Friday, 3 December 2004

Unrest in the forest?

Tucked into the omnibus appropriations bill passed a few weekends ago, there was a little noticed provision designating the oak as America’s national tree.

It would have been the maple, but I understand that one’s already taken.

Free Credit Report

A recent amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) provide you with a free copy of your credit report, upon your request, once per year.

To prevent them from being overwhelmed with requests, the free reports are being phased in over a nine month period, from Dec. 1, 2004 to Sept. 1, 2005, depending on your state of residence.

For more information, visit the FTC‘s page, or go to (No link provided, since that web server rejects requests with a HTTP_REFERER header from any site other than,,, or, presumably to thwart phishing attacks.)

Again on the leftward tilt of universities

Chris just commented on this extensively, but this topic seems to be all over the place (and I mentioned it earlier this week, however briefly). The Economist has an article as well by their “Lexington” on this issue of ideological bias in the universities. A quote:

This is profoundly unhealthy per se. Debating chambers are becoming echo chambers. Students hear only one side of the story on everything from abortion (good) to the rise of the West (bad). It is notable that the surveys show far more conservatives in the more rigorous disciplines such as economics than in the vaguer 1960s “ologies”. Yet, as George Will pointed out in the Washington Post this week, this monotheism is also limiting universities’ ability to influence the wider intellectual culture. In John Kennedy’s day, there were so many profs in Washington that it was said the waters of the Charles flowed into the Potomac. These days, academia is marginalised in the capital—unless, of course, you count all the Straussian conservative intellectuals in think-tanks who left academia because they thought it was rigged against them.

Bias in universities is hard to correct because it is usually not overt: it has to do with prejudice about which topics are worth studying and what values are worth holding. Stephen Balch, the president of the conservative National Association of Scholars, argues that university faculties suffer from the same political problems as the “small republics” described in Federalist 10: a motivated majority within the faculty finds it easy to monopolise decision-making and squeeze out minorities.

The more indeterminate the discipline, the more it tilts left.

Of course, I like the quote because it adds to one of my own pet theories: the more indeterminate the discipline, the more it tilts left.

There are some on the right that rather loudly oppose affirmative action in all its forms, except in academia, where they want some form of preferences for the right. This seems like a bad idea to me, and Chris said it better than I can below: “Replacing liberal ideologues who can’t keep their lectures and their leftism separate with right-wingers with similar faults is no solution.”

It’s not as much of a threat in my discipline, economics, as it is in other fields. As my Thought professor has pointed out at great length, the economic discipline has created a “little box” which it defines as theory. The box is supposedly used as a means of keeping ideas that aren’t fully explainable out of the body of theory. There’s also a nearly complete positive correlation in favor of those ideas that can be expressed using math. Again leading to my theory about how indeterminate a discipline is sets its leftward tilt.

Back to the academic bias well

Greg Ransom and Glenn Reynolds are among those linking to Jeff Jacoby’s Boston Globe column on a survey conducted on behalf of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni that indicates that students perceive bias in the classroom environment at elite liberal arts colleges and universities; a similar perspective appears today at

Is political bias a problem in American college classrooms? If so, am I part of the problem?

Among the findings of the ACTA survey:

* 48% report campus presentations on political issues that “seem totally one-sided.”
* 46% say professors “use the classroom to present their personal political views.”
* 42% of students fault reading assignments for presenting only one side of a controversial issue.

The survey also indicates that political comments are consistently partisan. The survey, which was conducted just before and after the American presidential election, found that 68% of the students reported negative remarks in class about Pres. George Bush while 62% said professors praised Sen. John Kerry. ...

74% of students said professors made positive remarks about liberals while 47% reported negative comments about conservatives.

One wonders, somewhat, about issues of question wording (for example, if we invite a third-party presidential candidate to speak on campus, does that constitute a “totally one-sided” presentation?) and selection (what percentage of students said professors made negative remarks about Kerry or praise of Bush?). The lack of a straightforward report on the survey on the website is troublesome, to say the least, and I’m not sure you can infer much based on an average of 12 or 13 interviews per college, particularly without knowing the mode of interview or how interviewees were selected.

Nonetheless, there are a few noteworthy issues here worth discussing; first, course readers like the one I use for my introductory American government class rarely include articles supporting both sides of a particular issue, and I can’t assign a “conservative” reading on campaign finance reform if the only one in the book is from The Nation. Nor, for that matter, can I assign a “liberal” reading on homeland security, since the ones in the book are both from The Economist. Should I include a reading from David Duke to offset the pro-civil rights articles? At some point, balance becomes silly.

Second, the perception that the “job” of the liberal arts college professor is to indoctrinate students in political liberalism, rather than guiding students to knowledge through justified true belief and promoting the ability to think critically about conflicting ideas and values, is distressingly common on college and university campuses. A friend (and fellow Ph.D. student) and I once talked about the problem inherent when people who teach political science don’t even consider the political views of one of the two major parties to be legitimate.

All that said, I’m damned if I know what the solution is. Replacing liberal ideologues who can’t keep their lectures and their leftism separate with right-wingers with similar faults is no solution. Nor is a witch hunt against professors who, after all, are human and—over the course of 100+ hours of lecturing a semester—are probably going to say at least a couple of things that reflect something other than the objective material of the class. I like to think I do a good job balancing these things (one of the best compliments I’ve ever received teaching was from a bright student who “couldn’t figure out” what I was), but I also know I don’t always succeed.

The unkindest Cut

Mark the Pundit advances a theory about David Cutcliffe’s hiring-and-firing that has at least a minor whiff of plausibility (þ James Joyner):

A theory on the rise and fall of David Cutcliffe at Ole Miss.

I wonder if Ole Miss hired Cutcliffe for the sole reason that they knew that it was a good chance he could land Eli Manning? After all, Cutcliffe recruited and coached brother Peyton at Tennessee, and Peyton does think highly of Cutcliffe. Now, when Peyton was recruited he signaled he would not sign with Ole Miss since his father Archie played there and Peyton did not want the extra pressure of playing where Pop did. However, if Eli had any such reservations, I did not hear about them. In fact, I think Eli was probably more reluctant to follow Peyton’s footsteps at Tennessee. So what does Ole Miss do? They lure away Cutcliffe from Tennessee as a way to show Eli that Ole Miss’s program was going to take a direction that could land him in the pros just like his brother. Ole Miss needed a coach at the time, so why not hire a man who could land one of the most sought after recruits in the country? Apparently it worked. Eli has a God-like stature at Ole Miss, and he is now a multimillionaire playing for the New York Giants. Coach Cutcliffe delivered the goods, but in the eyes of Ole Miss he outlived his usefullness.

I certainly think the Eli situation was a factor that helped Cutcliffe win the job, but I’m not sure it explains the firing so much as Pete Boone’s apparent antipathy toward Cutcliffe and his desire to get his “own guy” in the job. Plus, anyone who’s followed the last six years of Ole Miss football has to wonder about the annual November slump and inexplicable losses to middling teams over the past few years, like unidimensional Texas Tech, limited-talent Memphis, and whatever the hell happened to the team at Wyoming, not to mention the Music City Bowl fiasco against West Virginia. Inexplicably, my dubbing of Cutcliffe as the “master of the prevent offense” never seemed to catch on, but it certainly characterized much of the play under every QB.

(All that said, I still am not at all convinced the firing made a lot of sense, unless there’s stuff we don’t know coming down the pike, as Kornheiser mentioned yesterday as a possible caveat before he and Wilbon went on a tear insulting the decision by Boone and Robert Khayat.)

Mark also reminds me why I wasn’t all that broken up when the whole Petrino thing was going down at Auburn. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy… (The annoying part is that I think the AP will give Tubby half the national title just because the sportswriters like complaining about the BCS—and what better way to show it’s broken than to put their thumb on the scale a bit?)

Byrd plays curriculum designer

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) apparently added a rider ($) to the FY2005 appropriations bill requiring any educational institution receiving federal aid to have some sort of “instructional program on the U.S. Constitution” every September 17, according to today’s Chronicle of Higher Education daily update. (Here’s a link for people not blowing $85/year on the Chronicle.)

Perhaps we political scientists (who, doubtless, will be the individuals subject to this unfunded mandate) should also devote another day—say, December 3—to teaching about the practice of including non-germane provisions in conference reports, thus circumventing the committee system and the rest of the ordinary legislative process. I feel the need for a “teach-in” already.

Pete Boone opens up the phone book

The Clarion-Ledger and Commercial Appeal both report that Ole Miss AD Pete Boone is looking at ousted Florida coach Ron Zook and ex-Notre Dame coach Ty Willingham as candidates to replace fired head coach David Cutcliffe, while speculation north of the state line also has current Memphis coach Tommy West on the short list, the Biloxi Sun-Herald adds Darrell Dickey of North Texas and Butch Davis to the mix, and the Gainesville Sun has Bobby Petrino and Rick Neuheisel as candidates for the Ole Miss job. (In other words, most everyone is just blindly speculating who Boone is after at this point.)

In other Rebel football news, Boone had a rather heated meeting with about sixty players on the Ole Miss football team that sort of captures the whole week in a nutshell. And who says the Rebels don’t turn out smart kids?

“People are mad,” [junior defensive tackle McKinley] Boykin said. “For a coach to have a good year and be the coach of the year, and have a bad year and then fire him, that's pretty messed up. Whatever coach comes in, I hope he knows what he's getting into.”

I have no doubt about that, at least…

Bonds was juiced, news at 11

In what has to be about the most unsurprising other-shoe-drop since the Michael Jackson child abuse allegations, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (via that San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds (unknowingly, he alleges) used performance-enhancing drugs supplied to him by his trainer, according to sealed grand jury testimony leaked by prosecutors obtained by the newspaper. Coupled with Jason and Jeremy Giambi’s admissions that they used steroids supplied by Bonds’ trainer, things aren’t looking good for baseball’s image.

A larger issue here, pointed out by David Pinto, is that these leaks are likely to undermine the grand jury system—not just in this case, but in a lot of other cases too. Given that the Justice Department is not only responsible for prosecuting this case, but investigating grand jury leaks (which, pretty much by definition, can only come from prosecutors, as no other parties have unrestricted access to the transcripts), the “fox guarding the henhouse” aspect of these leak investigations does not fill one with much confidence about the integrity of the grand jury system.

Update: Steven Taylor questions the sanity of Bonds’ reported decision to use unknown substances (steroids or not) obtained from a guy who lived in his car. No kidding. David Pinto recommends reading the whole thing for a glimpse into Bonds’ mindset, and asks the $64,000 question—what does Bud Selig do about these revelations?

More on the dollar

Talk about the dollar has been all the rage these days. The Economist is leading with it as an issue this week. Seeing the dollar fall this much is bothersome—and may be very bad news, for all I know—but it still seems to be about forcing China to break that peg. As for The Economist’s suggestion that we focus on the budget deficit, as long as it’s confined to spending restraint, I agree. The tax cuts, though, need to stay in place to force the issue of entitlement reform. Future tax increases—and there will be future tax increases—should be implemented once that’s been accomplished. Here’s what The Economist had to say:

In a free market, without the massive support of Asian central banks, the dollar would be far weaker. In any case, such support has its limits, and the dollar now seems likely to fall further. How harmful will the economic consequences be? Will it really undermine the dollar’s reserve-currency status?

Periods of dollar decline have often been unhappy for the world economy. The breakdown of Bretton Woods that led to a weaker dollar in the early 1970s was painful for all, contributing to rising inflation and recession. In the late 1980s, the falling dollar had few ill-effects on America’s economy, but it played a big role in inflating a bubble in Japan by forcing Japanese authorities to slash interest rates.

This time round, it is a bad sign that everybody is trying to point the finger of blame at somebody else. America says its external deficit is mainly due to sluggish growth in Europe and Japan, and to the fact that China is pegging its exchange rate too low. Europe, alarmed at the “brutal” rise in the euro, says that America’s high public borrowing and low household saving are the real culprits.

There is something to both these claims. China and other Asian economies should indeed let their currencies rise, relieving pressure on the euro. It is also true that Asia is partly to blame for America’s consumer binge: its central banks’ large purchases of Treasury bonds have depressed bond yields, encouraging households in the United States to take out bigger mortgages and spend the cash. And Europe needs to accept, as it is unwilling to, that a weaker dollar will be a good thing if it helps to shrink America’s deficit and curb the risk of a future crisis. At the same time, Europe is also right: most of the blame for America’s deficit lies at home. America needs to cut its budget deficit. It is not a question of either do this or do that: a cheaper dollar and higher American saving are both needed if a crunch is to be avoided.

We’ve been here before, as they note, in the 1980s. It wasn’t disastrous then, unless you happened to live in Japan, and it needn’t be disastrous this time either. China could start by breaking that peg and we could start by getting spending under control. Entitlement reform would be nice as well. Given that the unfunded liabilities for them are in the tens of trillions of dollars, they’re a far bigger long term problem.

Sold (subject to contract)

God willing, I will be out from under my house in Oxford (and its absurd $44.40/month water bill—thanks Bell Utilities of Mississippi!) by Christmas. Woo-hoo!