Here’s an interesting story about the UW system. The student government at UW-Eau Claire has voted to charge students a fee which would pay directly for pay raises for factulty and other instructional staff. The article is pretty good; the students who support the raise are clearly worried about their degrees being worth less as a result of the defection of professors who can get paid more elsewhere; the opponents see the move (rightly) as creeping privatization, in an environment in which there are moves among a significant group of legislators to cap both tuition and spending. Does anyone know if this is happening elsewhere?

“Adam Kotsko”:http://www.adamkotsko.com/weblog/2005/11/truth-will-set-you-free.html blends Fafblog with the higher theology.

bq. That university faculties are Marxist totalitarian regimes is a timeless ontological truth — and although the accidental fact that a particular university might show occasional signs of not being a Marxist totalitarian regime participates in truthfulness to some degree (as Horowitz indicates by conceding that his falsification meant he missed the mark of saying “the whole truth”), the essence remains constant and truer.

via “Scott McLemee”:http://www.mclemee.com/id4.html

Two from the FT

by Henry on December 2, 2005

Two interesting articles in the Financial Times this morning. First, this “piece”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/6228d682-62d8-11da-8dad-0000779e2340.html on the use of league tables to assess school performance in the UK does a decent job of talking about the limits of statistical measures.

bq. while quantitative targets and performance indicators may seem like an advance on vague aspirations, their apparent clarity is an illusion. … But statisticians warned of a more basic flaw. … each figure is based on a limited sample, and thus inherently uncertain. … The sample-size problem has since been found to undermine league tables for other institutions whose performance is calculated from small numbers, such as fertility clinics. In common with school league tables, they often show dramatic changes in rankings. These are often taken to signal dramatic change in performance. In reality, they are merely expected random variation in the quoted performance level – an effect that would be made clear if error bars were included.

Second, the “WHO says that it’s going to stop hiring of smokers”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/528a65e2-6297-11da-8dad-0000779e2340.html to promote its campaign against tobacco use. This is both idiotic and anti-liberal. There’s a decent case to be made for banning smoking in the workplace, because of the externality costs that smoking imposes on non-smokers. There’s no case whatsoever to be made for discriminating against smokers who don’t impinge on others’ health by refusing to hire them in the first place. The British print version of the article has a quote from ASH, the UK anti-smoking lobby group, criticizing the decision as not being “a very good way of tackling the issue.” Clearly, they’re worried – and rightly so – that this is going to be a public relations disaster.

Chandler Davis on Exile and the Hunt

by John Holbo on December 2, 2005

Ray Davis has made available a pair of essays by H. Chandler Davis, mathematician, SF author, resident of Canada, and no relation of Ray’s (so far as I know):

… From an exile (1960)

My apprenticeship was honorable, as a teaching fellow at Harvard, where I got my Ph.D. in mathematics, and as an instructor at the University of Michigan. I loved the university life. Not that it occurred to me at the time to compare it to any other; I had never seriously considered leaving it.

However, it happened that one summer ten distinguished members of my faculty convened (five at a time) and unanimously declared me guilty of “deviousness, artfulness, and indirection hardly to be expected of a University colleague.” I had refused, first before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and then before these juries of professors, to answer yes or no to the question, was I a Communist. The juries could assume (with that background and in the year 1954) that their recommendation that I be fired would mean my complete expulsion from the profession.

And:

“Shooting rats in a barrel”: Did the red hunt win? (1995)

“You want the short answer?” my late friend Chaim used to say, and if the student said, “Yes,” Chaim said, “I don’t know.” Today’s question may not even have any short yes-or-no answer. Let’s work toward an answer; there will be surprises on the way.

You can read a fine Davis story, “It walked in beauty”, at the (sadly soon to be discontinued) SCIfiction site. (Critical tributes to the site are being collected here.) You really should read the story. Written in the 50’s. Sort of a Woman in the Gray Flannel Suit fable.