Academic Freedom of Speech

by Henry on April 7, 2005

Two interesting stories in the Chronicle. First, another state legislature bill that sought (in its original form) to control how academics teach in the classroom; this time addressing their English language abilities.

Late in January, Ms. Grande proposed a bill in the North Dakota legislature to prod public institutions of higher education in precisely that direction. Under her bill, if a student complained in writing that his or her instructor did not “speak English clearly and with good pronunciation,” that student would then be entitled to withdraw from the class with no academic or financial penalty — and would even get a refund. Further, if 10 percent of the students in a class came forward with such complaints, the university would be obliged to move the instructor into a “nonteaching position,” thus losing that instructor’s classroom labor.

As a differently-accented professor myself, I don’t feel in a position to make substantial comments. The article does seem to cover both sides of the argument fairly. It notes research suggesting that students in sections taught by foreign born T.A.s do worse than students in sections taught by native Americans. Equally, however, there’s evidence suggesting that this is in part the result of bad training (many schools don’t offer proper training to incoming T.A.s from different countries), as well as expectations (experiments suggest that students ‘expect’ foreign-appearing lecturers to have worse English, and have difficulty in understanding them even when they are perfectly fluent).

The Chronicle also has a follow-up story (sub-required) on the fallout from its plagiarism investigation of last year. Two plagiarists lost their jobs; one had (unspecified) disciplinary action taken against him by his university, another had no action taken against him, after an internal university investigation, which determined that the evidence supported a charge of plagiarism, but that the issue had arisen during a previous collaborative relationship.

Another Harvard economics scandal

by Daniel on April 7, 2005

Brad DeLong once wrote “Marty Weitzman is smarter than I am”. And he probably is; his paper on the equity risk premium was a gem, and in the couple of email exchanges I had with him he seemed like a hell of a nice bloke too. But it just goes to show that there are all sorts of different kinds of intelligence; I’d struggle horribly in any one of Weitzman’s economics seminars, but having grown up in the country, I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to nick a trailer load of horse manure I’d have been over the hills and far away with it, no trouble, before you could say “what a way to earn a living”. Nicking agricultural waste seems to me like one of those Hayekian “tacit knowledge” fields, where street-smarts and experience are probably a bigger driver of success than book-larnin’.

You wouldn’t have thought that someone who spent most of his working days in the Harvard Economics Faculty would be short of horseshit[1] but apparently so. On a more serious note, if there are any disciplinary consequences for Weitzman, at all, then I for one will be kicking up a hell of a fuss and encouraging him to sue. I mean, talk about a bloody double standard. Best of luck, Marty. Btw, what a pity it wasn’t Bullshit[2], or the rhetorical irony would have been complete.

[1]I plagiarised this from Doug Henwood
[2]Yes yes, fellow bumpkins, I know; nobody would bother to collect cow manure or steal it because cow manure isn’t all that good a fertiliser. Since I moved to the city I discovered these things called “jokes” and that was one of them.

Press Clippings

by Kieran Healy on April 7, 2005

Via “Pandagon”:, the “Rev. Terry Fox”: of Wichita, KS:

bq. Fox helped turn defeat of the amendment in the Legislature in 2004 to victory for his side at the polls Tuesday night. The amendment passed by 70 percent to 30 percent. “We never dreamed we would have this margin of victory,” he said. Next in his sights, he said, is “keeping an eye on evolution and abortion clinics.”

Evolution clinics? Hey, that’s not such a bad idea. We could get “P.Z. Myers”: to run them as a franchise:

Walk-in: Well _I_ think that evolution is just a _theory_.
PZ: Step in to this room, please.

Meanwhile, Tad Brennan finds the Washington Post describing the “unusual educational careers”: of Howard Dean supporters:

bq. More than half (54 percent) hold post-graduate degrees and a quarter have graduated from college.

Tad says that if he’d known you could get a post-graduate degree without graduating college, he’d have saved years of his life.