October 01, 2018
Here; an excerpt:
Distinction at Yale is not tied all that closely to grades: The law school abolished traditional grades in the late 1960s, adopting a system whereby there are essentially only two grades: Honors and Pass. Career advancement is tied particularly to networking—making a few well-connected faculty members see themselves in you, so that down the line they’ll call their friends on the bench. Clerkships were an obsession: a good one, we gathered, had the power to make a career.
The resulting patronage system fostered a sort of self-interested blindness on the part of faculty and students alike. Most federal judges, in my experience, are reasonable and desirable bosses for the handful of clerks they employ each year. Some, however, are not. And all preside, even more than the standard boss, over a dictatorship. Federal anti-discrimination laws do not apply to federal judges. Meanwhile, given their stature and connections, federal judges hold tremendous power over the reputations and career prospects of their clerks.
Notorious among the judges to avoid, when I was in school, was Alex Kozinski, the appeals judge for whom Kavanaugh clerked. Kozinski retired last year amid a flurry of sexual harassment allegations by former clerks, junior staff, attorneys and judges who accused the judge of behavior ranging from explicit comments to forcible and unwanted kissing and groping. (Kozinski has apologized for making “any of my clerks … feel uncomfortable,” but has also disputed these allegations.) Kozinski’s sexual innuendo—both in chambers and on an email list of former clerks—has become infamous, but when I was in school, the rumor mill among students spoke only in hushed and vague tones.
Typically, at least one of Judge Kozinski’s clerks each year came from Yale, propelled in part by connections from law professors. For faculty, sending students to clerk for judges like Kozinski and Kavanaugh—“feeder” judges whose clerks often go on to clerk on the Supreme Court—is a point of pride, a way to further distinguish oneself in the upper echelons of the legal profession. But the self-interested blindness of faculty can lead to obvious and tangible harms for students who become clerks. Kozinski’s harassing conduct, it seems, was an open secret: visible to those who knew to look, while hidden to those who didn’t—or didn’t want to see.
September 29, 2018
Public pension funds in New York and California are increasingly considering Climate Change related risks as a criteria for guiding their investment decisions. The move to consider climate change is driven in part by a perception of insufficient federal action on these issues and the prospect of environmental harm eroding long term performance for a diversified portfolio of investments.
Should university endowments also emphasize ESG considerations?
Comments are open and moderated. Real names only, please.
September 27, 2018
Testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the "State of Intellectual Freedom in America" (Michael Simkovic)
I testified earlier today at the House Judiciary Committee on the "State of Intellectual Freedom in America." A copy of my written testimony can be seen here. My shorter oral remarks are available here.
An excerpt appears below:
"Disagreement between knowledgeable scientific experts and median political views often do not suggest political bias on the part of scientists, but rather an effort by think tanks, media organizations, interest groups and politicians to inappropriately politicize scientific issues.
For example, the causes and consequences of Climate Change are scientific issues. The likely economic harm from such changes, and the costs of preventing or mitigating them, are also scientific issues. So are the adverse health consequences from air and water pollution or the health effects of smoking. So is the question of whether tax cuts can generate enough economic growth to reduce the Debt-to-GDP ratio.
While scientific questions can have political and policy implications, scientific inquiry should not be politicized. The best evidence should be analyzed with the best methods, and the implications and degree of uncertainty honestly conveyed to policymakers and the public.
But according to scientific experts, many scientific issues have been inappropriately politicized when scientific evidence threatened private sector profits or government budgets. These issues include the causes and effects of climate change, the health risks of pollution, and the dangers of tobacco use.
According to a Pew survey, nearly 80 percent of scientists believe that previous administrations suppressed government scientists’ findings for political reasons. Many scientists worry that suppression of scientific findings for political reasons is becoming more common.
Note that the Pew sample consists overwhelmingly of natural or “hard” scientists in fields such as medical sciences, chemistry, physics and geosciences. Pew’s sample included those who work in private industry as well as those who work in government and universities.
Recently, there have been systematic efforts by some members of Congress to weaken the role of science in informing agency rule-making and increase the role of political actors. Some politicians have also sought to prevent government agencies from collecting basic data about demographics, the environment, health and safety, and the economy, even if de-identified to protect individual privacy.
Today, threats to academic freedom can come from powerful donors, political leaders, and outside pressure groups who sometimes seek to subtly (or not so subtly) influence ostensibly neutral and unbiased academic research to further their own business interests or other political preferences.
The best way to protect universities from undue influence may be to secure and expand revenue sources that are indifferent to or cannot sway the conclusions of academic research. This is analogous to the approach we take to try to protect the independence of members of the federal judiciary or the Federal Reserve."
September 25, 2018
A recent working paper by Caroline Hoxby (Stanford) suggests that the economic returns to online education (measured in terms of wage growth) may be too low to recoup the costs of these programs, especially as administered at for-profit institutions. Hoxby used a fixed effects approach, measuring earnings before and after online education compared to likely earnings without online education. She found that online education does not boost earnings by very much, and it does not do much to move students into more lucrative industries or occupations. Hoxby found evidence that most students pursuing exclusively online degrees lived within commuting distance of brick-and-mortar institutions that likely offered higher quality education with better returns.
Hoxby's observational results are consistent with experimental studies that have found worse outcomes for students randomly assigned to online education compared to traditional education.
In previous research, Hoxby warned that the spread of online education could undermine highly selective institutions' ability to finance original research and teaching innovations. Hoxby wrote: "selective] institutions weaken rather than strengthen their market power in research and original content creation when they increase their exposure on the internet."
Hoxby's working paper has been criticized by groups advocating partnerships between for-profit technology companies and educational institutions to spread online education to non-profit and public institutions. For-profits have been online education's earliest and most enthusiastic adopters, while private non-profit and public institutions have generally taken a more conservative approach. The strongest of the critiques of Hoxby's paper is that it looked at returns over the course of 10 years rather than a lifetime. The present value of lifetime earnings premiums is a more appropriate measure of the returns to education.
Related coverage: Should online education come with an asterisk?
September 23, 2018
Think tanks, CBO dramatically overestimated the direct budgetary costs of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (Michael Simkovic)
I've previously noted some of the outrageously implausible assumptions used by organizations with links to private student lenders (such as the New American Foundation, AEI, Brookings, Manhattan Institute, and Barclays) in an apparent effort to portray federal student loans as a threat to the public fisc. Such studies have been used to justify increases in federal student loan interest rates, credit rationing (borrowing caps), and a less accommodative policy with respect to income based loan forgiveness.
A new government report suggests that these groups may have also over-estimated the costs of Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). PSLF is distinct from income-base repayment programs (IBR). Whereas IBR is intended as insurance for student loan borrowers against relatively low earnings persisting over the course of a 20 year period, PSLF is intended as a wage subsidy to encourage highly educated skilled workers to accept public sector and non-profit jobs and continue to work in them for at least 10 years.
Early estimates had wildly exaggerated the cost of PSLF, assuming that 25 percent of student loans would be discharged through these programs within 10 years, since at any one time around 25 percent of the workforce works in the public sector.
There are numerous problems with this estimate: graduates transition in and out of the workforce; graduates move between the private and public sectors; not all public sector work qualifies for PSLF. It will therefore take far more than 10 years after graduation for many borrowers to accumulate a sufficient period of time working in qualifying public sector jobs before they can earn forgiveness. During this time period, borrowers continue to make student loan payments, decreasing the budgetary costs of eventual debt forgiveness. The eligibility and documentation requirements for PSLF are also stringent, further disqualifying many applicants.
According to the government report noted above, in the first year in which graduates could potentially qualify, only 28,000 borrowers applied and only 96 (less than 0.5%) qualified for forgiveness. 28 percent of applications were disqualified for missing information, while over 70 percent were disqualified because they had not yet met the program eligibility requirements.
The total balance forgiven in the first half of 2018 was $5.52 million dollars. The CBO, relying in part on assumptions advocated by think thanks, had estimated that the program would cost $425 million in 2018, and nearly $24 billion within 10 years.
While qualifying applications are likely to grow in the coming years, the contrast between the high estimated cost and the low actual cost thus far is striking.
September 21, 2018
September 20, 2018
Yale's Chua, Rubenfeld now center stage in the Kavanaugh confirmation drama as new allegations emerge about what Kavanaugh likes in clerks
Many readers have sent me this article from The Guardian; some excerpts:
[Amy Chua], who strongly endorsed supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a “mentor to women” privately told a group of law students last year that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all “looked like models” and would provide advice to students about their physical appearance if they wanted to work for him....[She] was known for instructing female law students who were preparing for interviews with Kavanaugh on ways they could dress to exude a “model-like” femininity to help them win a post in Kavanaugh’s chambers, according to sources....
In one case, Jed Rubenfeld, also an influential professor at Yale and who is married to Chua, told a prospective clerk that Kavanaugh liked a certain “look”.
“He told me, ‘You should know that Judge Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look,’” one woman told the Guardian. “He did not say what the look was and I did not ask...."
Chua advised the same student Rubenfeld spoke to that she ought to dress in an “outgoing” way for her interview with Kavanaugh, and that the student should send Chua pictures of herself in different outfits before going to interview. The student did not send the photos....
The Guardian has learned that Rubenfeld is currently the subject of an internal investigation at Yale. The investigation is focused on Rubenfeld’s conduct, particularly with female law students. Students have also raised related concerns to Yale authorities about Chua’s powerful influence in the clerkships process.
Why do some college students choose law school over other advanced degree programs? (Michael Simkovic)
The AALS today released a new report, Before the JD: Undergraduate Views on Law School, based on a survey with responses from 22,0000 college students and 2,700 law students. The report discusses, among other things, the considerations that might drive college students pursuing advanced degrees to apply to law school over other advanced degree programs, when students first contemplate going to law school, and important sources of information and advice about law school and other advanced degrees to which undergraduates turn.
Some interesting findings include:
- Students considering law school are also likely to consider a PhD, Masters Degree or MBA instead of a law degree, but are much less likely to consider Medical School
- Only 15 precent of students considering a graduate degree were considering a law degreee
- Law was seen as better preparation for a career in politics, government, or public service than other options
- Compared to other advanced degrees, students are less concerned about time to completion for law degrees, but students are more concerned about work life balance in law than in other fields
- Debt /cost was slightly less of a concern for a law degree than for other advanced degrees
- Students interested in law school developed this interest early, often even before attending college
- Law was not seen as using cutting edge technology as much as other fields
September 17, 2018
September 06, 2018
Jason Stanley (Yale): Universities should resist government and donor pressure to reinforce propaganda (Michael Simkovic)
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Yale philosophy Professor Jason Stanley warns about rising neo-fascist tendencies around the world and related efforts to deligitimize universities. Of particular interest to readers of this blog, Stanley recommends against appeasing critics by hiring faculty members who will promote viewpoints that are popular with donors or political leaders. He instead advocates retaining a strictly merit-based approach to academic hiring, protected from outside influences.
Professor Stanley writes:
"In recent years, several countries across the world have been overtaken by a certain kind of far-right nationalism; the list includes Russia, Hungary, Poland, India, Turkey, and the United States. . . . [P]atterns have emerged that suggest the resurgence of fascist politics globally. Increasingly, attacks on universities and conflicts over their policies are a symptom of this phenomenon. . . [M]y interest is in fascist politics as a mechanism to achieve power. . .
Honest politics needs intelligent debate. One of the clearest signs of fascist politics, then, is attacks on universities and expertise — the support systems of discussion and the sources of knowledge and facts. Intelligent debate is impossible without access to different perspectives, a respect for expertise when one’s own knowledge gives out, and a rich enough language to precisely describe reality. When education is undermined, only power and tribal identity remain.
This does not mean that there is no role for universities in fascist politics. In fascist ideology, only one viewpoint is legitimate. Colleges are meant to introduce students to the dominant culture and its mythic past. Education therefore either poses a grave threat to fascism or becomes a pillar of support for the mythical nation. It’s no wonder, then, that cultural clashes on campuses represent a true political battleground and receive national attention. The stakes are high. . . .
Where speech is a right, propagandists cannot attack dissent head-on; instead they must represent it as something violent and oppressive (a protest therefore becomes a "riot"). . . .
Fascist politics seeks to undermine the credibility of institutions that harbor independent voices of dissent. One typical method is to level accusations of hypocrisy. Right now, a contemporary right-wing campaign is charging universities with hypocrisy on the issue of free speech. Universities, it says, claim to hold free speech in the highest regard but suppress any voices that don’t lean left. Critics of campus social-justice movements have found an effective method of turning themselves into the victims of protest. They contend that protesters mean to deny them their own free speech. . .
These accusations also extend into the classroom. . . . a far-right activist who has been targeting universities . . . published a book, The Professors, naming the "101 most dangerous professors in America," a list of leftist and liberal professors . . . The goal of Students for Academic Freedom is to promote the hiring of professors with conservative worldviews, an effort marketed as promoting "intellectual diversity and academic freedom at America’s colleges and universities," according to Young America’s Foundation. . . .
Some will argue that a university must have representatives of all positions. Such an argument suggests that being justified in our own positions requires regularly grappling with opposing ones (and that there was no room for those views in the first place). . . . Nevertheless, the general principle, upon reflection, is not particularly plausible.No one thinks that the demands of free inquiry require adding researchers to university faculties who seek to demonstrate that the earth is flat. Similarly, I can safely and justifiably reject ISIS ideology without having to confront its advocates in the classroom or faculty lounge. I do not need to have a colleague who defends the view that Jewish people are genetically predisposed to greed in order to justifiably reject such anti-Semitic nonsense. Nor is it even remotely plausible that bringing such voices to campus would aid arguments against such toxic ideologies. More likely, it would undermine intelligent debate by leading to breakdowns of communication and shouting matches.
Universities should supply the intellectual tools to allow an understanding of all perspectives. But the best way to achieve that is to hire the most academically qualified professors. No method of adjudicating academic quality will be free from controversy. But trying to evade that difficulty by forcing universities to hire representatives of every ideological position is a particularly implausible fix, one that can perhaps be justified only by a widespread conspiracy theory about academic standards being hijacked by, say, a supposed epidemic of "political correctness."