Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Unlearning Liberty

 Mike Adams

Despite their feigned interest in tolerance, college campuses are among the most punitive and stifling environments in the country. Students are routinely punished for "offenses" ranging from penning mild satire to holding the wrong opinions on important social and political issues. One book, Unlearning Liberty, by Greg Lukianoff, documents these abuses better than any other that has been written since I joined the campus culture wars over a decade ago. Greg is able to document these things well and for a simple reason: he has been the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for the last seven years.

The stories Greg tells in his new book are so disturbing it will be difficult for some to believe that they are all real and all come from American universities. Unlearning Liberty at times sounds like an account from some far away land that never valued the kinds of freedoms our constitution guarantees. For example,

* A student is punished for racial insensitivity for publicly reading a book that condemns the KKK.

* Students are required to lobby before legislatures for political bills they disagree with in order to graduate from a public university.

* A student Senate passes a Sedition Act to punish other students for criticizing them at, of all places, a public university governed by the First Amendment and funded by their tuition dollars.

However strange these stories seem, they deserve our undivided attention. The reason is simple: when these students graduate, their anti-liberty mindset is unleashed on the larger society.

Indeed, after a generation of unlearning liberty, these things will begin to seem normal if not addressed soon. FIRE co-founder Alan Charles Kors said it best when he stated that "A nation that does not educate in liberty will not long preserve it and will not even know when it is lost."

For over a decade, I have been trying to explain that the campus free speech war transcends politics and religion. It is a threat to everyone. That is why I am glad that a book echoing my arguments - but in far greater depth and with much greater eloquence - was written by someone who disagrees with me on a broad range of issues. Greg Lukianoff is an atheist, a Democrat, a supporter of same-sex marriage, and a supporter of abortion rights. We have worked together for years as allies in the free speech wars because we both recognize that liberty is a sacred process, not a pre-ordained result.

We also understand that true commitment to liberty is measured by the conduct of our institutions of higher learning, and not by their statements about their conduct. For example, Harvard University claims that "Curtailment of free speech undercuts the intellectual freedom that defines (Harvard's) purpose." In reality, it fires even presidents who refuse to bow down to the gods of political correctness and gender sensitivity.

Harvard and other private universities claim to be free from the technical requirement that they conform to the dictates of the First Amendment. That much is true. But they are not free from the moral requirement that they must always be honest about the true state of the marketplace of ideas in their classrooms and across their campuses.

Truth be known, Harvard has a long record of suppressing free speech among students, faculty, and, more recently, non conforming administrators. Given that reality, they should refrain from telling prospective students that, "The free exchange of ideas is vital for our primary function of discovering and disseminating ideas."

To the extent that administrators make these patently false claims, they fraudulently induce students into taking on debt, often in the realm of six digits. All this, in order to join a marketplace of ideas that barely exists in an age of administratively mandated and supervised political correctness.

The best and most accurate measure of the depth of our constitutional crisis in higher education can be seen in the campus speech codes of our public university campuses. These codes are a measure of not just the censoriousness of our public administrators but also their audacity. The fact that they knowingly enforce them - even with no prospect of winning in court shows us two things:

1. They know that even when they lose in individual cases, the presence of the often multiply-layered speech codes will help maintain orthodoxy by chilling speech that is not politically correct.

2. Due to qualified immunity, they will never have to pay personal damages and the general public - the same people they seek to censor - will have to foot the bill for the litigation.

The problem is not just at Harvard and Yale. It is at other universities - even ones located in conservative areas of the nation. For example, Texas A&M has a speech code that prohibits violating the "right" to "respect for personal feelings" and protects "freedom from indignity of any type."

Of course, many of the smaller liberal arts colleges are even worse. Davidson College bans "inquiries about dating." So you can't ask someone on a date at Davidson without violating the speech code. Even if you could, you would not be able to ask your date to go see Guys and Dolls. Use of the word "doll" is considered sexual harassment.

The University of Iowa does the best job of combining the speech code and the sexual harassment policy into a powerful weapon people can use to destroy just about anyone they don't like: sexual harassment is when "somebody says or does something sexually related that you don't want them to say or do, regardless of who it is." Did you get that folks? If you are a student at Iowa and the girl you like has sex with someone else and you get jealous then guess what? You've been sexually harassed!

Because the speech code issue is so important and because this book is so important, I will review it in several installments. In the meantime, go to this link and order a copy now. Learn about the American values students are unlearning on campuses all across America today.


Why not a free market in educational loans?

Suppose investments in education are every bit as fantastic as we're supposed to believe: Ability bias and signaling are myths, so the entire observed education premium is causal and socially valuable.  Even so, it's hard to see why government should subsidize education.  Why can't students simply fund their ever-so-valuable investment in human capital with unsubsidized educational loans?

Non-economists' favorite argument is something like: "The interest rates would be so high that few people would borrow."  At least on the surface, though, this objection clashes with the "education is a fantastic investment" premise.  If education really has enormous benefits, people should be happy to pay high interest rates to acquire it.  Furthermore, if education yields such reliable returns, lenders should be confident of repayment, and therefore happily lend at a low rate.

At this point, many economists will leap to the non-economists' defense.  Free-market educational loans would have high interest rates despite the fantasticness of the investment.  Why?  Because of imperfect information.

Now things get really interesting.  Imperfect information, you say?  Which kind?  Symmetric or asymmetric?

Case 1: Symmetric Imperfect Information

You might say, "No one really knows if an educational investment will pay off."  If so, we've got symmetric imperfect information.  Contrary to much loose talk, this is not a "market failure."  If an investment turns out to be worthless 5% of the time, the efficient response is to take this bad eventuality into account.  Maybe the investment will still be worth it.  Maybe it won't.  But it's stupid for government to subsidize loans so borrowers and lenders act as if this 5% downside didn't exist.

Case 2: Asymmetric Imperfect Information

You might say, "Borrowers know better than lenders if an educational investment will pay off."  If so, we've got asymmetric imperfect information.  This can be a market failure.  But it depends.  If desire to borrow and default probability are positively correlated, you can get the standard market-for-lemons "unraveling" outcome.  But is this really likely in the market for student loans?  It seems like the people most willing to borrow will be the students with unusually promising post-graduation career prospects.  So even with hidden information, the market could still work fine.

If desire to borrow and default probability do happen to be3 positively correlated, simple market responses remain.  Can borrowers offer collateral?  Down payments?  Guarantees?  If so, the market can still work very well despite the information asymmetry.  To take an extreme case, suppose that educational lenders had as much latitude to recover bad debts as the IRS.  Do you really think they'd still be reluctant to lend students money?  Or consider this keyhole solution: For a small handling charge, the IRS directly collects student loan payments when you pay your income tax, and remits payment to your lender.  Unless you flee the country, you're on the hook for whatever you borrow - and the asymmetric information problem vanishes.

Before you take extreme measures to overcome asymmetric information, of course, you might want to double check that the problem is genuine.  Would borrowers really have a big information edge over lenders?  In a free market, lenders could - and probably would - verify students' test scores, grades, school, intended major, and so on.  Given all this information, it's far from obvious that borrowers do have superior information.  Yes, students know lots of details about their lives, but lenders have the power of actuarial science behind them.

Overall, then, neither symmetric nor asymmetric imperfect information provide compelling arguments against a free market in educational loans.  But maybe this just reflects the narrowness of neoclassical economic reasoning.  When people say "imperfect information" they often mean "irrationality."  Perhaps the problem isn't that interest rates are too high, but that people are too myopic to see that even high-interest educational loans are, all things considered, a great deal.

While I'm sympathetic to this argument, it's a double-edged sword.  Yes, irrationality might lead borrowers to spurn good loans.  But as we've seen in recent years, irrationality can just as easily lead lenders to make bad loans.  In fact, lenders' recklessness, not borrowers' paranoia, had turned out to be the more serious psychological pitfall.  Why then are we so sure that we need heavy government subsidies to make educational lenders even more reckless than they'd be on their own dime?


Bad behaviour is no bar to sixth–form study in Britain

Grammar school must offer its unruly pupil a place ... it's exam results that count, says the Government's admission code.

Leading schools are being told not to bar badly behaved teenagers from taking up sixth–form places.  Schools can only prevent pupils from progressing onto A–level–style courses at 16 if they fail their GCSEs – but not for disciplinary reasons, it was revealed.

Under the Government's admissions code, schools are told that progression into the sixth form must not be dependent on attitude, attendance or behaviour records. The ruling emerged as a grammar school was reprimanded by the local government watchdog for refusing to offer an A–level place to an unruly teenager.

The Latymer School, in Enfield, north London, was ordered to allow the boy into the sixth form because he met strict academic criteria, despite concerns over his attitude.

Jane Martin, the Local Government Ombudsman, said: "The Government's school admissions code specifically prohibits the school from selecting sixthform pupils based on their behaviour records. As the boy had satisfied the academic requirements to join the sixth form, he should have been admitted."

It was revealed that the school could only prevent the pupil from taking up a sixth–form place if he had been expelled during his GCSEs.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "A school should not be forced to have a disruptive pupil in the sixth form or any other part of the school.  If any schools have concerns in this way, they should use full exclusion procedures."

The Latymer School selects 11–year-olds on the basis of academic ability. It said that admission to its sixth form was dependent on pupils having the necessary GCSE results along with acting in an "evidently self–disciplined" manner, including abiding by attendance, punctuality and uniform rules.

It emerged that an unnamed boy – already at the school – was denied entry to the sixth form this year because of poor behaviour in the previous academic year that resulted in him being suspended.

The school insisted it should be able to turn down pupils for the sixth form if "admission would prejudice the school's ability to provide an efficient education".

But the ombudsman insisted that the ruling contravened the 2010 admissions code introduced by Labour to dictate entry to English state schools, which said that places "must not be dependent on attendance, behaviour record, or perceptions of attitude or motivation". The 2010 code has been replaced for admissions in 2013. The Department for Education said the updated document still carries similar rules that would have bound the school in the same way.

A spokesman said: "If a pupil's behaviour falls below the school's expected standard, it should take the appropriate action. A school can exclude a pupil permanently in response to a serious breach, or persistent breaches, of the school's behaviour policy."


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