Pharyngula

Oh, my. Inside Higher Ed has an article that has to be read to be believed: the problem with universities are their faculties, we need to get rid of tenure, hire more part-time, untenured faculty on short term contracts, cut back on those expensive bits of infrastructure like libraries and theaters, increase teaching loads across the board…in other words, turn education into a commodity with universities as the assembly lines that crank out graduates, while letting all those over-educated professors know that they too can be replaced by some yahoo with a mail-order degree. It’s a recipe for the complete demolition of higher education in this country, replacing it with some cookie cutter B-school model.

Fortunately, I don’t have to blow a gasket over it, because that guy Bérubé has already turned it into a colossal joke. It seems to be the only appropriate way to deal with these unrealistic libertarian fantasies.

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Riddell
    April 25, 2006

    Funny, that, about how nobody talks about cutting back on, say, the athletics or business departments when this gets suggested. After all, without MBA programs, how else are the party animals supposed to get anything from eight years of keggers other than a coke habit and syphilis?

  2. #2 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    April 25, 2006

    Ahh yes, that Inside Higher Ed article was being kicked about on the chemical education mailing list a while back.

    “Why do community colleges cost so much less than traditional four-year colleges?” the paper asks and then answers: far fewer tenured professors, little or no research, instruction-focused physical infrastructure. And two-year institutions “typically prioritize their programs more readily, and are more likely to operate on a business model: conducting market research to determine consumer demand, and dropping programs that don’t prove to be efficient or effective

    Community colleges cost less because they typically offer certificates, one-year and two-year degrees. Many of the “expensive” courses that students at four-year institutions take simply aren’t offered at community colleges. (Take for example advanced laboratories for engineering and the sciences.) It has little to do with tenure, which would likely drive salaries DOWN, not UP, at the four-year schools.

    And I simply do not get the whole “students as customers” model. It leads directly to students thinking that what they are paying for (or rather, for students on financial aid, what I and the rest of the taxpayers out there are paying for) is a *grade* and not an education.

  3. #3 Azkyroth
    April 25, 2006

    As obnoxious as I find it when I shell out 30-40% of a month’s rent for a semester’s tuition at a COMMUNITY college (UCD bills would surely figure in my nightmares if I had any) and then have to deal with self-important, petulantly inflexible professors who are *getting paid* to be there and yet expect me to bend over backward to accomodate the idiosyncrasies of their schedules and their silly personal hangups (and don’t get me started on Dr. Hank Wesselman, who hijacked an anthropology course on “traditional [tribal/shamanistic] religions” to hawk his larcenously priced new-age seminars and alternative medicine services, in addition to completely and self-servingly misrepresenting the placebo effect and similar phenomena, ad nauseum), I agree that the “students as customers” model leaves much to be desired. Of course, the conjunction of authority with self-righteousness and/or arbitrariness/inflexibility pisses me right the fuck off in any venue…

  4. #4 Azkyroth
    April 25, 2006

    Rereading the above, I should clarify that this does not apply to all professors I’ve taken classes with, nor is it directed at any professors here (to my knowledge). Anyone misrepresenting my statement in a way contradicting the above in order to attack PZ consents to be prosecuted for slander and other offenses to the maximum extent possible under the most creative and self-serving interpretation of the law that I can come upwith.

  5. #5 Zeno
    April 25, 2006

    Community colleges have far fewer tenured professors? I doubt that. The uniform goal for California community colleges is 75% of the instructional load to be carried by tenured (or tenure-track) faculty and 25% by part-time instructors. Not every school can manage to do this in every department, but we’re usually well above 50% and my own math dept is hitting the 75% mark. Do universities offer most of their freshman and sophomore courses with tenured professors, or do they use lecturers and adjuncts?

    Community colleges are a good deal for most students. Part of that is because we don’t have to carry the expensive load of maintaining research facilities and the specialized programs for juniors and seniors, but it’s not because we save money by not having tenured faculty. And I also disdain that “students as customers” model, which we hear too often from school administrators (who sometimes call students “clients” or “units”). Sure, we need to draw them in in order to maintain enrollments and keep our educational programs going, but it’s not just marketing. It’s offering educational opportunities for students who want professional certificates, associates’ degrees, or a lower-overhead education before transferring to the big U.

    Don’t look at community colleges as a model for what universities should do. Our missions are different, dammit.

  6. #6 Kristine
    April 25, 2006

    How about our government actually funding state universities sufficiently, completely, and consistently, so that they are–ahem–free, as they are in Europe? I mean, what a concept.

  7. #7 CL
    April 25, 2006

    While the “students as customers” model is distasteful at best, I do think that the idea of tenure deserves at least some re-evaluation. Two professors I had in undergrad completely shirked both classroom and research duties because their jobs were as secure as secure could be. And these weren’t professors near the end of their careers, either–one had just gotten tenure the year before I had him for class, and he actually bragged to us about how he could do a terrible job and suffer no consequences. The other was in the middle of his career and had had tenure for about ten years.

    This isn’t to say that I think tenure should be done away with; to the contrary, I think it’s an important protector of academic freedom that has to be preserved. But I do think that it should be re-tooled so that professors who game the system like mine did actually face consequences.

  8. #8 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    April 25, 2006

    How about our government actually funding state universities sufficiently, completely, and consistently, so that they are–ahem–free, as they are in Europe? I mean, what a concept.

    We’ll do that sometime after we manage to get the states to adequately fund K-12 education. With any luck, the sun won’t have already baked the Earth to a cinder yet and we’ll be able to enjoy it.

  9. #9 Caledonian
    April 25, 2006

    in other words, turn education into a commodity with universities as the assembly lines that crank out graduates,

    Nonsense. That’s already what they *are*. For many, many students, college degrees are just another rubber stamp they need to get a good job.

    As for providing an “education”… that’s the same excuse administrators use to justify requiring on-campus housing.

  10. #10 JoeB
    April 26, 2006

    ^^ So we should just capitulate to those lazy students who don’t care much for the actual education by continuing to allow colleges to become a commodity. I don’t know about most people, but I’m acquiring skill and knowledge at school, and the best of it comes from the research I’m involved in, rather than my classes. I don’t want to see research cut – it’s where I get my education.

  11. #11 T_U_T
    April 26, 2006

    yess, yesss, please, do it ! Turn your universities into diploma mills, dismantle all research, improve your education by turning it into conveyor belt style cheap degree printing machine… It will be of great benefit for us all… I mean, for all idelogues, con artists, creationists, fraudsters, liars, spin doctors, libertarians, fascists, pro-zygoters, warmongers, theocrats, new agers, politicians, snake oil traders, racists, scientologists, doom cultists, etc.. they all will be very pleased, so, go on, please…

  12. #12 G. Tingey
    April 26, 2006

    “How about our government actually funding state universities sufficiently, completely, and consistently, so that they are–ahem–free, as they are in Europe? I mean, what a concept.”

    Oh, dear, you’re out of date.

    Over in Britain, between the Tories and the NewLabour parties, they have conspired to totally scew up what was once a good education system, if underfunded.

    Now, we have “comprehensive” schools, where excellence is prized in music and athletics, but NOT in academic studies, since that would be “elitist”.
    And student loans, rather than grants, so everyone comes out of Uni with a massive debt. And the Universities have been expanded to encompass the equivalent of community-college courses, thus diluting to homeopathic levels the once-excellent standards we had.

    Still, at least a strong backlash against religious brainwashing is on the move, here. Unlike the USA, where, after 2016, and the declaration of Gilead, you are going to be in really deep shit.

  13. #13 Janne
    April 26, 2006

    Re:tenure, I think the system in Sweden is a workable compromise: “Professors” (ie. lab PI, department heads or the equivalent) have effectively have tenure. They are formally apointed by the government and can only be removed by a vote in parliament (which while very rare has happened).

    Normal teachers are just that – teachers, with a steady job and regular salary, subject to budget cuts on one hand, but without the need to get grants every year to get an income either. Quite often researchers have a teaching position part time, and need to seek grants for the other part (where they do research).

    The system today is very skewed, with no security whatsoever as a post-doc, and then total immunity once you get tenure. One problem is that it’s getting more difficult to get tenure, so you do post-doc work for longer time, and since post-docs are older and more frequently female, people more likely to want to start a family (a regular life) which ranges from difficult to impossible if you want to stay in academia.

  14. #14 Seth
    April 26, 2006

    Okay… this is a minor point, sort of a side point. More food for thought than anything else. I’m pretty familiar with libertarian philosophy. I was raised by academics who were also libertarians. It doesn’t involve ignoring reality or telling lies. I know that Lew Rockwell has given you all the impression that libertarianism is somehow a part of the christian coalitions evil plan to rule the world, but that really doesn’t work very well since libertarianism is the philosophical stance that ruling the world is a bad thing.

    So I’m not sure when thinking that the constitution is a meaningful document that should constrain the government and that people have fundamental rights that are more important than majority whim became some kind of bogeyman positions to be hated and feared, but it seems really stupid and shallow to lump libertarian in with rascist or warmonger.

  15. #15 T_U_T
    April 26, 2006

    but that really doesn’t work very well since libertarianism is the philosophical stance that ruling the world is a bad thing.

    except for systematic abolition of all mechanisms that could eventually prevent a wannabe emperor to conquer it…

  16. #16 Seth
    April 26, 2006

    And another thing: this isn’t a libertarian issue paper. It can’t be, because it deals with how the entire country should deal with university education. The author assumes (which a libertarian would not) that high tuition is a problem in need of a government solution. A libertarian paper would be titled “Don’t like the tuition at Big Tech? Go somewhere else.” Making Big Tech into a community college is not a libertarian solution.

    A real wacko libertarian would just propose ceasing all tax based funding of higher education and letting people voluntarily fund whatever system they prefer, through tuition, grants, football, whatever. You’ll notice this issue paper doesn’t do that at all. Libertarians ARE wacko’s, but they aren’t the kind of wackos you think they are.

    This is actually… dare I say it… much more liberal than libertarian. It has the top-down control of liberalism, along with the need to micromanage policy decisions, and a complete lack of understanding of the market… yes, this is definitely liberal lunacy. Or maybe just republican, its so damn hard to tell the difference between competing groups of warmongering statists. But definitely NOT libertarian.

  17. #17 Seth
    April 26, 2006

    “except for systematic abolition of all mechanisms that could eventually prevent a wannabe emperor to conquer it…”

    That doesn’t even make sense. First, what mechanisms are you talking about, the standing armies that the emporer uses to conquer the world or the taxes he uses to fund the army? Perhaps you are talking about the enormous social controls he uses to quell rebellion? So… getting rid of these things is good for the emporer because…

    As far as it stands right now, there is a wannabe emporer, he isn’t a libertarian, but if more americans were, he wouldn’t be getting away with what he’s doing. So your position makes no damn sense.

  18. #18 T_U_T
    April 26, 2006

    . First, what mechanisms are you talking about

    i’m talking about one of core libertarian ideas – that all rights people have, derive from property rights. Which means, that someone with no propery has no rights ( and can be utilized by others like any other commodity ), and someone with the most property has the most rights, and thus has the biggest chance to acquire even more property and power. This positive feedback renders all distributions of power but monarchy and oligarchy instable, and clears all obstacles to formation of a feudalism-like system.

  19. #19 Arun Gupta
    April 26, 2006

    I do have a complaint – which is that, from the point of view of a undergraduate student, the job of university professors seems increasingly to be to bring research dollars into the university and less and less on teaching undergraduate students. When a near-and-dear one begins to think that one can learn more efficiently by simply reading the books, the lectures are useless, then the professor is adding no value. Why pay the high fees for the pleasure of being taught and graded by a TA who sometimes seems to know less than the students he’s teaching?

  20. #20 Graculus
    April 26, 2006

    This is actually… dare I say it… much more liberal than libertarian. It has the top-down control of liberalism, along with the need to micromanage policy decisions, and a complete lack of understanding of the market… yes, this is definitely liberal lunacy.

    Seth, I suggest that you find out what “liberal” means before you make an even bigger fool of yourself.

    “Colleges are not managed with efficiency as the primary value”

    “Efficiency is a tertiary virtue” – John Ralston Saul.

  21. #21 Steve LaBonne
    April 26, 2006

    Arun- that’s exactly why any kid who’s serious about getting a real education should give a lot of consideration to going to a liberal arts college rather than a big research-oriented university.

  22. #22 Caledonian
    April 26, 2006

    Although taking courses that don’t contribute to your understanding of your major might fulfill some nebulous and ill-defined goals of producing “well-rounded” students for universities, it doesn’t escape students’ notice that it also results in their giving the institutions tens of thousands of dollars more in tuition.

    After going through the authoritarian and time-wasting process of high school, I don’t think anyone likes being forced to take extraneous classes, particularly when they take up so much money and time.

    If the holistic approach to education is so valuable, it would be a good idea to try to convince the students of that. Otherwise, they’re going to go for alternatives.

  23. #23 Daniel Martin
    April 26, 2006

    It seems clear to me that libertarianism as meme is undergoing a similar lifecycle to what the Marxism meme once experienced.

    That is, after being kicked around in theory for a long time, it reached the stage where it began to gain a significant number of fanatical followers a while back (the 19-yr-old quoting Atlas Shrugged that Berube mentions), and has now been picked up by a group of oligarchs who quote libertarian-like reasons as justifications for their basic philosophy of “gimme”. (and thereby gain some support among the fanatical libertarians)

    Note that as with Marxism the intellectual backers of libertarian philosophies can rant and rail all they want that this isn’t “true” libertarianism without it having much practical difference. As much as Marxism was to blame for the disaster that was the USSR, so is libertarianism to blame for the current crop of neocons.

    (Reference here Orcinus’s expositions on the Trotski-ite past of the older generation of neoconservatives)

  24. #24 JP
    April 26, 2006

    Here’s an even better way to make universities cheaper and more efficient. Get rid of classes, and requirements. “Students” send in a check, and we send them back a degree. It’s what the free market would do.

  25. #25 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    April 26, 2006

    Although taking courses that don’t contribute to your understanding of your major might fulfill some nebulous and ill-defined goals of producing “well-rounded” students for universities, it doesn’t escape students’ notice that it also results in their giving the institutions tens of thousands of dollars more in tuition.

    Would these be the same students who, as nursing majors, complain that they have to take math, English composition, and biology?

    Many of these complainers simply don’t know whether a course contributes to their major or not.

  26. #26 Jonathan Badger
    April 26, 2006

    I do have a complaint – which is that, from the point of view of a undergraduate student, the job of university professors seems increasingly to be to bring research dollars into the university and less and less on teaching undergraduate students

    Well, that isn’t just your viewpoint but the simple truth. Undergrads *are* seen as a nuisance. They (usually) don’t publish papers and thus don’t help anyone get grants.

  27. #27 Steve LaBonne
    April 26, 2006

    Rick beat me to it. College-age students are NOT good judges of what they need, which is not at all the same thing as what they want. I used to ask my pandering-inclined colleagues (couldn’t keep my mouth shut in those days, shoulda put a sock in it till I had tenure! Not really, I don’t miss academia at all) “if the students know better than we do what they need, why are THEY paying US?”

  28. #28 rrt
    April 26, 2006

    I have to agree (partially) with Caledonian in this: Students and employers DO tend, in aggregate, to treat university degrees as “rubber stamps” and the universities themselves as “degree mills.”

    I very much do support the holistic approach…look at the problems we face today that are in part due to poor science education of the general public. I want my university to have great libraries, theaters, and research, hopefully without the purely dollar-oriented grants-seeking attitude that Arun mentioned. I watched that administrative mindset destroy an excellent science program at a friend’s university. It literally turned it from one of the best at the beginning of his education to one of the worst.

    But that doesn’t change the reality of what the solid majority of those dependent on the university system actually use it for, and seek to gain from it. In that sense, I’m not surprised that ideas like this would be seriously proposed.

  29. #29 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    April 26, 2006

    “Students” send in a check, and we send them back a degree. It’s what the free market would do.

    Does do, you mean. I can’t be the only one who gets spam about getting a college degree. (Never mind that I have one…)

    And don’t get me started on some of the private online “colleges” out there, like one I know of that counts high school chemistry as college chemistry …

  30. #30 roystgnr
    April 26, 2006

    As much as Marxism was to blame for the disaster that was the USSR, so is libertarianism to blame for the current crop of neocons.

    Yes, just as much as the theory of evolution was to blame for Social Darwinists…

    or is it different when it’s a belief you like being misinterpreted?

  31. #31 Seth
    April 26, 2006

    “i’m talking about one of core libertarian ideas – that all rights people have, derive from property rights. Which means, that someone with no propery has no rights ( and can be utilized by others like any other commodity ), and someone with the most property has the most rights, ”

    What the hell are you talking about? No libertarian thinker in the history of mankind has ever, at any time, said that people with no property have no rights. For one thing, no living human is without property, because all people own themselves, that is the core concept of libertarianism. And more property doesn’t equal more rights, because all people must have equal rights or the rights are priveleges. Thats another core concept of libertarianism. Just as a note from the clue train, libertarian revolutions are what deposed the feudal system in the west.

    Where the hell can you get the idea that neocons are in any way related to libertarians, or that any neocon would read Ayn Rand? Who is feeding you this bullshit? The neocons don’t even CLAIM to be libertarians, they disparage people like George Soros as “wacky libertarians” constantly and don’t support any libertarian positions. So, we have a group of people who don’t claim to be libertarians, who don’t claim to represent libertarian principles, and don’t make any libertarian justifications for their actions, who somehow become libertarians…

    I mean, how the hell does that work? Because you label them libertarians? Fine, but don’t pretend that its anything more than part of your own propaganda war against libertarianism, then.

  32. #32 gideons
    April 26, 2006

    Most of the big schools are a joke. If you want an actual education go to someplace like Marlboro College (my own alma mater.)

    Otherwise you sit in a lecture hall with 500 people. Big schools (and I’m including Harvard, Berkeley, etc) count on the fact that the vast majority don’t give a shit, they just want to do their college time, then move on to adult world.
    A school with 300 people and classes where the teacher knows your name is worth every penny. I took a class with Richard Lewontin at Marlboro my freshman year with 3 other people (one of whom got a very good recommendation from him.)

    Although I must give props to Doc Oc at CWRU. 500 person Chemistry sections and he seemed to know everyones name. CWRU wouldn’t give him tenure and tried to fire him every couple of years but he was awesome.

  33. #33 MattXIV
    April 26, 2006

    Daniel – Conflating neoconservativism and libertarianism pretty much demonstrates that you know little or nothing about the anatomy of the political right. Neoconservativism, with its fondness of foreign intervention and goverment spending and regulation to support a conservative cultural agenda, rose in the conservative movement at the expense of libertarianism and small government conservativism. That division is the major fault line in the political right these days. Read the National Review or Weekly Standard, then read Reason – do they sound like the same ideology? Calling a neocon a libertarian is more like calling a liberal a communist than splitting hairs between Marxist factions. And we appreciate it about as much as liberals and communists appreciate being lumped together.

    T_U_T – You’re misunderstanding the argument that all rights are founded on property rights (which isn’t universal to libertarianism, but is fairly common). In this construct, the primary property right you have is ownership of yourself. Since you own yourself, you can do with yourself as you please (hence, you have a right to free speech, a right to make your own reproductive choices, a right to put whatever substances in your body you please, a right to be secure in your person, a right enter employment relationships on mutually agreeable terms, and so on) as long as what you don’t deprive others of their rights in the process.

  34. #34 Daniel Martin
    April 26, 2006

    Yes, just as much as the theory of evolution was to blame for Social Darwinists…

    or is it different when it’s a belief you like being misinterpreted?

    No, that’s fair. Teleological evolutionary theory (the brand of evolutionary theory that can formulate staements such as “species A is more evolved than species B”) is as much to blame for Social Darwinists as is Marxism for the USSR. To the extent that anyone teaches evolution with the idea that it has a direction, or promotes the idea of evolution without strongly condemning the Teleological take on evolution, they share the blame of propogating a precursor meme to Social Darwinism.

  35. #35 MattXIV
    April 26, 2006

    Back on topic –

    There is definitely a niche for more teaching orientated that research orientated schools at the undergrad level. A lot of undergrads have no broader interest in their major than getting a degree so they can get a job and don’t really benefit from the research university environment. They want a low-cost, straight-foward degree program without the frills, since they view it as an investment towards a higher salary on graduation rather than an opportunity for intellectual growth. The program would still be rigorous, but it would be focused on teaching – less tenured profs in order to allow quick restructuring to meet teaching loads and less profs doing research.

    Students with a serious intellectual interest in their majors and an interest in intellectual growth, on the other hand, benefit greatly from being at a research university because of the additonal opportunities it provides. I personally fall into this group and made my decision about the university to attend accordingly, even though it cost me more than simply getting an adequete degree.

    It seems to me like both models have a valid niche, but trying to impose either across the board is a recipe for disaster.

    FYI, sports are a net profit at schools with competitive teams due to merchandising.

  36. #36 RavenT
    April 26, 2006

    Since you own yourself, you can do with yourself as you please (hence, you have a right to put whatever substances in your body you please

    In theory, perhaps. In practice, I have yet to meet a libertarian who would stand up for a poor (i.e., non-property-owning) person’s right to ingest clean air and water, downstream from a property owner dumping pollutants into a stream or into the air. So the claim of bodily autonomy, regardless of property status, doesn’t seem to have any practical weight with libertarians, at least any I have known (and having worked at Microsoft, I have known quite a few).

    I would welcome any evidence to the contrary, if it exists.

  37. #37 T_U_T
    April 26, 2006

    In this construct, the primary property right you have is ownership of yourself.

    Sure… can you sell it to someone else ? No ? Well, it’s not your property then… Yes ? Slavery ought to be legal, then. Whether yes or no, libertarianism loses anyway…

  38. #38 T_U_T
    April 26, 2006

    hence, you have a right to put whatever substances in your body you please

    iff you can afford it ( eg. life saving medicine), or iff you can afford not to put it in ( eg. air pollutants ). If not, well, you have no right whatsoever…

  39. #39 Daniel Martin
    April 26, 2006

    Conflating neoconservativism and libertarianism pretty much demonstrates that you know little or nothing about the anatomy of the political right.

    I know that there is a philosophy called libertarianism which seems to attract a number of occasionally fanatical followers. I know that the group currently in control of the Republican party, the neoconservatives, is able to reliably ellicit the support of people who have become enamored of libertarianism. I assume that this is done by uttering the right phrases to get libertarians to believe that libertarians share a common cause with the current incarnation of the Republican party.

    This does not mean that neoconservatives are libertarians themselves (though Grover Nordquist really tries hard to be both), but rather that they can effectively use support for libertarian philosophy to achieve their political goals.

    I contend that my analogy to Marxists and the oligarchs in control of the USSR is therefore apt. (Also, from what I’ve seen the perjorative for used Soros et. al. is usually “liberteen” rather than “libertarian”, but maybe it is “libertarian” among a different set of neocon supporters than the ones I am able to observe)

    I assume that the long-term end result of all of this is the emergence of a gentled libertarianism, much as certain western European states can be said to be operating under a gentled Marxism. Such a state actually sounds like a pleasant place to live, as I can see the attraction of holding parts of society together through a network of contracts rather than heavy-handed armed fiat. (e.g. Vinge’s short story “The Ungoverned”)

    However, I am worried that given the way that history has of rhyming with itself we will have to go through the complete financial ruin of a substantial portion of the globe to get there first.

  40. #40 Seth
    April 26, 2006

    “I would welcome any evidence to the contrary, if it exists.”

    Okay. I have a right to clean water to the extent that someone else does not have a right to pollute my water, thus violating my property rights. Municipal or commonly held water, obviously, follows the same principle. If XYZ company dumps PCBs into municipal or commonly held water, they are damaging someone elses property and must be held accountable for the damage. Most libertarians are against government ownership of water because it is very easy for XYZ company to buy off a government while the damaged parties get no restitution. However, I don’t think it follows that private owners would not protect the poor. For example, rental does come with the contract rights of the lease, so I don’t see any reason a renter shouldn’t be able to sue for restitution for health damaging water.

    You have now met one libertarian who will support the right of non-property owning people to have clean water.

    One article that touches on this subject can be found here:
    http://www.ruwart.com/environ2.lpn.wpd.html

    T_U_T: Obviously, you can sell your labor or even your body. You can even make yourself a slave. But no one else can keep you as a slave against your will, because that would violate your right to self ownership. And of course you have to be able to afford the drugs, otherwise you are enslaving someone else by forcing them to work for you.

  41. #41 MattXIV
    April 26, 2006

    RavenT – I personally hold that injury from air or water pollution is an infringement on people’s property rights, poor or otherwise. Most libertarians hold that since potable water is a valuable commodity, privately owned bodies of water would typically be maintained at levels of pollution that keep them safe to drink, so direct regulation of water pollution would prove unnecessary if the property rights to bodies of water were formally established (there are some situations where there are practical problems due to the structures of water sheds and the current system of water rights is a mess that varies on a state by state basis and has all kinds of weird exeptions). Air pollution however, is an Achilles heel of libertarian environmental policy strategies since the air is an indivisible commons. Confronted with this, non-dogmatic libertarians will conceded that a cap-and-trade regulation system for handling air pollution would be the best solution. Libertarianism has some gaps in environmental policy, but it is more fleshed out than what you seem to have encountered.

    T_U_T – Under the bodily property rights construct, you theoretically can sell yourself into slavery, but you have no reason to unless you want to be a slave, so it’s pretty much a non-issue, and given that it is a quirk of one of may lines of libertarian reasoning, it’s hardly a killer argument. I personally don’t suscribe to that line of reasoning and Mill, for example, doesn’t use it either. It’s kind of like pointing out that the current state of commerce clause jurisprudence would allow Congress to mandate what you can or can’t eat for breakfast – yeah, it would be possible, but why would anyone do it?

  42. #42 MattXIV
    April 26, 2006

    Daniel – Libertarians were more tightly aligned with the Rs during the ’90s, when the Rs in congress were interested in budget cuts and heasitant to get into the Balkans. After getting control of the executive branch, the Rs embraced the social conservatives and neocons at the exense of the fiscal conservatives and libertarians. The Iraq War, Teri Schavo fiasco, NSA wiretapping, rampant budget deficits, political torpedoing of Plan B at the FDA, Medicare Part D, and torture and indefinite detention of “enemy combantants” have got most libertarians extremely pissed with the Republican party. Nowadays, libertarians are probably as or more likely to vote Democrat (but even more likely just to stay home).

  43. #43 wheatdogg
    April 26, 2006

    cut back on those expensive bits of infrastructure like libraries and theaters, increase teaching loads across the board…in other words, turn education into a commodity with universities as the assembly lines that crank out graduates,

    Replace the word “universities” with “public schools under NCLB,” and you’ve got the current public school situation. School administrations are stressing so much over federal tests on reading and arithmetic that all the “fun stuff,” like music, art, science and foreign languages are getting short shrift.

    Actually, the public schools have long had an “assembly line” bent, as policy wonks try to commoditize education (with teachers as interchangeable “parts”) and to measure the product (students) with standardized test upon test.

  44. #44 Pygmy Loris
    April 26, 2006

    Why did a conversation on the commodification of education become a debate about libertarianism? Libertarians operate under the assumption that completely free markets are self-governing. This assumption is bogus, see any reliable history of the Gilded Age for evidence. Libertarianism like Marxism sounds good, but doesn’t work in complex, state-level societies with inherent inequality already rampant.

    Turning education into a commodity devalues education. Many argue against a “well-rounded” or liberal education because they cannot see the dollar value of such a thing. However, those people don’t seem to understand that not everything of value has a dollar value.

  45. #45 Blake Stacey
    April 26, 2006

    wheatdogg:

    Actually, the public schools have long had an “assembly line” bent, as policy wonks try to commoditize education (with teachers as interchangeable “parts”) and to measure the product (students) with standardized test upon test.

    With the inevitable consequence that real education happens despite the system rather than because of it. For a rundown on the credibility gap between what school administrators say and what students learn, see Ben Snyder’s The Hidden Curriculum, written thirty-five long years ago but still painfully relevant.

  46. #46 MattXIV
    April 26, 2006

    To play devil’s advocate – doesn’t the commoditization of education make sense in some cases? When the person pursuing the education indends to use it solely as a means of making their labor more valuable, the “commodity” style of education makes more sense for them? If all a person is looking for is a certain set of skills rather than a comprehensive education, they wouldn’t want to sacrifice the extra time and money. It seems, contrary both to the article and most commenters here, like there isn’t a single “right” approach to this and that having institutions with a variety of outlooks is advantageous since people can chose the one that best fits what they want to get out of their education.

  47. #47 Caledonian
    April 26, 2006

    College-age students are NOT good judges of what they need, which is not at all the same thing as what they want.

    Oh, please. Psychological research cannot find a statistical difference between high school seniors and legal adults regarding any aspect of cognitive function. They are neither less intelligent, nor less sophisticated in their reasoning, nor less able to make mature and responsible decisions.

    Take your cryptofascism and stuff it.

  48. #48 RavenT
    April 26, 2006

    Okay. I have a right to clean water to the extent that someone else does not have a right to pollute my water, thus violating my property rights.

    So to libertarians, in a conflict between property rights and bodily autonomy rights, property rights always win. That’s all that T_U_T’s argument was in the first place, and that’s my basic dispute with libertarianism–trying to frame human rights and environmental justice issues in terms of property rights only is to force them into a Procrustean bed, with lots of undesirable side effects.

    Matt, it sounds like environmental issues may indeed be more fleshed out than what I have encountered in libertarian thought, and I am actually happy to hear that. I will look for some of the writing on the non-dogmatic libertarianism that you mentioned (although realistically, it will be a little while before I have time to get to it).

    If there is actually some recognition of a non-divisible commons, then libertarian theory has more construct validity than I have encountered to date, and there may be some basis for common ground on issues, like (in this thread) education, that radical libertarianism renders impossible.

    As for your point about addressing the “one-size-fits-all” approach, I think it is well-taken, but isn’t that already the case, with community colleges, vo-tech schools, professional certification programs, etc.? Perhaps the solution to programs that don’t fit the students is to give students information and support to guide them better to the resources right for them, rather than dilute the research and service parts of the university. You’d have to use some finesse to avoid the European problem of premature tracking, but fine-tuning of existing resources is never so disruptive and expensive as radical transformation.

  49. #49 Graculus
    April 26, 2006

    I mean, how the hell does that work?

    The same way that you think it’s OK to completely and utterly mischaracterize (and I’m being charitable by using that word) “liberalism”.

    Found that dictionary yet?

  50. #50 Seth
    April 26, 2006

    “So to libertarians, in a conflict between property rights and bodily autonomy rights, property rights always wins”

    Ummm… no. Where do you get that from? Your body IS your property, so that conflict doesn’t even make sense.

  51. #51 RavenT
    April 26, 2006

    Your body IS your property, so that conflict doesn’t even make sense.

    If I die of asthma from industrial pollutants and vehicle emissions that I did not voluntarily choose to ingest, you really cannot see any conflict there between the property rights of the polluters and my right to choose what I take into my body? In Libertopia, what recourse would my family, as injured parties, have in that case? Chase down every single person who ever drove a car in that area during my lifetime, and sue them individually, perhaps, but only if they could prove that I myself never smoked a cigarette in my life (as I heard one libertarian propose in all seriousness)?

    From what Matt wrote above, it sounds like some non-dogmatic libertarian thinkers are starting to address the problems in environmental policy that forcing everything into a property-rights frame creates, although I certainly have not had time to follow up on what he mentioned since this morning, and see what approaches they are proposing. Perhaps, if there is recognition that the air and water, among other natural resources, are an indivisible commons, there is opportunity for a more serious dialogue than I had originally thought.

    But if you’re going to deny that a conflict between libertarianism and education, health care, and environmental policy can even possibly exist, simply because the biological facts don’t fit your property-rights frame (aka the fallacy of argument from incredulity), then our discussion is going to go nowhere fast.

  52. #52 MattXIV
    April 26, 2006

    I agree to an extent about the property-rights based framing being an awkward fit. The everything-in-terms-of-property-rights is Rothbard’s way of looking at things. I take more of a utilitarian perspective that defining property rights allows the highest value to be realized from resources and abatement costs to be minimized via markets when transaction costs are reasonable and avoids tragedy of the commons situations; Free Market or just Market Environmentalism is the label that it typically goes under. There isn’t a concensus around this approach for libertarians – a torts-based approach is another major school of thought on it and some libertarians just try to hand wave away enviromental issues. Lots of libertarians don’t like environmentalism as a political movement because its activists tend to have an anti-market bias. Expect to run into lots of people pointing out flaws with enviromental regulation but few suggesting solutions.

    Unfortunately, you probaby won’t find much common ground with libertarians on education (beyond childhood). I’m of the opinion that all universities should eventually be converted to private institutions and their character will be shaped by the demands of the academic and student communities without government subsidies beyond research grants. I don’t think this will have that much of an impact on the actual academic practice, since many of the best universities around are private and the virtues of research and liberal education will continue to command a premium.

    As for the thread topic, my point is that even in undergraduate programs, there is a fraction of the populatin that would be better served by the “commodity” model and that its adoption in some places would not necessarily be a bad thing.

  53. #53 MattXIV
    April 26, 2006

    RavenT – In the example you give, the polluters would be exceeding their rights since an externality of their action is damaging property that isn’t theirs, so there isn’t an actual conflict of rights, but an enforcement shortfall and a missing market for pollution rights. The reasons you point out are why I don’t favor the torts solution for air pollution – the tort system doesn’t even handle the issues that currently go through it very well and the transaction cost of contracting with everybody who may potentially be hurt by a car’s pollution make it inpractical to say the least. So a pragmatically-minded libertarian might say a democratically set cap with tradeable permits for air pollution is an imperfect substitute for the broad array of private contracts that would be necessary to set a cap without the government but have prohibitive transaction costs to establish, but would provide good-enough results compared with point-source regulation or allow the externality to remain unaddressed.

  54. #54 arensb
    April 26, 2006

    I couldn’t take the paper seriously after I saw that it included the words “curriculums” and “stadiums”. I bet the author even says “opuses” and “octopuses”.

  55. #55 RavenT
    April 26, 2006

    I would agree to some extent, Matt–the transaction costs of many of the libertarian “solutions” (especially the tort-based ones) I have seen proposed are truly prohibitive. But to phrase it in terms of “exceeding rights” is extremely slippery–am I within my rights to drive a car in my neighborhood as long as no asthmatics live there, but exceeding my rights by doing the same thing the minute an asthmatic moves in? What about on days when the air quality is better or poorer–do the boundaries of my rights change accordingly, and how do I know when I am within my rights or exceeding them for the very same action? I just don’t see what is gained by contorting the concepts of rights so much to make it fit this particular frame–the degree of micromanagement and transaction costs that come along with it don’t seem to bring much constructive along.

    I don’t know the details of permits for air pollution–I would want to understand how provisions would be made to make sure people without means didn’t get shut out of decision-making, and how issues like the health of watershed and other ecosystems (that aren’t anyone’s property) would be addressed, before I commented on it. But it sounds like there is at least potential for dialogue on that score, unlike the position that the only rights are property rights, which tend to shut out issues of public policy that have to deal with messy biological facts.

    As for all education after K-12 being private, I doubt we’d ever totally agree on that, since I consider education a human right per se, and an educated populace to be a national benefit, rather than merely a sequel of property rights. However, there may be degrees of common ground we could agree on. For example, if there were standards guaranteeing that every child would have access to a solid education, which gave them the opportunity to develop tools and motivation to go after the later private education, that would be a much more reaonable compromise than giving the child over to the American equivalent of a madrassah (heavy on creationism, light on science and critical thinking), and then cutting him/her loose in the modern economy afterwards.

    So there would be the whole problem of the transition–how do we ensure that K-12 education gets to the point of being universally good enough to where private universities are actually an option for anyone with merit, rather than just anyone with means?

  56. #56 Seth
    April 26, 2006

    “But if you’re going to deny that a conflict between libertarianism and education, health care, and environmental policy can even possibly exist, simply because the biological facts don’t fit your property-rights frame (aka the fallacy of argument from incredulity), then our discussion is going to go nowhere fast.”

    Well, since I didn’t say anything even remotely of the sort, I guess we’re on safe ground there. What I said, and I stick to, is that there is no conflict between PROPERTY RIGHTS and BODILY AUTONOMY, because you own your body. Such a conflict just doesn’t make sense from a libertarian perspective.

  57. #57 RavenT
    April 26, 2006

    Well, since I didn’t say anything even remotely of the sort

    Yes, you did–you said:

    Okay. I have a right to clean water to the extent that someone else does not have a right to pollute my water, thus violating my property rights.

    “to the extent” is a constraint. So your earlier absolute right to control what you ingest has now become constrained “to the extent” that someone else does not pollute your water. All the original polluter has to do, then, is stop actively polluting (regardless of what damage has been done to the watershed), and/or sell the property, and they are not polluting anymore. The right to clean water, however, remains constrained, because you define the right to ingest clean water as being “to the extent” that someone else doesn’t actively pollute.

    You didn’t answer my questions about air quality, either.

    Such a conflict just doesn’t make sense from a libertarian perspective.

    Argument from incredulity is a logical fallacy. If you just deny the biological reality of environmental health issues, instead of addressing them, there’s not a lot of point in continuing this.

  58. #58 MattXIV
    April 26, 2006

    RavenT – Seth and you are using different definitions of what a right is. I think your view the right to clean water as a positive right – that is to say, that a person should have access to clean water, and if not, their right is being violated. For Seth, access to clean water is provided by negative rights – nobody is allowed to pollute water unless they have secured ownership of it or permission of the owner. The analysis Seth is using rejects the idea of positive rights and negative rights by definition do not conflict since the process of analysis involves breaking down everything involved into non-overlapping spheres of ownership and as long as you’re in your sphere, you’re within your rights, otherwise you aren’t.

  59. #59 RavenT
    April 26, 2006

    Ah, thanks for clearing that up, Matt. Definitions may not be sufficient, but they certainly are necessary.

    Given that clarification of our definitions, Seth, I take back my assessment that you were moving the goalposts from your earlier assertion about rights.

    Asserting that an argument doesn’t make sense from a libertarian persepctive is still an argument from incredulity, though.

  60. #60 theodosius_35:125-129
    April 26, 2006

    some yahoo with a mail-order degree

    As an adjunct faculty member I take some offense to this remark. I hold degrees from some fine higher education institutions (Bowdoin, University of Iowa, Brown) and actually matriculated at them all. After passing my comps I decided the PhD was not for me – it was a personal decision. I may not have the research program or publications that most departments/tenured faculty look towards as a measure of worthiness, but I know that I am a better teacher than many, if not most, of them. I do not agree with the “assembly line” business of granting degrees to students, but your back-handed remark was a low blow. I am sure we all must know several “yahoos” who we would rather have had as teachers than some of the skill-less ones we did.

  61. #61 Pygmy Loris
    April 27, 2006

    MattXIV
    To play devil’s advocate – doesn’t the commoditization of education make sense in some cases? When the person pursuing the education indends to use it solely as a means of making their labor more valuable, the “commodity” style of education makes more sense for them? If all a person is looking for is a certain set of skills rather than a comprehensive education, they wouldn’t want to sacrifice the extra time and money. It seems, contrary both to the article and most commenters here, like there isn’t a single “right” approach to this and that having institutions with a variety of outlooks is advantageous since people can chose the one that best fits what they want to get out of their education.

    We already have something like this, it’s called trade school. A college or university education is supposed to impart more than just a distinct skill set to get more pay. By learning a little about many different subjects, a college graduate has a wider range of knowledge to utilize in the professional world. Also, college exposes many students to ideas and knowledge they would not otherwise receive. Take for example, evolution.

    Most high school curricula do not include any treatment of evolution. Many students receive their first exposure to scientific discussions of evolution in introductory biology and anthropology courses. These courses would not be taught to students who were only looking for a particular skill set.

    An educated populace is necessary to promote an informed democracy in our country.

  62. #62 Seth
    April 27, 2006

    Matt: Thanks. I appreciate your clarifying that point.

    Raven: Since you and I were having exactly the same discussion as you and Matt, and Matt made a lot of points that were exactly the same as mine (or vice versa), I have to say I find your response to me pretty damn amusing.

    You: I don’t know any libertarians who support clean water.
    Me: I do!
    You: You are arguing from incredulity! You said there is no conflict between property rights and ecological policy, as implied by this out of context sentence fragment! Only I have the power to analyze your true, evil meaning!
    Me: ?????

    Yes, I know. GWH’s irony meter just pegged at catch 22.

  63. #63 RavenT
    April 27, 2006

    No, it’s not exactly the same discussion at all, Seth. It is unfortunate that you are able to see the difference between your insistence that I take everything seen through your viewpoint on faith, versus Matt’s willingness to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to real problems.

    Matt is taking the trouble to address the points I raise; you are handwaving them away with “that can’t happen”. If you are so sure that negative rights are sufficient to address the situation I raised, you ought to have no trouble connecting the dots for me (“what happens when …” “A, B, and C happen when …”), rather than just vaguely affirming that such a thing can’t happen from a libertarian perspective.

    Only I have the power to analyze your true, evil meaning!

    Projecting much?

    All I said was I am raising points about the construct validity of negative rights, and you are not answering them, only mustering arguments from incredulity, and not connecting the dots to show how your argument sufficiently protects the rights of the non-propertied.

    But your reaction reminds me why I usually don’t bother getting into discussions with libertarians. With the exception of the discussion with Matt above, it usually starts swirling the drain pretty quickly once you ask that any of the sweeping market-faith-based assertions be backed up, as this exchange demonstrates.

    Let’s drop it now; this discussion is going nowhere, and I don’t have time for it.

  64. #64 MattXIV
    April 27, 2006

    Pygmy – but your view of the purpose of a college degree is different than that of a subtantial set of students and employers. Many students pursue 4 year degrees (specialized, like mechanical engineering, or not) because having one is a prerequisite for the type of employment they’re seeking. And many employers view college as an intellectual obstacle course whose primary purpose is to demonstrate a minimum of intelligence and capacity for hard work. I’m not suggesting a change in content; I’m suggesting that there is probably an underfilled niche for rigorous undergraduate programs that can offer lower tuition costs by stripping away some of the non-teaching elements of the university that aren’t utilized by undergrads who are just looking to get a degree to bolster their employability. This type of system probably would work better for providing a broad introduction to a variety of ideas, but fall short in providing the depth that can be supplied by facultly actively involved in research.

  65. #65 alane
    April 27, 2006

    My college experience would have been far inferior without libraries and theatre and extracurricular lectures. Why is treating the student as a consumer so often viewed as incompatible with treating the student as a scholar? For that much money, I want MORE than a grade or a diploma — I want a quality education and intellectually stimulating opportunities. And yes, libraries and theatres and professors who make me work hard, not just memorize some material, get a grade, get a diploma, and get out.

    And I do think research is important, and am glad to have been able to do that as an undergraduate — but it also saddens me to see even small liberal arts colleges undervaluing the professors who truly love teaching. One beloved visiting professor — an excellent teacher, but not a big-name researcher — didn’t even get an interview for essentially his own job. I feel that there should be a better balance between research and teaching at the undergraduate level.

  66. #66 Susie
    March 8, 2007

    Why is it so hard to see the student as a customer? Or should I ask why is it so distasteful? I think it is serious lack of understanding of the concept of “The Customer.” What is your product? The education or the student? The education. The student is the consumer of your product. They pay one way or another for your product. Some may pay cash, some may take out financing, some my have help from the government, they are still paying. How they treat what they purchase is varied by consumer. Some work hard and strive to learn everything, some do not. Like buying groceries. Some buy quality food some just buy junk food. Everyone makes that choice for them self. How you treat your customer is what is a the heart of this debate. Do you treat them with respect? Do you answer questions and help them learn and understand or do you just want to hand out assignments, grade papers and issue grades? Do you really earn your pay as a “teacher” or are you really just a high priced supervisor? Do you encourage your students to succeed or discourage them by how you talk to them, in private and in front of others? Are you rude, abrupt, grouchy, cranky when you get to class? Do you encourage your students to participate in class discussions or do you just want to read from the book and forget any discussions. Or maybe you just want them to read and teach themselves. God forbid you have to help them or answer a question. It might just show your lack of real knowledge.

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