not the U.S., practices Austrian economics. Instead, despite the many colossal failures of Keynesianism, our government practices Keynesianism. A few recent charts really hit home how well Keynesian predictions work, as opposed to Austrian.

     First, Keynesianism predicts that money printing will help everyone, while Austrian economics says the money printing really only helps the people at the top, with first access to the new money. Money printing has been outright furious the last few years, making it a bit easier to claim that what we’re seeing in the economy the last few years is being influenced by the extreme creation of currency. 

     Housing sales in general have been falling, except in one category. Hmm, the high end houses, the ones the people at the top can buy with their hot money, are appreciating in value. The low end houses are dropping. Basically all schools of economics agree that increased prices generally come from increased demand…the people at the top are getting the new money to buy houses, causing those prices to rise. The people at the bottom? Not so much.

     Ok, well, that’s just housing. Keynesianism predicts that massive currency creation will really help the economy, and that help lifts all boats. Again, Austrian economics says the “growth” is really just part of boom/bust cycles created by fiat money, and doesn’t really help most people anyway. Let’s see what happens:

     Hmm, again. Sure looks like the folks that don't get the hot money first really don’t benefit much. Since the last few years have been the worst in US history for GDP growth despite the Keynesian prediction of great growth from printing, we once again are seeing a wealth transfer from the poorest to the richest. Note how things started to even out as soon as Nixon went full fiat, and now we’re having a total blowout, with everything going to the top. Way to go, fiat currency!

     Let’s tie things back to education. Austrian economics predicts that pouring government money into higher education will do little for education…it’ll just raise the price of education. We all know tuition has risen dramatically in the last few decades. Keynesianism, of course, preaches that all government spending is good.  Heck, Paul Krugman (chief spokesmodel for Keynesianism) even advocated government spending on space defenses against a space alien invasion that might never come, since he thinks it would be great for the economy. Anyway, Let’s see how government spending on higher education is working out for the students:

     Hmm, the students are getting deeper and deeper into debt, and aren’t making any more money at all. I know what I’m showing here won’t be universally accepted, there are lots and lots of fans of Keynesianism…it could hardly be otherwise, since that’s the religion taught in schools. Nevertheless it’s tough to look at chart after chart and still keep that faith.

     If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their  currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks…will deprive the people of  all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered…. – Thomas Jefferson in the debate over the Re-charter of the Bank Bill (1809)

      Jefferson is much maligned nowadays (“he owned slaves!”), but it doesn’t take much to see that the fiat currency system is closing in on the end game Jefferson foresaw. Our fiat system has plundered all the wealth from the current lower and middle classes, and is now transferring wealth from the future lower and middle classes via student loans. Our children are starting out life so deep in debt that they’ll never be able to purchase homes, or even pay off their debts. They will, as Jefferson says, one day wake up homeless…but still in debt, since student loans can not be removed even via bankruptcy. People with gray hair are finding their social security checks being garnished to pay student loans now…that’s very scary.

     I prefer empirical results for making my decisions…mathematical training is like that. So, I have to reject Keynesianism, and favor Austrian thought, until something better presents itself. I know I’m mostly just preaching to the choir here, nothing I’ve said above will shake the faith of true believers in Keynesianism, but if the simple charts and brief discussion above can in but one mind plant a seed of doubt about the wisdom of using a fiat currency system, I’ll call this post a success. 

     Blog posts are cheap, after all.