Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's the culture, stupid!

Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson writes quite convincingly in the New York Times about social scientists' inability to explain pathological and self-destructive behavior among black males. He believes that people need to rely less on socio-economical explanations and more on those that are based on the actual culture of black men.
What's most interesting about the recent spate of studies is that analysts seem at last to be recognizing what has long been obvious to anyone who takes culture seriously: socioeconomic factors are of limited explanatory power. Thus it's doubly depressing that the conclusions they draw and the prescriptions they recommend remain mired in traditional socioeconomic thinking.

What has happened, I think, is that the economic boom years of the 90's and one of the most successful policy initiatives in memory — welfare reform — have made it impossible to ignore the effects of culture. The Clinton administration achieved exactly what policy analysts had long said would pull black men out of their torpor: the economy grew at a rapid pace, providing millions of new jobs at all levels. Yet the jobless black youths simply did not turn up to take them. Instead, the opportunity was seized in large part by immigrants — including many blacks — mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean.

His op-ed is not without its faults, however. For example, he writes, in attempting to defend studies of culture:
Likewise, a cultural explanation of black male self-destructiveness addresses not simply the immediate connection between their attitudes and behavior and the undesired outcomes, but explores the origins and changing nature of these attitudes, perhaps over generations, in their brutalized past. It is impossible to understand the predatory sexuality and irresponsible fathering behavior of young black men without going back deep into their collective past.

Why would it be impossible? It is pretty well-known that even during slave times and Jim Crow, blacks married at very high rates, children had two parents who were married, and fathers did not shirk their responsibility at the rates that they do now. Certainly the rates weren't as high as for whites, but not nearly as bad as they are now. A recent op-ed in the Washington Post by Joy Jones underscores this point. So, if slavery or the collective consciousness of blacks is somehow a central explanation for the current problems facing black men, why did these factors creep into the collective consciousness 40 years hence?

Despite this small disagreement, his op-ed is quite good and highly recommended reading. (Via Ann Althouse)

Limits of Tolerance

As revealed in a New York Times magazine cover story several weeks ago, Yale has been harboring the former Deputy Foreign Minister (and mouthpiece in chief) of the Taliban as a "special non-degree student". John Fund of WSJ's OpinionJournal has been on the story since day one, asking Yale to explain its inexplicable decision to admit Hashemi. His latest contribution includes an interesting revelation:

A small effort to help build a modern economy in Afghanistan was launched by Paula Nirschel in 2002, when she founded the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women. Her goal is to match qualified women with at least a GPA of 3.5 or more with U.S. colleges, where they can pursue a degree. The initiative grants all its women full four-year scholarships. They come to college prepared; none need remedial classes. (That's something that can't be said of all U.S. students. Last year, only 52% of entering freshmen in the California State University system passed the English placement test.)

As The Wall Street Journal reported in an editorial Friday, Ms. Nirschel sent a letter to Yale in 2002, asking if it wanted to award a spot in its next entering class to an Afghan woman. Yale declined, as did many other schools. Today, the program enrolls 20 students at 10 universities.

I guess Yale's love of opressed women ends at the point where their hatred of America begins. I'm glad that my alma mater, which I loved while there, has made the conscious decision that in the battle between America and America's enemies, it will take the side of the enemies. This is what the banality of evil looks like.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Follow-up to Stuntz

One striking comment in the Bill Stuntz (Harvard-Law) article I linked to earlier is his argument that while universities are decidedly leftist in some sense, they are conservative in a sense that is really important:
Most Americans think of universities as a bastion of the political left, and in one sense they are. But in a deeper sense, institutions like Harvard embody a particularly blind sort of conservatism: All change causes discomfort, and so must be resisted. In this deeper sense, Summers was and is very much a man of the left--the best kind of left. Good for him. Harvard's governing board has now chosen, publicly and emphatically, the status quo. Bad for them, and before long, bad for all of us.

This is exactly right. And I think that it actually cuts partially to the heart of the debate about whether academia is decidedly liberal or not. Many on the Right (and Left, such as Peter Schuck of Yale Law) argue that is while many who can speak from the comfort of tenure say "move right along, nothing to see here." This is the impression I get from many academics. They don't even want to acknowledge the problem despite the overwhelming evidence (e.g. from the empirical research guys at Northwestern Law), and usually without any bad intentions on their part. A friend of mine told me recently about the debate between Peter Schuck and Jack Balkin at the Yale Federalist Society on Tuesday about conservatives in legal academia. Balkin apparently seemed quite reluctant to admit that there is a problem.

Now, I don't mean to pick on Balkin here. He's a good guy. But, I think that his reluctance to admit to a problem that seems evident to almost everyone on the outside of the academy is a reflection of the exact thing that Stuntz was talking about in the TNR piece. I am not sure that Stuntz intended his commentary to apply to this particular issue as well, but I think it does quite well.

Harvard as the new GM

As much as I want to relish in the fact that my alma mater's sworn enemy is in decline according to a piece in The New Republic by Harvard Law Prof Bill Stuntz, there's nothing to celebrate here. To quote:

Harvard is the General Motors of American universities: rich, bureaucratic, and confident--a deadly combination. Fifty years from now, Larry Summers's resignation will be known as the moment when Harvard embraced GM's fate. From now on, the decline will likely be steep. And not only at Harvard: Among research universities as in the car market of generations past, other American institutions will follow the market leaders, straight to the bottom. The only question is who gets to play the role of Toyota in this metaphor.

When one sees a large competitive opportunity, it's usually a good bet that someone else has seen it already. Universities in other parts of the world now enjoy an enormous opportunity. And the competitive position of American schools is worse than GM's in the 1950s. Then, Germany and Japan were still prostrate; no one could imagine that within a generation their economies would seem poised to overtake America's. Now, it's easy to imagine that a generation hence, Chinese or Indian universities will dominate the world, or perhaps that some intellectual entrepreneur will bring Oxford or Cambridge back to the top of the heap.

As Instapundit says, read the whole thing.

A SIDE NOTE: Notice the part in the article about the academic life of graduate students. While I am and have never been a supporter of graduate student unionization, is it any wonder that graduate students have been trying to unionize? Especially given that the movement is essentially led by humanities grad students for whom it is not uncommon to spend 7 or 8 years in grad school, this trend should be no surprise.