Saturday, June 17, 2006

A university is forced to treat white professors equally

Talk about back wages due: A federal judge in Phoenix this month said that Northern Arizona University owes $1.4 million to a group of professors who have been pursuing justice through the courts since 1995. The 40 teachers, all white men, argued that they were discriminated against when the public university gave raises to minority and female faculty members in the early 1990s but not to white males. Not only that--the plaintiffs said in a Title VII civil-rights suit--the salary bumps resulted in some favored faculty members earning more than white men in comparable positions.

The lawsuit and its outcome are yet another striking illustration of the perils of affirmative action, with its often contorted logic of redress and blame and its tendency to commit exactly the sort of discrimination that it was designed to prevent.

The university may persuade U.S. District Court judge Robert Broomfield to lower the bill for what is effectively back pay to the professors. But the school is also facing a claim for the plaintiffs' legal expenses. Their attorney, Jess Lorona, tells us that, with more than a decade of litigating on both sides totted up, the cost to Arizona taxpayers could soar to $2.5 million.

What happened here? The professors' victory, it should be said, is not a sweeping defeat of affirmative action, and the plaintiffs didn't ask for one. The university maintains that when it raised pay for certain faculty it was simply following a federal mandate to eliminate race or gender wage disparities. What got the school in trouble was not "catch up" payments per se but the way it made them. Even so, "the reverberations are going to be tremendous," attorney Lorona predicts. He explains that this decision "sets out case law about what needs to be done when you're trying to cure pay inequity."

Lesson One: You should probably prove that discrimination exists rather than just infer it from dodgy statistics. In 1993, the university's then-president, Eugene M. Hughes, assumed there had been discrimination, based partly on a study he'd commissioned. The study used salaries at other schools to help determine a theoretical median wage that should prevail at Northern Arizona. A lot of white males there fell below the median, but the significant finding for President Hughes was the one that showed minorities and women under a "predicted" par.

As Judge Broomfield noted in 2004, the initial study ignored factors such as whether people held doctorates. At any rate, the study's own figures indicated that white faculty were earning only about $87 a year more than minorities, and men were making about $751 more than women. Mr. Hughes's solution: raises of up to $3,000 for minorities and $2,400 for women. White men got nada.

So here's Lesson Two and the winning issue in this case: If you want to pay "catch up" wages to some employees, don't overcompensate to the point where they draw ahead for no reason other than their race or gender. As Andrew Kleinfeld, a judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in his 2002 opinion lambasting Mr. Hughes: "The scheme here was straightforward: Minorities are gold, women are silver, white men are bronze. . . . [E]veryone in America knows that the Constitution prohibits the government from treating some people better than others because they are of a preferred sex or ethnicity." Well, at least they now know in Arizona.


The tutoring industry has exploded, thanks to parents who can't let kids "fall behind."

Back in the 1980s, when Japanese financiers gobbled up U.S. companies like so many Pacmen, Americans became unnerved. Japanese society seemed scarily focused: The discipline in schools was so brutal that a tardy child might be crushed to death by the doors slamming shut precisely on time. We heard about juku, cram schools where Japanese children went each afternoon after regular classes for three hours more of academic drilling; Saturdays, too.

Americans joked about how we'd all be carrying yen in our wallets someday, but we could comfort ourselves--and people did--by saying that at least our children were individuals. American childhood was to be enjoyed, not grimly marched through with joyless eyes fixed on getting into the Ivy League.

Ah, but will you look at us now? We're building a juku system of our own. Millions of American children no longer have the time to kick a ball around after school because they're already late for an appointment with the math tutor or a "study skills" lesson or cognitive skills training or Spanish immersion or "reading comprehension support" or academic enrichment of one sort of another.

Tutoring as a concept is, of course, nothing new. Where would the 19th-century novel be without pretty young governesses presiding over schoolrooms in country estates? Outside of literature, tutors have long been a fixture of both ends of the bell curve. Struggling children got help to keep afloat at grade level; super-bright children might see tutors to challenge them further. What's happening now is different. Tutoring has become near ubiquitous among the panicky classes: middle- and upper-middle-income families where there are ample brains and money.

Today it's not uncommon for six-year-olds to receive private lessons in how to overcome "executive function issues," for if they can't handle the paperwork in first grade, heaven help them in the cutthroat bureaucracy of third. Middle-schoolers see tutors to boost their math and reading skills, and thus help them get into the right high school; high-schoolers sign up for private SAT prep. The parents of high-schoolers and college students hire specialists for as much as $500 a hour to tweak calculus skills or edit essays. Some families hire tutors in Bangalore because they're available on email at midnight and cost a fraction of what it would take to bring a teacher to the house.

"In 1989 I would mumble, 'I'm a tutor,' and hang my head a little, because it seemed a marginal job," says David Kahn, who runs a tutoring company in Manhattan. "People used to think it meant I was poor, and now they think it means I'm rich."

There is no real mystery about why tutoring has become such a growth industry. It can be traced in part to the proliferation of standardized tests. At Kaplan, the biggest corporate tutor, the number of students in its test prep and after-school programs has more than doubled since 1998. According to the research firm Eduventures, schools spent $879 million on corporate tutoring and test prep in the 2004/2005 academic year--25.2% more than the year before. Uncle Sam is giving tutoring a boost too. Under No Child Left Behind, the federal government pays for the tutoring of any kid in a failing school. (This market in tutoring for low-income students barely existed six years ago.) In all, Americans spend more than $4 billion a year on tutoring.

The propelling force behind this revenue stream is, of course, modern parents: a whole generation of anxious, competitive, aspirational parents who agonize about whether their children are doing well enough, or missing out on anything, or, God forbid, falling behind in some crucial way.

At the park the other day, I met a woman who had taken the afternoon off to "do sports" with her son. This consisted of her bouncing a ball toward him and waiting for him to bounce it back. She fretted openly that she had been too slow in having the boy taught to play basketball. She worried that it might already be too late for him to win a place on a particular high-status private-school team. "Some of those other kids are pretty good," she said uneasily of the competition, which, like her son, is about four years old. It's the perception of relative disadvantage that makes such situations poignant. If every other four-year-old in that woman's milieu is taking basketball lessons, of course her son will fall "behind."

It is a truth universally acknowledged among teachers and tutors that modern parents want their children to do exceptionally well. They demand A's, not B's. They expect stratospheric SAT scores. Anecdote suggests, however, that they seldom want to spend any time in pursuit of these goals themselves. "I told one family they were wasting their money. The parents told me to keep doing it anyway," says Chuck Hoag, a private-school math teacher who tutors after hours in suburban Maryland. According to Mr. Hoag, the tutee in question could have done well with just 15 minutes a night of his parents' attention. He says gloomily: "So many parents seem [to be] saying, 'I'm living up to my responsibility by giving my child a tutor.'"

But parents are not simply shirking their own responsibility, they are encouraging kids not to take any. "There is a tutor culture \[of\] parents who don't let their children fail once in a while. They're scared it'll look bad on their record," says Caleb Rossiter, a professor at American University, who has noticed this trend even on the college level. This semester, he gave a failing grade to a lackadaisical student. The girl's mother, a lawyer, immediately phoned: "She said, 'We want to challenge this grade. My daughter can't afford to flunk.'" When Mr. Rossiter declined to change the girl's grade, the family asked about finding a tutor. "I said, 'I am her tutor,'" he laughs. "I have office hours. You're paying $40,000 a year, and yet your daughter has never once come to see me."

Mr. Rossiter's experience hints at a darker trend of which mass tutoring is only a symptom: the spread of a high-grade, get-ahead academic ethos that is decoupled from an actual, mind-broadening education. On NPR recently, a reporter asked 87-year-old Hazel Haley, who just retired after 67 years of teaching English in a Florida high school, how today's teenagers differed from the ones she taught generations ago. She gave this dispiriting response: "Today's young people [think], 'I'll learn it for the test, I'll do well on the test, and then I will flush it.' "

Mr. Kahn, the Manhattan tutor, notices the same thing. He sees a distressing number of children who are "completely burnt out and won't accomplish anything in college because they were driven through high school the way an associate is driven through a law firm." "For many kids," Mr. Kahn says, "getting into college is such an ordeal that once they're there, they just kick back." Shades of juku again: In Japan, cram schools focus on getting into university, not necessarily getting much out of it. It's a shame that we're importing that frame of mind.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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