Nov 262017

The NCAA season starts with sleaze and scandal, observes columnist George Will, who goes on to observe just how much cash is associated with collegiate sports. Enough, apparently, that some of the taller hogs at the trough went past bad taste and into violations of the law. At least that is what we see in the FBI investigation on several campuses and the indictments for corruption.

Campus leaders have a business interest in looking the other way, since there’s a pretty penny to be made by (pardon the analogy) playing the game. [Best quote from the linked article refers to a case of yesteryear: “At the University of Washington, Don James resigned as head [football] coach after failing to notice that his quarterback owned three cars.”]

So far no suggestion that investigators are looking at Maryland yet.

 Posted by at 3:38 pm on November 26, 2017
Nov 232017

How business bullshit took over is required reading for students who would like preparation to make meaningful contributions to the world rather than serve in the cycle of production, distribution and consumption of bullshit.

The article will tell you where the cartoon Dilbert came from, and goes on to explain how ideas that may be weak on their merits can be plumped up for sale by wrapping them in novel language, slathering on generous portions of hucksterism and blending in a pinch of mysticism (or just plain elitism for the agnostics among us.)

Most of what the author treats involves industry as a whole, but his points apply equally well in the education industry. And indeed, much of what we do on campus involves performing tasks that both feed and result from the ‘culture of bullshit’ – tasks that, when objectively portrayed, can’t be firmly connected with core missions which might have inspired a university system in the first place. We measure ourselves with elastic yardsticks that reward make-work yet often don’t stand up well as predictors of students’ success, generation of knowledge that others usefully apply in science, or development of products (or services) that capture markets.

Preference for an elastic yardstick is understandable. Our campus lacks accountability so mostly we have freedom to define our own success criteria. Why not make the yardstick fit what we do rather than what we aspire to do? It sure is easier to sell students “experiences” rather than prepare them to perform hard tasks. Doing the latter would get them – and us – out of our comfort zones. Ewww … that makes for tough teaching reviews and a rockier time promoting like-thinking friends.

And look what happens to heretics who try to pierce the language barrier and figure out what practices generate intrinsic (instead of virtual) value? There’s always one who politely points out how the Emperor has no clothes, and then it gets ugly. The masses quickly recognize the importance of going along to get along. Keep your head down and keep the system going.

Speaking as one of the heretics, I hope students take a lesson from the linked article. Get past the educational leet speak, push yourself out of the linguistic comfort zone we build in our majors and learn how to tell when you’re getting served content of genuine value instead of a big cup of tasty, well, you know.

 Posted by at 7:59 am on November 23, 2017
Nov 142017

A Cambridge University physical sciences professor had his moment of fame after being caught advocating hard work. And at expense of a social life, no less!

How dare he!

Fortunately (judging from the article) his campus leadership rallied around students and reassured them that “balance”, booze and convivial behavior are still encouraged. Meanwhile, College Park shows its mettle in promoting such temperaments, so now that we’re a Big Ten school and offer booze at big events, we may soon offer napping pods in the library. Take that, Cambridge!

 Posted by at 7:34 am on November 14, 2017
Sep 072017

As alerted to us at Slashdot, Harvard’s Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris went to the popular CS50 programming course to beg students please don’t cheat. This comes hard on the heels of a course change in order to suggest that students should consider attending class. A year at Harvard now costs north of $70,000.

Taken together, these offer a new definition of the word pathetic.

 Posted by at 8:48 pm on September 7, 2017
Nov 152016

Readers here may know I often lament the failure of campuses overall in genuinely bringing forth diversity in ideas and views, and this has been a topic shared with others as sidebar in the last week especially. One bit of writing from a good friend deserves to be more than sidebar, and with permission I reproduce it here.

I graduated from Oberlin in the late 70’s and I currently live in Portland, Oregon. I am not sure which place is causing me more embarrassment at the moment, but I have decided to blame Alanis Morissette for recent events. Her song “Ironic” has apparently confused a whole generation of snowflakes about the true meaning of the word. They therefore do not see the irony in talking about inclusion, diversity, and tolerance while proudly stating that they don’t know a single person who voted for Trump (Oberlin student) or blaming all the violence on “those anarchists” and then immediately stating that they don’t intend to follow any of Trump’s laws (Portland resident). Such complex people who are yet apparently incapable of seeing such simple inconsistencies. I have repeatedly asked a number of them why they don’t see the irony in their positions and statements, and they respond with a blank stare, all because Alanis has a whole generation believing that irony is something completely different. And that is just sad.

Robert M. Slugg PhD

 Posted by at 8:49 pm on November 15, 2016
May 092016

… and not that other stuff. That’s effectively what Facebook provided, according to “news curators” who had worked there and were interviewed for a Gizmodo article. The effect was to put a thumb on the scales of public opinion, biasing it toward promotion of liberal views and suppressing material that might have reflected conservative opinion, or so was the article’s point.

And that point would be quite plausible when you have an unchecked system that relies upon promotion of articles by people who are drawn from a pool that itself is dominated by certain views. Selection bias nuances the choice of curators, and the curators thus bias the messaging by what they choose to promote. How do they recognize a likely article? They’ll see it when they know it.

 Posted by at 10:08 am on May 9, 2016