Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The status of international students and faculty

My letter to the president of DePauw University, where I received by B.A.
Dr. Mark McCoy
DePauw University

Dear Dr. McCoy:

I read today this article in the Detroit Free Press (…/university-michigan-studen…/97183426/), and I am writing you to urge that DePauw University take similar actions to protect its international students and its international faculty. I know from my own experience at DePauw (1965-1969) how important it is to be able to work with and learn from students and faculty members whose backgrounds, cultures, and experiences are different from my own, and I also know that DePauw has worked very diligently over the years to expand that part of its student body and of its faculty.

As has become clear, the new national administration is committed to making the position of non-citizens in the US more difficult, and in making opportunities for people from other countries to come here as students and residents (which, of course, includes potential faculty members) more difficult. Indeed, it seems anxious to close, rather than open doors.

I hope DePauw will honor its own past, and America's past, and provide, to the best of its ability, a safe place for students and faculty from all parts of the world to learn and to grow.

Donald A. Coffin
Emeritus Associate Professor of Economics
Indiana University Northwest
DePauw University Class of 1969

Friday, January 20, 2017

Unity? No thank you

I recently posted this as a comment on a FB page on which the page owner was calling for unity as we inaugurated a new president.
The time for politics is never over. Politics is how we mediate between different visions of a future for our country; politics is how we attempt to find ways to compromise. Politics is how we oppose policies and actions that we believe are destructive. To the extent possible, we should engage in politics with grace, dignity, and civility, without demonizing people whose politics are different from ours. But to put aside politics is not to demonstrate love for America, it is to abdicate our responsibilities as Americans.

Unity is not, particularly a virtue. Unity when there are strong differences between our conceptions of a good society means that we have given up, or been frightened or coerced into silence. Unity when there are sincere disagreements is to fail in our responsibilities as citizens.
I hope those of us who oppose the policies of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan can oppose them successfully, and with grace and dignity. But to oppose them, we must engage in politics. And politics can be divisive. That's life. We lived through divisiveness for the past 8 years, and the 8 years before that, and the 12 before that. As long as I can remember, there have been divisions. Franklin Roosevelt was reviled. Truman was referred to as too dumb to be president. Eisenhower was condemned for being a genial, passive figurehead. Kennedy was despised enough that many people actually, publicly, welcomed his assassination. Johnson was reviled, first, for pressing for civil rights legislation, and then for the war in Viet Nam. Nixon...well, let's not go there...

Play fair, yes. Don't lie, yes. Don't distort the other person's ideas, yes. Don't use fear and hatred to gain support for your policies, yes. As far as possible, treat your opponents with respect, yes. Give up your principles? Not ever. And if the people on the other side lie and fear-monger and race-monger and treat large numbers of our fellow Americans with disrespect, call them out for it. Play fair, fight hard for what you believe in. And try to make the world a better place.

But unity? No thank you. Not now. Probably not ever

Monday, January 09, 2017

Todd Rokita and the Revival of the Employment-At-Will Doctrine

I'm not sure how I missed this. One of Indiana's members of the House of Representatives (Todd Rokita) has introduced amendments to the Civil Service laws which would, essentially, eliminate civil service protections. (The linked website is a government employees' organization.)
This is apparently language from the proposed legislation:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any employee in the civil service (as that term is defined in section 2101 of title 5, United States Code) hired on or after the date that is 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act shall be hired on an at-will basis. Such an employee may be removed or suspended, without notice or right to appeal, from service by the head of the agency at which such employee is employed for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all.
This is commentary:
In addition, the bill would
• Deny any pay adjustment whatsoever to workers who fail to receive a performance rating above “fully successful” in a new, management-designed rating system that would inevitably allow subjectivity, favoritism, and politics to influence ratings.
• Allow the government to deny earned pensions to any current or future employee who is convicted of a felony.
• Eliminate an employee’s right to representation at the worksite by no longer allowing union representatives to resolve disputes, address issues of discrimination or retaliation, or propose improvements in the workplace during the workday.
• Allow agencies to continue workplace investigations even after employees have quit or retired.
• Allow political appointees to demote career executives and reduce their pay without cause.
I spent a significant part of my professional life teaching labor economics, and two things I tended to point out a lot were:
1) Labor law in the US was, in the 19th century, essentially what was called the "employment at will doctrine"--the employer "owned" the job, could hire (or fire) anyone at any time using any criteria he (the employers were almost always men) chose. Discipline was at the discretion of the owner. Compensation was set by the owner (subject only to "market forces").
2) A recurrent theme in the first half (say, until 1970 or so) of the 20th century was restrictions on the "employment at will doctrine." Child labor laws, banning "yellow dog contracts" (google that if you don't know what it means), the National Labor Relations Act, minimum wage and overtime pay laws, anti-discrimination laws..
But now it seems as if we are seeing a resurrection of the "employment at will" doctrine. It disturbs me greatly.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

More Universitiy Campuses?

Noah Smith has a column at Bloomberg View arguing that the US needs not just to consider ways of subsidizing college & university attendance (as, for example, Andrew Cuomo's recent proposal, basically adopting Hilary Clinton's campaign proposal, which played off Bernie Sanders' proposal)--we should consider creating new campuses.  Why?  Because the capacity of the existing system is limited, and enrollment expansion without expanding capacity simply rearranges who get in.

His proposal emphasizes public institutions.  But I don't see why private institutions should be ignored.  For example, a number of private schools have been known to refer to themselves as "the Harvard of the Midwest."  Well, what about a real Harvard campus in the Midwest?  Or a Sarah Lawrence campus in Oregon?  Or (perhaps less plausibly) a University of Chicago campus in Georgia?  Princeton on the Plains?  Columbia on the banks of the Columbia River?  Dartmouth in Dallas?  Yale...well, you get the idea. 

Harvard, for example, has essentially the same undergraduate enrollment now that it had in 1965 (when I started college).  In 1965, it admitted about 20% of the students applying.  Now, it admits fewer than 5%.  The "elite" institutions (like the ones I have mentioned above) have similarly had relatively constant undergraduate enrollments,  large increases in applicants, and lower acceptance rates.*  The increases in applications have been driven by rising US population (now nearly 320 million, up from about 190 million in 1965) and by a huge increase in global demand for US higher education (driven by rising populations and rising incomes).

Obviously, the demand for enrollment at top-tier schools has exploded. "Standard" economics tells us that tuition will rise--and it has.  But "standard" economics also suggests that those institutions experiencing increased demand would respond by increasing capacity.  One might argue that, were Harvard (etc.) to expand its current campus, that the quality of the experience would decline.  But a new campus could maintain the scale, and, whatever the Harvards of the world might think, there are enough highly qualified faculty that educational standards would not decline. 

Many private colleges and universities have created new campuses--overseas.  Why not create new campuses in the US as well?

*This is not true just at "elite" institutions.  My undergraduate school--DePauw University, in Greencastle, IN, has also experienced a large increase in applications--and has reduced its undergraduate enrollment by about 10% since I was there.