Thursday, February 17, 2011

U. Cal. academics: Jews bad; Muslims good

One hundred faculty members at UC Irvine signed a letter last week asking Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to drop the charges against 11 Muslim students, 8 from UC Irvine and 3 from UC Riverside, who last year disrupted a speech on campus by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. On February 4, the DA's office announced that it was charging each student with "one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one misdemeanor count of disturbance of a meeting."

According to the District Attorney, the students planned the disruption several days in advance. At the event, on Feb. 10, 2010, the first student to stand up and interrupt Oren's speech allegedly said, "Michael Oren, propagating murder is not free speech." Another defendant allegedly said, "Michael Oren you are a war criminal," while another said, "You sir are an accomplice to genocide."

"This case is being filed because there was an organized attempt to squelch the speaker, who was invited to speak to a group at UCI," Rackauckas said in a statement announcing the charges. "These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution."

In their letter, the faculty members countered that the students have already been sufficiently disciplined by the university. In addition to individual punishments, the Muslim Student Union was suspended from being a student organization for an academic quarter. [A whole quarter!]

"The use of the criminal justice system will be detrimental to our campus as it inherently will be divisive and risk undoing the healing process which has occurred over the last year," the letter reads. "It also sets a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against non-violent protests on campus."

The letter's signatories include five deans and 14 Chancellor's Professors and Distinguished Professors.

In an interview with TPM, Susan Schroeder, the DA's chief of staff, emphasized that the students are not being prosecuted for protesting. "Protesting is legal," she said.

Schroeder called the students' actions "an organized effort, days prior to the event, to shut down the speech." As a result, Schroeder said, the students deprived the speaker and the audience of their first amendment rights, "and that's against the law." As examples of what the students could have done to protest the speech without breaking the law, Schroeder suggested they could have handed out leaflets, worn t-shirts or asked hostile questions during a Q & A section.

Schroeder also pointed out that the UC Irvine police made the arrests the night of Oren's speech, and brought the case to the DA's office. As a result, the office had a duty to evaluate whether the law was broken. "We just want people to accept responsibility for what they did," she said.

That said, Schroeder also suggested that the consequences of not prosecuting were grave. "If we don't enforce this law we're basically looking at anarchy and chaos," Schroeder said. "It doesn't matter, if we had a bunch of black students who shut down a bunch of Klu Klux Klan members at a place or vice versa."

Schroeder said the DA's office has not been in contact with the Embassy of Israel about the charges. When asked about the faculty letter, she said, "we cant allow public opinion to decide how we enforce the law." ...

The students are scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on March 11.


Some great examples of free college education

Would you like your college education to be free? Sure, who wouldn't? Well, the people of Tunisia and Egypt are learning that whenever the government supplies something, it is never really "free."

In Tunisia, "free" university education is guaranteed to anyone who passes the government's exams at the end of high school. Largely as a result of this, the number of Tunisians who graduated college more than tripled in the last ten years. This may sound like a good thing, but it has produced a glut of graduates.

Fifty-Seven percent of young Tunisians entering the labor market are college educated. This is while only 30 percent of Americans earn a college degree by the time they are 27. Recent Tunisian college grads have an unemployment rate approximately three times higher than the national average of 15 percent. This is up ninefold from 1994.

The reason for this is not necessarily because having a college education hinders people in getting a job, but because so many college grads are entering the labor market at a time when there are few jobs.

Additionally, government domination of the educational system discourages economic growth. The Tunisian Ministry of Education decides what major students will have. Students are not allowed to change fields during their course of study. This control reduces the type of expertise necessary to create successful businesses.

The Tunisian educational system is also enormously expensive. Of Tunisia's GDP, 7.2 percent is spent on education, more than any European or North American country beside Denmark and Iceland, which also spends 7.2 percent of its GDP on education. Tunisia's educational results, however, appear to be horrible. A 2002 UNESCO report puts its graduation rate at about 30 percent.

Having such a large number of unemployed youths can be dangerous. As George Mason University sociologist Jack A. Goldstone notes, "Educated youth have been in the vanguard of rebellions against authority certainly since the French Revolution and in some cases even earlier."

In fact, the Tunisian protests began after a recent graduate killed himself because government authorities confiscated his fruit stand when they discovered he did not have an "official" permit. The BBC reported that most of the early protesters were unemployed recent graduates.

Like Tunisia, Egypt also has a massive youth-unemployment problem. Unsurprisingly, it also has a system of "free" college education.

In Egypt, enrollment in tertiary education increased from 14 percent in 1990 to approximately 35 percent in 2005. Yet this has not helped the unemployment rate among recent grads. The national Egyptian unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, comparable to the United States, but the unemployment rate for people between the ages of 15 and 29 is 87.2 percent. College graduates, largely because of their age, have a ten times higher unemployment rate than for those who did not attend college.

The Egyptian government also rigidly controls the educational system, just like in Tunisia. A centralized government committee controls decisions regarding curriculum, program development, and deployment of faculty and staff for institutions of higher learning across the entire country. Private universities were only legalized in 1992, and enrollment is very small.

In Egypt, educational expenditures were 3.7 percent of GDP in 2007. By most accounts the Egyptian education system is underfunded. Its educational standards were called "abysmal" by the Economist. Fewer than half of all students graduate, and many universities are viewed as diploma mills.

Although the Egyptian government may have avoided some of the economic costs of "free" higher education that the Tunisian government has incurred, it has not avoided the social costs.

We, in America, might not be as far away from the problems of Tunisia and Egypt as some may be inclined to think.

From 1997 to 2007, full-time enrollment in US tertiary education increased 34 percent. The average college student graduates with $24,000 in debt, a 40 percent real increase from 1997. In 2008, only 57 percent of students enrolled in a four year college graduated within six years. The unemployment rate for 16 to 24-year-olds is 52 percent. The underemployed as a group may be as large as the unemployed in America. For example, in 1970 only 3 percent of mail carriers had a bachelor's degree, while today the number is 12 percent.

Although our case may not be as extreme as that of Tunisia or Egypt, we are headed in the same direction. And just like in Tunisia and Egypt, our education bubble is fueled by governmental policy.

Government accreditation laws keep potential institutions of higher education out of the market, which allows the institutions already in the market to raise their prices. Accreditation institutions can also force institutions of higher education to make changes that increase costs. For instance, the American Bar Association forced the University of Colorado Law School to increase the number of electrical outlets in the library and to construct an instructional court room, which the university claimed caused them to increase tuition.

Government aid also helps institutions of higher education inflate prices. For instance, although the cost of higher education in real dollars increased by 68 percent between 1986 and 2006, when increased government aid is accounted for the real cost to the student increased by only 29 percent. The ceiling of how much students are able to pay is artificially raised, allowing the colleges to charge more.

Also, if a student defaults on a loan backed by the government, which is by far the most common kind of loan, the lender does not bear the loss, the government does. This obviously encourages the lenders to lend more freely than they otherwise would. Enormous losses have been socialized. There is currently $730 billion of outstanding student-loan debt, and the overwhelming majority of losses will be borne by the government if it is not repaid. Only 40 percent of all student debt is being actively repaid.

There are more causes to the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt than just the higher-education bubble, but the effect it has had cannot be ignored. We could be bringing ourselves dangerously close to the point when all the people of our country have to learn, one way or another, that nothing the government provides is ever free.


Want to get your child into a decent British school? Prepare for war

What the horror of government schools leads to

Between now and the first week of March, there will be much dodging and much gloating at the school gates. The great 11-plus showdown is entering its denouement.

From today, letters go out from grammar and private schools to say whose progeny has won the race for the most prestigious places. There’s no doubt that in the multiple choice of life, the first big test for many comes if their parents decide to try to push them into a selective school at the age of 11.

This year, it is more brutal than ever. Recession has driven more middle-class parents towards the few remaining grammar schools, and those willing to pay want to pay only for the best. Anywhere there are pockets of middle-class parents with even a nod to Tiger Mother-ish tendencies becomes a bloody battlefield.

Military strategies include coaching, styling, the setting up of fake hobbies, playing obscure musical instruments, rehearsing interview techniques and even taking fake exams in big halls.

Many schools now boast a ten-to-one ratio of applicants to places. And the more competitive the entry process, the ‘cockier the attitude of the school’, says an Essex mother, who bemoans the fact that some have started asking pretentious ‘Oxbridge-type questions’ of would-be pupils.

She recalls her ten-year-old daughter’s experience at the hands of ‘two men in tweedy jackets acting like they were in Dead Poets’ Society, with their feet up on the desk’, asking her whether she would rather live on a hill or in a valley, then staring out of the window while she struggled to reply.

Schools would counter that in an age of coaching, only a really left-field question can discover a child’s true self. That’s just what worries the parents.

‘My son Alex was asked which three people he’d have at his fantasy dinner party,’ says Liz Leonard, a Wandsworth mother. ‘By the time he told me he’d answered [teenage pop star] Justin Bieber and someone who plays for Arsenal, I’d given up hope. I’d given him three practice interviews myself, but you can’t prepare for everything.’

The tortuous process kicks off with registration, for which private schools collect an average fee of about £100. (Bear in mind most parents will register for at least four schools.)

‘The worst application form we got was four sides of A4, about three of which were for Frank’s “achievements”. I’m not sure I could fill that, and I’m a grown-up,’ says one Cambridge parent.

‘We ended up exaggerating hideously. A passing interest in stars had to be turned into a passion for astronomy, meaning we had to buy books, a telescope and talk about it all the time before the interview.’

Needless to say, many middle-class parents are making their children’s lives hell over the whole thing. By now, coaching will have been under way for months, and in some cases years. ‘Two years of Saturday mornings’ seems to be an 11-plus catchphrase. Even some expensive private preparatory schools now advise parents to hire home tutors.

At state primaries it is now accepted wisdom that all but the genius children of teachers need coaching to get into a grammar or a competitive private school. And even the coaches are selective — they’ll take on only the most promising pupils so they can claim a 100 per cent success rate, the Cambridge mother says. ‘We had a lovely guy,’ she adds. ‘But we are talking about 20 sessions of maths at £40 a pop.’

Not that many parents admit to coaching. It’s become common practice at the school gates to deny it, let alone share recommendations.

The exams themselves are arduous. Each school has four papers: maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning — each of about an hour’s duration. So a ten-year-old whose parents have applied to four private schools might face 16 hours of exams.

They won’t necessarily be that formulaic, either — canny schools have started commissioning their own papers. But you can prepare for the scary seating arrangements. ‘We paid £65 to have a practice exam in a hall with other children so that Alex wouldn’t feel daunted by the sight of 250 rival candidates sitting in alphabetic rows and being barked at with a megaphone,’ says Liz Leonard.

‘Some schools make a real effort, assigning elder children to look after young ones, and giving them doughnuts and things. But others are just intimidating,’ adds another parent. ‘At one school, my daughter vomited with nerves and cried when she came out because she thought she’d let us down. I felt so guilty.’

Then another harsh moment — the call to interview. Or, worse, no call. ‘One mother whose son didn’t get an interview at her first-choice school hasn’t dropped him off at his primary since,’ says a fellow parent. ‘Her husband has to. She can’t face it.’

Many schools interview the parents, too, meaning they have to decide not just what the child should wear, but what they’re going to wear. ‘We put Alex in his school uniform so he could wear his Form Captain badge,’ says one mother. ‘They’re not going to know it’s not current.’

But beware: the interviewers can be ruthless. ‘Alex was asked what his parents did, and which school did he really want to go to,’ the mother adds. ‘They always ask that when the parents are out of earshot.’

This is where those niche interests come into their own. If your offspring is not a maths whizz, they’d better be a hotshot at the tuba. And remember, no school with an organ will turn down a child who can play one.

Former Government Inspector of Schools Chris Woodhead says: ‘It’s parents who create the stress. And the cause of it is unrealistic expectations. ‘It is the most difficult thing to be realistic about your own child’s ability, personality and talents, but you don’t want them to scrape in somewhere where they won’t be happy.’

The coaching craze, he adds, ‘in the case of grammar schools, is the inevitable consequence of demand exceeding supply. It would be solved by David Cameron discovering his Conservative convictions and creating some more’.

But on a positive note, human nature has a delightful habit of seeing the upside of things unlikely to work out. Says Liz Leonard of the school where her son name-dropped Justin Bieber as his ideal dinner party guest: ‘I don’t want him to go there anyway. The other parents I met were far too pushy.’


No comments: