Some Thoughts for the Week of July 11

  1. The New York Times reports on the quick decline of vocational education in the United States, due to a greater push by the Obama Administration and others to get students to college. While funding remains over a $1 billion, the total funds have declined (and are a pittance compared to funding for colleges and universities). Such an overwrought plan, though, is likely to be tremendously damaging to students for whom a vocational education is a perfect fit. We must be mindful that the future global workforce is going to need a spectrum of skills, including those provided by a vocational education. There is an elitism about a college degree that I think is unwarranted.
  2. Members of the Obama Administration have complained that Jon Huntsman is running for the presidency after the president appointed him as ambassador to China. It seems to me that such anger is misplaced - if Huntsman benefited from the arrangement, it was ultimately the president's decision. There may not have been a tacit agreement between the two regarding Huntsman's candidacy, but we cannot forget that Obama was trying to avoid a race with Huntsman in the first place. Seems as if each side played against the other.
  3. Talks on the deficit seem to be breaking down quickly. Republicans have little incentive to solve the deficit, and Obama is weak in support. This is a very dangerous spot for the United States, and mirrors the situation being seen in Minnesota: neither side has an incentive to get the policy right. The tea party conservatives that are pushing hard against a compromise need to be reminded that living in a pluralistic democracy requires just that - compromise. Without that, our democracy will fall apart.
  4. Texas Governor Rick Perry is driving to create metrics to hold professors accountable for productivity. As I have argued rather consistently on this blog, quantitative rankings and metrics like this are flat out impossible to calculate in any kind of a fair and encompassing manner. A better strategy would be soft tenure, where professors experience a regular review of their work (say, every five years) to ensure that a certain minimum of quality is maintained. Judging productivity by number of students taught is simply ridiculous, and should be recognizable to anyone who attended a university.
  5. Perceptions of the economy matter far more than actual performance (or put a better way, performance of the economy is mutually shaped by perception). The Euro Zone crisis is nearly bound to boil over soon as it appears that we are entering a negative economic spiral - capital markets are losing liquidity as investors flee in fear that the situation will get worse. Of course, this only makes the situation worse in the first place. A significant economic collapse in the Euro Zone would do untold damage to Europe, but most certainly the United States. Leaders of both need to double down, accept the situation, and take charge on the Mediterranean countries' finances before it is too late.