March 12, 2019
White House proposes to spend approximately nothing on early childhood education to minimize taxes for top 0.1 percent (Michael Simkovic)
NPR reports that the Trump administration has proposed a meager one-time increase in funding for childcare / early career eduction equal to approximately 0.0045 percent of GDP ($1 billion out of $22 trillion estimated 2020 GDP) or about 0.001 percent of household networth. Total federal spending would increase to $5.4 billion, or 0.0225 percent of GDP.
In contrast, Senator Elizabeth Warren has proposed to spend approximately $70 billion per year on childcare and early childhood education--13 times as much as President Trump. Warren's plan would be financed with approximately one third of the revenue generated by an annual ultra-high net-worth wealth tax of 2 percent on personal fortunes above $50 million, and 3 percent above $1 billion. It would therefore cost 99.9 percent of households nothing in increased tax burdens.
The White House explained that its less generous proposal was motivated by a desire to avoid spending "unsustainable amounts of taxpayer dollars" and instead come up with a plan that would be (politically) "viable."
March 08, 2019
How Big Tobacco’s star advocate became an education expert for the New York Times and Forbes (Michael Simkovic)
Richard Vedder, a leading opponent of excise taxes on cigarettes, takes a dim view of most of higher education. Vedder depicts colleges and universities as overpriced, wasteful, and deserving budget cuts. Vedder argues that academic freedom and research impede teaching marketable skills.
The reality is that public investments in higher education more than pay for themselves. More spending is linked to more innovation and better labor market outcomes. Educational quality and access have improved over time. The economy would likely grow faster if governments invested more in education. More people would find jobs, they would earn more money, and governments’ long-term fiscal position would likely improve.
Vedder would be easy to dismiss if not for his backing from industries that spend heavily on advertising and lobbying—like tobacco, for-profit education, and private student lending. Vedder has become a regular contributor to the New York Times, Forbes, and other publications with wide circulation, and frequently testifies before Congress.
Despite his general antipathy to education, Vedder forcefully defends for-profit education. Vedder likes that for-profit institutions have little interest in “promoting research, saving the earth [or] achieving progressive objectives.” Perhaps harried adjuncts are less likely than tenured research faculty to assess whether taxing cigarettes saves lives.
Public health spillovers aside, for-profit education is typically not great for students or taxpayers.
For-profit institutions spend far more of their revenue on sales and marketing and far less on instruction. For-profits account for a disproportionate share of federal student loan defaults and federal subsidies. Although for-profits typically serve weaker students, after accounting for student characteristics, for profits typically provide less value for the money than non-profit and public competitors. For-profits are the only type of educational institution which have been shown to increase tuition after gaining access to federal student loans, without increasing quality. Many for-profits have been linked to consumer fraud.
March 07, 2019
Inside Higher Education reports that along with an executive order that would politicize federal funding for higher education and scientific research, President Trump may soon unveil a "risk sharing" plan to tax higher education institutions that accept federal student loans. As I noted previously, when Senator (and former Democratic Presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton proposed a similar plan, such proposals are little more than a covert way of raising taxes on educational institutions and pressuring colleges into pushing students into borrowing using higher cost private student loans.
We do not expect home builders or auto-manufacturers to pay when home buyers or car buyers default on their loans--even government backed mortgages--and there is no good reason to impose similar penalties on colleges and universities, especially given how much of the financial benefit of education flows to the federal government as higher tax revenues and lower disability and unemployment benefits costs rather than as student loan repayments.
Under symmetric risk sharing, including upside as well as downside, the federal government would be paying universities more, not less.
March 02, 2019
President Trump uses scuffle at Berkeley as pretext to pressure universities into promoting views he endorses (Michael Simkovic)
A recruiter for a far-right group that maintains a "Professor Watchlist" was recently punched in the face while using slogans about "hate crime hoaxes" to recruit (or perhaps to intentionally provoke an incident) at the University of California Berkeley.
The FBI and Department of Education have both found that serious (at times deadly) hate crimes against racial, ethnic and religious minorities on campus have increased since President Trump took office and a group of conservative billionaires began funding efforts to depict universities as hostile to racially charged "free speech."
The New York Times has reported that neither the recruiter for the conservative organization nor the alleged perpetrator are students or employees of the University of California.
In spite of the minimal connection to the University--which responded professionally, condemned the attack, and worked with the police to arrest a suspect--President Trump and other conservative activists have expressed intent to use the incident as a pretext to threaten universities with cuts to federal funding unless universities do more to promote conservative views on campus.
UPDATE 3/4/2019: An advocacy group that works to protect academic freedom from efforts to politicize universities has prepared an online form to help those who wish to email their Senators to ask them to block President Trump's Executive Order.
UPDATE 3/6/2019: The AAUP opposes the executive order and has prepared an open letter that interested parties can sign here.
UPDATE 3/7/2019: The President of the University of Chicago, Robert Zimmmer, the former dean of Yale law school, Robert Post, and Professors Geoffrey R. Stone, Catherine J. Ross, and Noah Feldman have all spoken out against the proposed executive order. Teri Kanefield has published an interesting analysis of the proposal at CNN, linking it to Global Warming Denial and White Supremacy.
A Washington Post Editorial warns that the proposal violates conservative values, undermines conservatives' credibility and, if enacted, would create a bureaucracy that could be turned against religious institutions when Democrats retake the White House. And editorial in the conservative Washington Examiner makes a similar point about the relationship between academic freedom and religious freedom from government interference.
FIRE, a conservative advocacy organization which defends controversial speakers, is waiting for more details before expressing an official view on the proposal. However, individuals affiliated with FIRE have endorsed it.
Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, writing in Forbes, is strongly in favor of the proposal, arguing that federal funding for scientific research through the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation should be subjected to ideological litmus tests as a form of "quality control." AEI does not explain the connection between the quality of university research teams working on better treatments for cancer or technologies to keep U.S. military personnel and civilians safe and the extent to which undergraduate student groups on campus choose to provide a platform for Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter's views on sex. Nor does he express any of conservatives' usual skepticism of top down government control.
In an essay defending Trump's proposed executive order in Inside Higher Education, Hess misunderstands a survey by FIRE of "self-censorship" by students on campus, which found that 54% of students say they sometimes pause before speaking every thought that occurs to them. The leading reasons students "self-censor," according to the survey, are because they believe they might be wrong and are concerned about their peers judging them. Students were not concerned about any formal sanction from the university for deviating from an approved ideology, but rather were worried that if they appeared foolish in public, they might lose social status with their peers. Some students also point to tact, empathy, and basic norms of decency as reasons to choose their words wisely. The same survey found that "Almost all students (92%) agree that it is important to be part of a campus community where they are exposed to the ideas and opinions of other students" and that "(87%) feel comfortable sharing ideas and opinions in their college classrooms." This is not strong evidence of problems on campus. Hess also incongruously cites the AAUP, which (as noted above and below) unequivocally opposes federal regulation such as Trump's proposed executive order that would strip universities of autonomy.
Adam Kissel, formerly at the Koch Foundation, FIRE, and the the Department of Education, is only slightly less enthusiastic in his support for Trump's proposed executive order. Writing in the National Review, Kissel argues that although in an ideal world the federal government would spend nothing funding scientific research, conservatives would be justified politicizing federal research funding as retaliation for liberal efforts to deny federal research funding to principal investigators who engage in sexual harassment, inadequate due process for those accused of sexual harassment on campus, overly burdensome internal review boards that are established to ensure that scientific research does not unethically harm human test subjects, and campus speech codes meant to prevent harassment and emotional abuse. Kissel argues that conservative control of universities should be enforced through courts rather than an administrative agency to ensure that conservative advocacy groups continue to have influence even if Democrats take control of the White House.
February 23, 2019
A fascinating, albeit intemperate and sensationalist, perspective on the history of conservative activism on college campuses is available here.
The essay discusses strategies such as top-down national campaigns funded by wealthy donors, programming crafted by national organizations staffed by well compensated and experienced political operatives with ties to the Republican party, and executed on particular campuses by (sometimes less than fully autonomous) local campus chapters with substantial assistance from national organizations. Many of the campaigns featured subtle exploitation of racial anxieties, appeals to anger, and intentional efforts to upset political opponents so that their reactions can be recorded and used for propaganda purposes.
As previously reported, and confirmed by numerous press stories and leaked documents (see e.g., here and here) many of these strategies continue to be used on campus by many of the same or similar conservative organizations today.
Unfortunately, the essay counter-productively uses militant language to encourage students to "combat" these "threats." Physical violence is both morally wrong and strategically ineffective: it only affirms conservative activists' narrative of victimization. Indeed, a conservative activist group recently scored a major public relations victory after a campus recruiter from a national organization tabling at Berkeley was struck in the face by a passerby who may have been offended by the organization's racially charged slogans about "hate crime hoaxes." This particular conservative group has been accused by rival conservatives of allegedly condoning racism and sexual assault, and criticized for maintaining a McCarthyist Professor Watchlist.
February 20, 2019
Should law schools be penalized for admitting students from wealthy families who are not motivated to work? (Michael Simkovic)
Scott F. Norberg argues for a law school accreditation standard tied to student employment outcomes. The proposal is interesting, and may have some advantages over a standard tied to bar passage rates, for example because it does not give state bars--who can make the bar exam more or less challenging and have incentives to strengthen barriers to entry--excessive control over access to legal education. However, there are several potential concerns.
Employment is systematically higher among certain demographic groups across education levels for reasons that have little to do with value added by law school. An employment-outcomes based standard could encourage law schools to focus on admitting groups with higher expected employment.
February 01, 2019
Brian Leiter and Paul Caron both recently noted a study by Adam Chilton, Jonathan Masur, and Kyle Rozema which argues that law schools can increase average faculty productivity by making it harder for tenure track faculty to get tenure. While this seems plausible, denying tenure more often is no free lunch.
A highly regarded study by Ron Ehrenberg (published in the Review of Economics and Statistics) found that professors place a high monetary value on tenure, and a university that unilaterally eliminated tenure would either have to pay more in salary and bonus or suffer a loss in faculty quality. After controlling for faculty quality, university rank, and cost of living, university economics departments that are less likely to offer faculty tenure must pay untenured faculty more, in part to compensate for increased risk. Reduced tenure rates is associated with higher productivity, but it is costly.
It's easy to understand why. A promising candidate with offers from otherwise comparable universities A and B would be unlikely to take an offer from A knowing that A denies tenure 70 percent of the time while B only denies tenure 10 percent of the time.
Faculty who are untenured and at an institution with high tenure denial rates would also have strong incentives to spend their most productive years avoiding publishing anything that might upset private sector employers who could give them a soft landing in the event that they are denied tenure. Quantitative measures of faculty "productivity" based on number of citations and publications don't capture the harmful qualitative shift this would produce in faculty research, particularly in an area like law.
There are numerous other advantages to tenure (and disadvantages to weakening it), which I've discussed here and here, including protecting intelletual freedom, encouraging faculty to share rather than hoard knowledge, promoting investment in specialized skills, aligning faculty and institutional incentives, increasing the rigor of teaching and improving outcomes for students (compared to use of adjuncts).
December 19, 2018
Samuel Moyn (Yale): Law schools are too focused on public law to serve the public interest (Michael Simkovic)
In a thought provoking essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Professor Samuel Moyn argues that law schools' focus on judge made law in general, and the Supreme Court in particular, is counterproductive especially when justified on ostensibly progressive grounds. Offline, Professor Moyn suggested that, to better help students understand how the legal system influences the distribution of economic and political power, progressives should focus more on teaching business law subjects like taxation and anti-trust.
Samuel Moyn, Law Schools Are Bad for Democracy: They whitewash the grubby scramble for power, Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 16, 2018.
December 16, 2018
The consulting firm McKinsey is a leading employer of graduates of elite law schools, business schools, medical schools, and other professional programs. The New York Times recently ran a piece attempting to link McKinsey to regimes that abuse human rights. McKinsey's response appears below.
Readers of this blog are probably familiar with how uneven in quality New York Times coverage can be in the higher education context. I would encourage readers not to jump to conclusions about McKinsey based on N.Y. Times coverage.
Note: I worked as consultant at McKinsey in New York approximately 10 years ago. I have published in the N.Y. Times within the last 3 years.
November 02, 2018
After crippling teachers unions in Wisconsin, the Republican controlled state government moved to slash education budgets and reduce educators' autonomy, both in K-12 education and in higher education. Many experienced teachers have left the state or left education all together. Student performance deteriorated.
Prominent professors have complained about changes to tenure standards which they say constitute the elimination of tenure or its substitution with "fake tenure." A new law essentially forced the university to relinquish any semblance of academic standards with respect to approval of outside speakers. It also subjects students, faculty, and administrators to potentially harsh discipline for disagreeing with political leaders or powerful donors.
Massive budget cuts triggered efforts to eliminate academic programs, mainly in social sciences and the humanities. Some programs have been given a stay of execution only through professors taking on such heavy teaching loads that academic research will grind to a halt.
Faculty are increasingly leaving for greener pastures, and the state--already suffering economically--risks continuing losses of educated professionals and the tax revenue and economic benefits they bring.
Wisconsin could be the canary in the coal mine as the politics of hostility to education go national. As recent federal tax legislation shows, not even well-endowed private universities are immune from political pressure.
On the other hand, there is evidence of a political backlash in Wisconsin as voters increasingly support local property tax increases to fund investments in educaiton. Political hostility to education may be limited to the extent that even voters focused on (largely trumped up) "cultural" issues will eventually reject disinvestment policies that damage the economy.
UPDATE Nov 4, 2018: Jason Yackee (Wisconsin) responded by email to the post above. Professor Yackee views things in Wisconsin as better than they seem, at least on the Madison campus. Yackee also argues that there was overcapacity in parts of the University of Wisconsin system and that budget cuts on some campuses serving smaller communities (or perhaps closures) make sense. I have posted Profesor Yackee's email below, with his permission. My skeptical reaction appears below Yackee's letter.